Ideas from the Front
Fast Cars and Fake Bugs
At These Firms, Creative Thinking Fuels Client Development
Posted May 1, 2004 4:17 PM CDT
By Joan E. Lisante
For the average person, slicing open an envelope filled with plastic ants might be a jolting experience. But if the right person opens it, it could mean new business.
That was how Montgomery, Ala., lawyer Cliff Slaten saw things in 1997, when he hired a legal marketer to rev up the firm’s pest control business. The campaign included quirky ads placed in trade journals, “Timmy the Termite” Beanie Baby handouts, and “Bug-1,” the firm’s twin-engine plane.
“I’d been working with pest control companies since 1993,” Slaten recalls, “but after the ad campaign, our firm grew from four lawyers in 1997 to 14 today—and every- one does some pest control work.” Slaten is also general counsel for the Alabama Pest Control Association.
It’s hard to tell whether the uptick in business was due to years of experience or the plastic ants, but more and more law firms are looking beyond the Yellow Pages to infiltrate clients’ brains.
Look at Houston-based Winstead, Sechrest & Minick, which got itself designated the Official Law Firm of the Super Bowl XXXVIII Host Committee, providing legal counsel on myriad issues such as sponsorship, contracts and intellectual property.
The role was perfect for Winstead, which has active sports and entertainment practices. The firm pulled in new clients at pregame golf tournaments, galas and fundraisers, says Deb Grabein, Winstead’s director of client services. “Lots of business opportunities are tied to having a major sports team in your city,” she says.
GOING BEYOND THE GRIDIRON
Of course, football is just one sport. Frank Jenkins’ firm teamed up with the Williams Company of America to sponsor NASCAR teams. “We wanted to do something unique, and we love racing,” says Jenkins, who runs a La Plata, Md., general practice firm with brother Louis. Besides sponsoring the teams, the firm ran radio and TV ads and set up a themed Web site, www.racinglaw.com.
“We hope our involvement will create brand awareness, and if racing fans are seeking legal assistance, they will keep us in mind,” Jenkins says.
Detroit-area intellectual property firm Brooks, Kushman designed a campaign around cars, too, but took a decidedly low-tech approach for its high-tech practice: the billboard. The firm’s outdoor ad was designed to catch the eye of firm clients as they arrived in town for the annual Detroit Auto Show.
“We’d considered advertising at the airport, such as on the LCD screen on the monorail. But the billboard approach was cheaper, and I-94 runs right from the airport to town,” says John M. Halan, who plans the firm’s advertising strategies. The billboard featured a car’s sideview mirror emblazoned with the firm name and the slogan, “Object in mirror protects today’s ideas for the future.” Not only did clients notice it, they liked it, so the firm decided to take the same approach at the annual Society of Automotive Engineers conference.
But not every campaign is a winner, no matter how creative. In 2000, a prominent California firm developed a “business is war” theme, sending hand grenade-shaped paperweights to business prospects. The lo- cal bomb squad quickly ended the campaign, but not before it captured the notice of a major advertising industry magazine, which included the firm’s campaign in its list of top blunders.
Before committing time and effort to a campaign, lawyers should ask themselves what types of clients they want to attract and what they will need to do to make that happen, says Philadelphia marketing guru Bob Denney.
“Talk to your clients,” Denney says. “Then take that feedback and match it with innovative thinking, consistent with both what the client will respond to and what your firm is comfortable with.”