Between pay freezes, furloughs and layoffs, and shrinking cash flow, law firms have not been immune to the severe impacts of COVID-19. However, these challenges inspired innovation and creativity as firms quickly pivoted their marketing strategies to ensure they stay top of mind with clients and prospects. Zoom webinars, thought leadership videos and unique content have filled the void left by canceled dinners, flights and conferences.
After spending the last six to eight weeks in COVID-crisis mode, most firms are now eyeing a move toward business recovery as offices reopen, travel resumes and even socially distanced, in-person meetings start to take place. This means that it is also now time for law firms to reevaluate their marketing strategies to ensure they are aligned to support business goals in this new climate.
One overlooked area that law firms should consider adding to their marketing arsenal is digital paid media. Yes, that is a type of advertising. While plaintiffs firms have traditionally embraced all forms of advertising, corporate law firms have been leery to have their brands associated with “aggressive” sales tactics and preferred the more passive path of networking, content marketing and referrals. But smart paid media doesn’t have to push you outside your comfort zone and it’s impossible to ignore the easy tracking, measurable results and leads that paid digital delivers.
So how does it work? Paid media is the strategic purchase of ad space in a variety of platforms such as search engines, social media, online video, display advertising and more. The key to these platforms’ success is their ability to offer detailed audience data. Marry the data with smart strategy and execution and you can put your messages right in front of your target audiences exactly how and when they want it.
Let’s consider paid search. When someone searches for a bankruptcy or estate attorney it’s likely the searcher is a client in waiting. Searching those words in an engine like Google yields not only search results but ads. Sometimes, they don’t even look like ads but rather more like a piece of content—e.g., click here to find five things you should consider before filing for corporate bankruptcy. Marketers bid on specific keywords to ensure their ad appears to someone ready to buy. The higher the demand, the higher the price. However, B2B searches tend to be less expensive than consumer searches because the audiences are more targeted, so the price of entry is usually modest. A smart strategist will help you find the words that deliver good results for the right price. Your ROI will never be clearer than when you do digital marketing.
Similarly, paid social also involves serving ads to potential clients, but in this case across social media platforms. Plaintiffs law firms often place paid social ads on Facebook or Instagram to reach the general public. For corporate law firms, LinkedIn is the strongest B2B social media site. Corporate law firms that are already using LinkedIn to post content, network and build relationships can supplement these efforts with a paid advertising program that takes advantage of LinkedIn’s robust data and targeting for even very specific job titles.
A digital campaign can be created quickly, in only a few weeks. But for it to be most effective, it must be properly planned. Following are seven factors that can ensure you get the ROI you seek:
- Do Keyword Research: With a paid search campaign, a first step is deciding which keywords you want to bid on for your firm. Don’t skimp on doing keyword research to find the right phrasing options. Data doesn’t lie. The research will show how many internet users search using those exact terms. As noted above, the words you choose also determine how much budget will be needed. Prices can range from as little as $100 a day to as much as $10,000 a month.
- Have a Dedicated Landing Page: For either paid search or paid social, driving traffic to a specific landing page within your website is critical. This page must reinforce the focus of your ad and have a user-friendly call to action so prospects easily convert from interest to action. Making prospects search for a contact us button or form will discourage them from moving forward.
- Integrate with Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Law firm marketing teams spend countless hours working on their CRM and this is even more important for any digital paid media effort. Proper integration ensures the leads generated from your campaign land in your CRM so you can market to them again later if they don’t convert immediately. Similarly, it is imperative to establish a protocol for following up on new leads. Create clear timelines on when prospects will hear back from the firm, who will make contact and what messaging will be used.
- Create Bold Ad Copy: When creating the copy for your paid search or paid social ad, go beyond traditional messages. Copy should be succinct with a strong call to action. If the ad doesn’t engage your audience within a few seconds you’ve wasted your money. But language can be elegant without being “salesy.” Consider the difference between “Act Now and Avoid Bankruptcy” and “Decades of Resolving Complex Restructuring Issues Around the World”. Consider using different headlines to micro target audiences – such as making it industry specific—“Why Airlines Need an Experienced Restructuring Counselor After COVID-19.”
- Don’t Just Set it and Forget It: The key to a successful campaign is to make sure you optimize based on learnings. Look at your data such as which platforms are performing best, for example which ads are clicked on most and use those insights to adjust your campaign to provide better lead generation.
- Mind the Bar: While digital paid media is allowed under bar rules, there may be nuances, restrictions or other considerations that will impact how you implement your campaigns. Review the guidelines before you begin.
- Get Professional Help: If you don’t have the skillset in-house, seek outside counsel. Your program will work better and faster with smart strategists who know how to design, execute and optimize digital paid media.
- COVID-19 may have pushed all of us to get more comfortable online for communications, but law firms are leaving clients on the table by not expanding their marketing efforts into paid digital for the long haul. For a relatively low financial investment, digital paid media with its ability to nimbly pivot based on market conditions and campaign results delivers targeted lead generation with an attractive ROI. That’s marketing at its best.
Josh Merkin is a partner and vice president of rbb Communications in Coral Gables.