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Law firms Need to Evaluate Ongoing Activities before Implementing New Marketing Programs

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The most overlooked element in successful marketing programs is the evaluation of ongoing activities. This forms the basis for taking correct action and making future programs successful. But good evaluations are possible only when clear and quantifiable objectives have been set. There Is never one reason why a client hires an attorney, so all the factors affecting the decision must be considered.

The most overlooked element in successful marketing programs is the evaluation of ongoing activities. This forms the basis for taking correct action and making future programs successful. But good evaluations are possible only when clear and quantifiable objectives have been set. There Is never one reason why a client hires an attorney, so all the factors affecting the decision must be considered.

In business development, there are four phases to every successful program: the situation analysis, the planning stages, the implementation steps, and, finally, the evaluation of program results.

These are sequential steps, with each one being as important as the other. Which one usually gets the least attention? Invariably, it is the evaluation phase, the part of the program that answers the questions: "How did we do? What worked and what didn't? If our program needs adjustment, what needs to be fixed?" The answers provide information that is absolutely essentially to successful marketing programs in the future. Here are two stories of marketing by attorneys where evaluation would have been of great value:

A sole practitioner had developed a modest business in handling real estate transactions for individuals and small, family-owned businesses. She was interested in expanding her practice to include other kinds of services such as wills and estate planning. She embarked on a six-month program, purchasing advertising and mailing a newsletter to potential clients. After a time-consuming and relatively costly effort that produced minimal results, she abandoned the marketing effort.

A 70-member law firm felt the municipal bond market was underserved in their state. They brought in a lateral and several young associates to meet this need. After making the appropriate announcements, the firm engaged in an aggressive publicity and seminar program to attract attention. One year later, the firm had been unsuccessful in attracting any significant new bond business and had actually seen its existing bond work decline. The other partners were discouraged by the cost of the effort and quietly dismantled the bond department.

In each of these cases, the attorneys involved were asked why their programs failed. Although the situations were entirely different and the attorneys had opinions on what happened, their answers were essentially the same: they didn't know—they had performed no meaningful evaluation of the programs.

Although the evaluation phase comes last in the business development process, it is really the first phase of the next program. As you will know, the business development process is guided by assessment of ongoing activities. In practice, each phase is not so neatly compartmentalized due to the continually overlapping nature of the process.

In both case histories, knowledge of "what went wrong" is essential to plan future business development activities. In many marketing programs, this question is not answered correctly.

Subsequent adjustments in future programs are therefore inappropriate. The attorney may actually fix the component that was not broken!

Here is what a good evaluation of the two case histories revealed.

The sole practitioner's advertising was wasted because the marketplace was flooded with other attorneys after the same business, many of whom were more aggressive in their advertising and siphoned off any potential new clients.

Through the newsletter, her existing clients were aware of her services but had no immediate need to act on it. The attorney was therefore doing the right thing, but failed to recognize the time required before results would accrue. Instead of abandoning the entire program as she did, a good evaluation would have told her to discontinue advertising while continuing her newsletter efforts.

In the 70-member firm after the bond market, their efforts failed because of entrenched competition and because they did not recognize the increasing price sensitivity of the public sector. They relied on the goodwill and reputation of the lateral. However, when tough decisions were made by bond-issuing entitles, public pressure forced them to respond to the aggressively marketed services of other attorneys who were offering a lower price. Appeals by the lateral to recognize the importance of his experience and high-quality service were acknowledged but essentially ignored.

WHAT IS EVALUATION?

Evaluation is a process of determining, in terms of both quantity and quality, if the goals and objectives of a program were met. The information it provides is essential to create and carry out future programs. It plays an essential part in the total marketing process.

Evaluation is closely related to goals, both large and small. A large goal of a business development program can be to "build a practice that is satisfying to the attorney's personal and financial goals." The evaluation process can measure success in reaching those goals. An immediate goal could be to "establish personal contact with vice presidents at seven software companies in our area with annual sales of $1 million or more." An evaluation will reveal not only if those contacts were made but their depth and future potential.

Evaluation dissects each marketing activity of the attorney or firm, enabling the "weak link" in the marketing chain to be identified. Here are the typical variables in a marketing effort and questions attorneys can ask themselves:
  • Was our analysis of the marketplace correct? Did we have the right information to identify the right audience?

  • Was our message appropriate? Were the content and organization correct?

  • How was the quality of the message(s), in terms of style, format, and "packaging"?

  • Did we send enough messages? Was our distribution correct? If we tried to reach clients through the media, was there enough coverage in either publicity or advertising?

  • Did the right people, in the quantities desired, receive our message?

  • How many of the people who received our message understood it? Did it increase knowledge, awareness, and understanding?

  • Did anyone change their opinions and attitudes and therefore change their behavior as we wished?

  • Are we obtaining our goals or solving our problems?

  • As a result of the overall activity, is the individual attorney or firm getting what they really want?
To get at the answers to each of these questions requires different kinds of survey devices and questions. Various research techniques, discussed elsewhere in this article series, will range from focus groups to telephone surveys.

IMPORTANCE OF CLEAR OBJECTIVES

Since evaluations are closely tied to objectives, the clearer those objectives, the more measurable they'll be and the more successful the attorney will be in achieving them.

For example, an attorney practicing in real estate may have a business development program goal of "increasing work from commercial developers." An evaluation to see if this goal was met may take the form of simply "yes" or "no" based on number of clients or gross fee income. This is not a satisfactory answer because it does not tell the attorney which components of the business development program are causing the success or failure. It also does not compare the fee income to the cost of obtaining that income.

A better objective would be something like this: "Increase profit through increased volume of contract reviews for commercial developers." This objective is more on target, but the evaluation will be of more value if we clarify:
  • Increase profits. By how much? Express this in percentages or dollars. Profits are related to careful budgeting so the costs necessary to carryout efforts to increase volume of contract reviews is important. Evaluation should measure both attorney time and money spent on the activity.

  • Increase volume. By how much? This is usually expressed in terms of dollars or percentages. Effective evaluation cannot be undertaken unless a quantity can be identified.

  • Undertake contract reviews. What type? Contract reviews can vary tremendously in complexity. Identification of more specific types such as "developments of more than X acres or X dollars" is helpful.

  • Establish time horizons. Over what period of time should this program be conducted, and when should results be expected? Evaluation can show exactly the calendar dates when activities took place, which can then be compared to projected dates.
Evaluations ask questions related to goals with answers usually expressed in terms of numbers of degrees. The answer to the big question ("Are we obtaining our financial and personal goals?") can be evaluated by quantitative analysis of fee incomes and amount of profits and qualitative analysis of attorney satisfaction.

But effectiveness of programs to reach these overall goals can be obtained by evaluating the small steps enroute to that goal. Here are typical activities that can be evaluated and common methods to do so:

ADVERTISEMENTS
  • Number of people who saw the ad. Measure by asking print media for circulation or readership rates, broadcast media for Arbitron ratings or audience share.


  • Number of responses by telephone, by mail, by "drop in." Measure by tallying responses by category as they occur.

  • Quality of responses. Measure by demographic study of respondents, fee income analysis of new clients resulting from advertisements.
ATTORNEY-SPONSORED SOCIAL EVENTS
  • Number of attendees. Measure by tally of respondents versus actual attendees.
  • Follow-up activities by attorney. Measure by survey of attorneys regarding number contacted and subsequent action.
  • Quality of attendees. Measure by review of attendance list for titles and organizations.
  • Effectiveness. Measure by number of valuable leads generated.
CLIENT RETENTION
  • Number retained over period of time. Measure by client analysis of length of service, frequency of service, and gross fee income.
DIRECT MAIL ITEMS (REQUIRING ACTION ON THE PART OF RECIPIENT)
  • Number of responses by telephone, by mail, by "drop in."
INFORMATIONAL ITEMS (ANNOUNCEMENTS, BROCHURES, NEWSLETTERS)
  • Number distributed. Measure by tally of distribution list.
  • Penetration (if mailed). Measure by counting mail returns.
  • Quality of audience. Measure by checking quality of mailing list by title and organization.
  • Degree of increase of reader understanding. Measure by tallying requests for more information or by sample phone survey of recipients.
Measure by survey of firm attorneys for references by recipients to
information.

PERSONAL MARKETING
  • Number of contacts at target markets. Measure by survey of attorneys, audit of "client contact" sheets.
  • Quality of relationships. Measure by client retention and fee analysis.
PRO BONO WORK
  • Satisfaction of attorneys performing the work. Measure by survey of attorneys.
  • Degree of effectiveness. Measure by client analysis and referrals.
PUBLICITY
  • Number of news releases written and distributed. Measure by tallying number of releases by subject.

  • Number of releases used by media and placement in media (used prominently or "buried"?) Measure by tallying column inches or broadcast time, with identification of prominence.

  • Recall by readers or viewers. Measure by survey of attorneys for references from clients, colleagues, others.

  • Value of publicity. Measure by calculating equivalent cost of advertising space (although publicity has greater value than similar advertising because of implied editorial endorsement).
REFERRALS
  • Number of referrals. Measure by client analysis as to source of new business.
  • Rate of referrals. Measure by survey of attorneys and comparisons to another time period.
SEMINARS, VIP FORUMS
  • Effectiveness. Measure by tally of requests for additional information and by responses from attendees.
SPEECHES
  • Size of audience reached. Measure by tally of number of speeches given and number of attendees.
  • Quality of audience. Measure by analysis of demographics of audience.
  • Effectiveness. Measure by tally of referrals and direct client calls. Mea sure by number of subsequent speaking invitations.
STAFF SERVICES
  • Quality and effectiveness. Measure by tally of number of complaints/ compliments received.
In every situation, evaluation can be used to compare the actual time required and costs (both in terms of attorney time and out-of-pocket expenses) budgeted for the event.

Attorneys should note that the measurement of a certain activity may not be a judge of its effectiveness. Quantities of news releases cannot be a substitute for changes in knowledge, opinions, or behaviors!

CAUSE AND EFFECTS

While evaluation is essentially to give feedback on the effectiveness of marketing activities, caution must be exercised in jumping to conclusions as to the causes of those results (or lack thereof).

The success of most business development programs cannot be attributed to one activity. Every program that meets objectives is usually the result of several concurrent and complementary activities. Additional work from an existing client comes because of good work performed in the past and a warm relationship with the attorney and staff doing the work. New business may result from a client seeing a well-located storefront office and seeing an advertisement in the Yellow Pages at precisely the time when they needed help.

But even information on these interrelated factors can be sorted out through client surveys and research.

The important issue is to understand that effective future programs are built on a foundation of good information about the past. Effective evaluations are continuous and central to the business development process. The attorney who sets clear goals and carries out meaningful evaluations will have the facts necessary to build a long-term successful practice.