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Looking Good by Producing Effective Advertising

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Attorney advertising is most effective when produced by outside professionals. This is also the most costly approach. Few attorneys know that media provide "free" advertising services. Attorneys can maintain full control over their advertisements by doing it themselves, seeking limited out side assistance.

This article discusses

  • the three methods attorneys can use to produce advertising.
  • advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • the most effective method to use.

Virtually every advertising program requires outside professional help. There are degrees to which the attorney can be involved in the process. Basically, it works in one of three ways:
  1. At a minimum, attorneys can produce an advertisement themselves by using the services of a typesetter and designer to create a combination of logo, artwork, and text in the right sizes and proportions (this applies to print advertisements only; anything to be broadcast over radio or television definitely needs the work of a professional).
  2. The chosen media can provide creative and production services to write and produce an advertisement that will be satisfactory.
  3. However, attorneys will generally be more satisfied with the results if they work with an advertising or public relations firm and the advertising is integrated into a more comprehensive business development program.

Any of the three approaches will produce an advertisement. Whether the quality is good and the advertisement is effective may be a matter of opinion. Attorneys can produce good advertisements themselves, the media like to do their own work, and a good advertising or PR agency will do an outstanding job. Here are the pros and cons of each of these approaches.

Do It Yourself

If an attorney chooses to produce an advertisement using only the services of a designer and typesetter, the attorney will get exactly what he or she wants, having absolute control over the development and outcome.

However, the overall quality may suffer without strong outside direction. Designers vary greatly in their ability, and some will have a strong influence over the outcome of the finished product, while others will function as a "paste-up" person and execute whatever the attorney wants. The typesetter will respond to the designer's wishes, providing the various type sizes, weights, and faces required.

Generally, this approach involves quite a bit of attorney time to compose the advertisement and manage the outside consultants. A working knowledge of the language of designers and typesetters is very useful. The cost varies considerably depending on the quality of design, but generally a designer will work to a budget, no matter how small it may be. Out-of-pocket costs can be tightly controlled with this direct relationship, although a hidden "cost" is the attorney's time to manage it.

Let the Media Do It

With this approach, the attorney will relinquish much control of the final outcome but will be assured of on-time and within-budget delivery. The newspaper, magazine, TV station, and even the Yellow Pages will provide advertising production services.

The quality of the finished advertisement will be adequate but won't win awards. This is not to discredit the media, but merely a realization that their primary business is not the production of the advertisements but rather the publishing or broadcasting of them. Most media approach advertisement production with a competent but modest effort-simple design and straightforward messages-using their own in-house people.

In addition, the media will produce an advertisement for their own uses only. In other words, if an attorney wishes to buy space in several newspapers, the advertisement created for one cannot be used in another. This means that the advertisement will look different everywhere it appears. There will no continuity of design.

For the attorney, this approach is the least expensive of all, because the media in many cases will include their production costs in the price of the advertisement itself. There are exceptions to this, so the issues must be clearly discussed before any contracts are signed. The media usually give a discount to agencies or designers who produce the advertisement and purchase the space or time. An attorney buying the space or time directly without an agency involved will get no discount.

Hire an Agency

Advertising agencies exist because they provide a valuable service. They exist solely to help their clients sell their products and services. They get results for their clients and keep them satisfied, or they go out of business. Therefore, an attorney can approach an established advertising agency with the confidence in knowing that they will be able to understand what the attorney wants and deliver a satisfactory product.

Just as there are attorneys who emphasize different areas of the law, most advertising agencies specialize in certain types of work. Because advertising for attorneys is a relatively new area, many good agencies do not have this experience, although they may have worked with other professional service firms such as accountants and medical service providers. Firms with this kind of experience are usually qualified to assist attorneys.

Another good source is public relations firms. PR firms will not pro mote their advertising services but most of them have been involved in helping their clients establish an image and developing some sort of visual representation for it. PR firms (as do advertising agencies) also have access to a wealth of freelance creative talent for use in design, photography, creative writing, and editing.

Most agencies offer complete services, including development of a message theme (if one has not been established) and suggestions for placement, size, frequency, and so on. The services of agencies are comprehensive. Independent designers, trained to create attractive graphics, may respond to specific requests to produce an advertisement by asking "What size do you want it? Will you be using photos? Where do you want it to appear?" But an agency, with a more comprehensive view, will ask "Why do you want to advertise? Have you considered other alternatives to reaching your audiences? Who is your audience?" Once the answers to these questions are resolved in concert with the agency, the actual design can begin.

The agency will handle all advertising issues and usually produce a high-quality product. The attorney will require little "hands-on" management of the project, except for approvals. The agency will charge for its services by asking for creative fees and reimbursement of expenses. The agency will also have income from the discount it receives from the media. When an agency purchases on the attorney's behalf, the agency is obligated to pay the media. For this service (and inherent risk), the agency bills the attorney at full rate and pays the media the discounted rate.

Importance of Using an Experienced Agency

Attorneys are well advised to locate either advertising or public relations firms with successful experiences with other attorneys. Most established agencies will claim experience, simply because any advertising or PR firm in business for a few years will have come in contact with at least one attorney wanting some publicity, an advertisement, or a brochure. But not all experiences are good ones, so it will pay to check references. If any attorney selects the wrong agency to guide and direct a marketing program, the entire practice development effort will be less than successful and viewed with suspicion by colleagues.

In general, it is best for attorneys to spend the money up front and hire professionals to produce the advertisement. The cost of design and production is relatively small compared to the cost of the space or airtime in the media. It makes no sense to allocate thousands of dollars to buy advertising media and only a few (if any) to ensure that the advertisement is as effective as it can be.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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