How should intellectual property law firms market their legal services to potential clients? In the golden age of attorneys before the 1977 Bates v State Bar of Arizona Supreme Court decision made lawyer advertising legal, practice marketing comprised word of mouth, actual social networking and other first-person methods. But since then ads and a host of other mainstream marketing methods became available to the legal profession.
So which ones should an IP firm employ in the search for new clients? Which might be advisable to avoid? How much of this should happen in-house or get outsourced? Let’s take a look.
All Legal Marketing is Local SEO?
A famous adage counsels that all politics is local, meaning that solutions to problems have the most effect close to home. As a corollary, a retail channel marketing outreach to IP clients could serve IP firms as well. And on the internet, local search engine optimization (SEO) for IP boutiques, arguably specialist SMBs and solopreneurs, presents a new golden opportunity, according to some experts. For example, Google has a section called the Local Pack that displays search results close to the user. But like all things Google SEO, it always changes.
“Over the years, Local Pack became a precious slice of real estate for attorneys and law firms, since inclusion is free and the map listings appear prominently at the top of search results,” says Brandon Seymour, founder, Beymour Consulting, a digital marketing agency specializing in search, branding and reputation management. “In 2015, Google reduced the total number of Local Pack listings from seven to three, meaning Local Pack visibility has become drastically more competitive. Recently, Google announced it would start showing ads within Local Pack, which could mean even less visibility for local businesses.”
For 2017, Beymour recommends that IP practitioners establish their free Google My Business listing and invest in SEO for their websites to rank in local search results. Factors to consider include backlinks to your site from legitimate sources (e.g. chamber of commerce, Better Business Bureau), high-quality images (e.g., logo, profile photo, homepage picture), real Google reviews from satisfied clients and anchor text that uses your keywords.
It’s a Mobile World, Your Site Needs to Move in it
Among professionals, those practicing law may most understand the necessity to access the internet from a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Whether from court, an administrative site or on the road, they do not seem to use their desktop computers as much anymore. In general, mobile internet traffic began to exceed PC volume in 2014. Google followed suit in 2015 with its mobile algorithm change that ranks mobile-friendly pages higher in search engine results. And so IP lawyers need to ensure their sites have client mobility in mind, according to digital marketing experts.
“If a website isn’t mobile-friendly, it’s an issue,” says Michael Mignogna, CEO, Minyona, a boutique digital marketing agency. “Add to that including contact information—phone number, contact form—on the homepage for view on mobile devices, and the results are fantastic. For many attorneys, new clients come by word of mouth, so when those people find the website, it’s important that they can easily reach out.”
Establishing a quality website that has a mobile responsive design and loads fast will do a lot for an IP firm seeking a high SEO ranking. And it should be done before spending thousands of dollars a month on other types of marketing, according to Mignogna. “All our law clients have benefited from simply having a beautiful, simple-to-use website that is mobile friendly,” Mignogna says.
Blogging, Email Newsletters and other Content Marketing
All the writing IP lawyers do, such as crafting patents and trade secrets and enforceable non-compete agreements, does little to prepare them for content marketing. Realistically, their day jobs keep them too busy with no time left for inbound activities. So outside help could be a no-brainer.
“Outsourcing can work for all types of law firms if done correctly,” says Kelly Jamrozy, owner, KBJ Writing, a content writing company that helps businesses build their online presence. “Small law firms with a small budget just need to temper their expectations. There are agencies that can help them with marketing, just as there are for larger firms with larger budgets. The only time I might not recommend outsourcing for a firm with an unpredictable budget that has someone on staff with marketing experience.”
And for outsourced content for attorneys, a general strategy that proves economical comes down to repurposing material, according to Jamrozy. “Many of my clients use newsletters, and in some cases, just refashion their old blogs into monthly emails,” she says.
As an example, MyBrandMark.com, a law firm specializing in trademarks and patents, conducts all its marketing online but finds email marketing its most successful promotion, according to Michael Pesochinsky, firm owner and attorney. It’s even superior to using Google AdWords or issuing press releases through PR firms, tactics MyBrandMark.com also uses, according to Pesochinsky.
However, one of the main objectives of blogging for an IP law firm should remain to establish the bylined attorney-author as an authority in the industry, according to Jamrozy. This has the equally important effect of educating prospective clientele, she believes.
For MyBrandMark.com, Pesochinsky makes it his mission to establish an identity apart from filing services, which just fill out government forms, as he puts it. “We make it clear to customers that we are not just a filing service, we are a law firm with licensed attorneys,” Pesochinsky says. “Unlike filing services, we can provide them with sound legal advice and correct issues. Getting potential clients to understand exactly what they are paying for is essential.”
And it goes to prove that blogging is one of the most powerful tools available to attorneys, according to Jamrozy.
They Will Not Necessarily Read it if you Blog it
While blogging remains a potent implement for awareness building and SEO, by itself it cannot succeed. If your content marketing has a foundation built on the Field of Dreams model so that if you build it clients will read it and contact you, get ready for disappointment. Without a content distribution strategy, they will not come. You need to have your content duplicated and disseminated by surrogates in multiple channels to succeed, according to legal marketing experts.
“Law firms need to use a process known as marketing gravity to help articulate their value and become a brand,” says Drew Stevens, Ph.D., president, Stevens Consulting, which focuses on business growth strategies for law firms. “Marketing gravity is a systematic integrated process of online and traditional media that aids a law firm with establishing its presence in the community. Most importantly, the value requires reproduction so those who understand and appreciate it tell others.”
For example, Apple has a strong community behind its brand, Stevens notes. And in that case, the community has become a marketing avatar that provides amplification and distribution for the brand, taking Stevens’ point to its logical conclusion.
However, content marketing is a long game strategy that requires sustainment to maximize its effectiveness. Think of it in terms of a magazine or newspaper. The regularity with which they come out creates an expectation, memorableness, and credibility in the minds of the readers. If your IP firm only produces content sporadically, that diminishes its impact dramatically.
“Many create marketing content, but this is not the same thing as publishing ideas with utility, consistently over time,” says Frank Strong, founder and president, Sword and the Script Media, a content marketing and social media agency. “These build engagement, trust and subscribers that lead to clients.”
For example, Strong claims this is how he built the LexisNexis Business of Law Blog into an industry leader. “Content marketing can work very well for law firms that do it properly,” he says.
Social Media Distribution for IP Practices
To distribute content, one of the first methods IP practices should pursue remains social media. Marketing professionals who work with law firms can recommend a range of platforms including standbys Facebook and Twitter. Any content marketing strategy should incorporate those outlets, but depending on its formulation additional networks could help, according to the experts.
For example, some firms have Facebook and Instagram pages and schedule content from twice a week to every day, as well as manage Facebook advertising, according to Sean Azari, principal, Breakthrough Social, creative ad and branding specialist for a variety of businesses including law firms. And Azari not only talks the talk but also walks the walk, having produced a YouTube video on how lawyers can use social media to promote their brands.
And IP firms can even gain by using social media to promote large events that not only appeal to a big cross-section of the populace but also interest niche audiences. For example, consider Santucci Priore, P.L., an intellectual property law firm, which represents the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, the most famous electronic music festival in the world, according to Michael Santucci, managing partner.
As academic scholars have noticed, electronic music poses legal risks to producers regarding copyright infringement, so those actively involved with the Ultra Music Festival would have an intrinsic interest in knowing how to avoid them. Then it makes sense they could be prospective clients for Santucci Priore. To drive awareness and engagement, the firm held a sweepstake for three-day passes to the festival via the web and social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. The results: more than 1,000 visitors to the firm’s site in February 2017 alone.
“Using social media has been a great way for us to get our name out there to the people that need our services the most for a fraction of what it costs to advertise using other channels, such as pay per click or print collateral,” Santucci says. “Getting people involved and interacting with our firm, our clients and the unique issues we raise is an honest and organic way to maintain and build our brand.”