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Right Advertising and Cost Factors for Attorneys and Law Firms

published January 29, 2013

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Most of attorney advertising is printed or broadcast, although other methods to advertise are possible. Attorneys are improving their traditional "tomb stones" by designing eye-catching display ads that appeal to the intended audience. Costs vary dramatically but can be held down by understanding the many variables involved such as size, number of colors, frequency, and location.

This article discusses three types of printed advertisements: tombstones, classifieds, and displays, "advertorials," publicity you buy in the same manner you buy advertising, new options open to attorneys in broadcast advertising, effective use of "specialty" advertising, and the cost of advertising and factors that affect it.

Attorneys are most familiar with tombstones, which they run frequently in bar journals and occasionally in other media to announce mergers, new partners and associates, the opening of a new office, and other activities. Tombstones are most frequently designed and produced by the media in which they appear. Rarely is any "creativity" put into tombstones, although a law firm can hire a designer or agency to create a more attractive tomb stone that produces a stronger and usually more sophisticated impression of the firm. Once a tombstone format is selected, the attorney or firm should use the design consistently to remain distinctive and memorable to readers.

More and more, tombstones are being published in the general interest media to announce an attorney's involvement in a major business transaction. They are becoming much more accepted by even the most conservative law firm as a way to increase visibility.

Classified advertisements have virtually no design or creative elements. They merely impart information in a format and location that by definition groups them together with hundreds of other advertisements that are similar in appearance. Classifieds are frequently used by attorneys for recruitment purposes. For business development purposes, they are of value only to attract clients with immediate problems, such as bankruptcy or motor vehicle violations. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to produce.

Display advertisement is a broad term that can be used to describe an advertisement that is not a tombstone or a classified. Unlike the other two, they will have design elements and will most likely include the attorney's logo or logo type. They will have varying sizes and weights of type. They may use a picture or some other form of artwork.

Other than in the Yellow Pages, attorneys tend not to use display advertisements very much, although their use will no doubt continue to grow.


One form of advertising that is being used effectively by attorneys in the print media is "advertorials." They are a combination of an advertisement and an editorial, purchased and published usually in a regional business magazine. Advertorials are printed in a news story format, providing the credibility of a news story with the control of advertising. Advertorials allow the attorney to determine the message and placement, along with allowing sufficient space to explain a situation and present a significant message in a thoughtful presentation.

Reprints of advertorials are usually available through the publication, and are extremely useful as a promotional piece. Purchase of advertorial space and reprints is handled through the advertising sales office of the news media.

Broadcast advertising

In the broadcast area, radio and particularly television are effective methods to increase client awareness of attorney services. Both of these can be effective, if the advertising is professionally produced and carefully selected.

Broadcast media can be as effective as print to reach various audiences. Radio and television stations have a large amount of information about their listen ers and viewers, such as typical age, income level, and buying habits. Therefore, broadcast advertising can be as effective as print, enabling the attorney to aim advertising exactly at the intended audience.
In broadcast, both types of advertising are used by attorneys-message ads to encourage business development and image ads to create visibility and build goodwill. The message ads are sponsored by consumer- oriented attorneys; image ads tend to be created by attorneys and firms that aim at the corporate and institutional markets.

When criticism of attorney advertising comes, it usually centers on television. Television messages can range from the serious, which are generally well done, to the ridiculous. One advertising program in particular that was subject of much criticism was that of a Wisconsin attorney who was shown emerging from a lake to the tune of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," his corpulent and hairy-chest- torso adorned with necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry.

"If you're in over your head because of bad debts or inflation, call the Legal Clinic and we'll take care of your problems. We'll get you through the bankruptcy for $200."

After giving his phone number he reaches down into the water and pulls up a 300-pound woman by the hair. "And here's the person who answers the telephone," he says.

In another situation, attorneys on television have promised to buy their clients a 10-speed bicycle if they don't win a drunk-driving case for them.

This kind of advertisements can be called "effective" if the objective was to attract attention, because they did. They were effective because they attracted new clients who were willing and capable of paying in something else.

Specialty advertising

The term "specialty advertising" refers to a variety of items that carry the advertiser's name and sometimes the advertiser's address and a short sales message. The specialty is often (but not always) inexpensive and handed out free of charge to selected clients or others. Examples commonly used by attorneys range from coffee mugs, fountain pens, and desk sets to etched glassware, calendars, and key chains.

Specialties have the same purpose as other kinds of advertising. They are used to cause the attorney or firm to be remembered. Attorneys use them in various ways to remind the receiver of the attorney or firm's presence, goodwill, or practice area.

A distinct advantage of specialties is their long life. Printed advertisements are gone with the next issue; broadcast ads are gone in 30 or 60 seconds. Properly selected and distributed advertising specialties can be around a long time. They are extremely flexible. The attorney can select an expensive item for a few clients or referral sources or, if the audience justifies it, a very inexpensive item.

Two rules apply when attorneys select a specialty item: it must be of reasonably good quality, and it must be useful. A third and desirable criterion is that it has some significance for the law firm and the receiver. This connection among attorney, advertising item, and receiver is often hard to achieve. Consequently, most of the special advertising fails to obtain direct results for attorneys. There can be some advantages to massive distribution of ballpoint pens for a domestic relations attorney. But the cost and effort associated with the activity generally does not return direct new business benefits.

Often, attorneys will purchase various items for internal purposes as much as external marketing. T-shirts and baseball caps for a firm team are great for company morale at a group picnic. Coffee cups and pens are popular with professionals and staff alike. Often, the low cost of various items makes it simply fun to have them around the office or distribute them to selected clients. However, the role of advertising specialties in a business development program will always remain relatively small.


Because most attorneys approach advertising with great caution, they spend modestly. The paradox of good advertising is that to be effective, it must be very well produced (which costs money), it must be used extensively (which costs even more), and it must be consistent in design and appearance. Many attorneys have built successful practices on the basis of aggressive advertising. Anyone seriously considering advertising as the backbone of their business development program must be prepared for significant cash outlays.

A personal injury attorney in Boston recently spent 11 percent of the firm's $20 million in fee business for advertising space. The attorney was quoted as saying that an earlier advertising program, at approximately 3 percent of fees, did little good. "It must be significant to reap the benefits," he said. "A little bit does almost nothing."

Advertising expense is no small matter, and costs vary tremendously depending on circulation of the media. For instance, Yellow Page rates can range up to $150 a month for a one-inch box to more than $3,000 a month for a half-page advertisement, and many attorneys need to be in multiple phone books to ensure geographic coverage. Other kinds of print advertising (news- paper and magazine) can cost as little as $100, but generally go much higher. Television is more expensive yet. Production costs for a 30-second television spot can run from $5,000 to $50,000. Added to this is the cost of "airtime," which can run from $100 for a 30-second spot during midday to more than $5,000 for prime-time evening. And these are the local station costs! Network advertising can run 20 times as much.

Radio is probably the least used medium for attorney advertising. But in a cost-benefit analysis, it may be the best buy for attorneys seeking to reach the general consumer. Radio ads are relatively inexpensive to produce. A particular audience can be targeted fairly easy because of the great number of radio stations and the highly defined audiences they capture. Production costs for radio are generally less than both television and print media. If the attorney chooses to let the media produce the work, radio will offer the highest degree of satisfaction, compared to print or television me dia. Costs to broadcast a 30-second radio advertisement can be as low as $25, depending on frequency and time of day.

Advertorials will cost about the same as a full-page color advertisement, which can range from $3,000 to $7,000 in a regional business magazine. Through reprints of the advertorial (usually negotiated with the publication), this cost compares favorably with the production of an inexpensive brochure. However, the reprint is clearly not a "brochure" but can function effectively as a credibility-building communication device.

To check on specific rates for any media, a call to a sales representative will bring quick answers over the phone. The key variables in the print media are these:
  • Size. The larger the advertisement, the more expensive it will be. The cost tends to increase exponentially.
  • Number of colors. The more there are, the greater the cost. Most advertisements are one color (black); a second and third color can be added at a relatively modest cost; a fourth color usually requires a different printing process and equipment and therefore becomes significantly more expensive. If used, a fourth color generally permits an advertisement to be produced in full color, using photographs.
  • Frequency. Generally, the more often an advertisement appears in print or on the air, the cheaper will be the cost per each insertion.
  • Location or Time Slot. In print media, an advertiser can specify a particular location for the advertisement such as the inside front cover or can let the advertising production people place it anywhere they see fit. Request for a specific placement costs more. In the broadcast media, a bulk of the cost is determined by the time slot specified. The more listeners or viewers as determined by the station's research, the greater the costs.
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