Shelling Out for the Spotlight
Firms pay big bucks to get on-air, in-print or in-person attention
Posted May 1, 2007 3:20 AM CST
By Terry Carter
San Diego lawyer William A. Cohan never bothered promoting his white collar criminal defense and commercial litigation practice other than listing it in Martindale-Hubbell. Then he got a flattering phone call a couple of years ago.
Cohan was told he’d been picked from the Best Lawyers in America listings and could promote his practice by being interviewed for Sky Radio Network, carried on six airlines, including American and United.
“I listened to their shtick and they flattered me,” Cohan says. “And one wants to target the audience one wishes to serve.”
He could do the interview over the phone or, for better quality sound, at the company’s studios in Los Angeles. He drove to L.A., where he was due for a family visit anyway. And he forked out $6,000.
Pay and Play
This is the legal marketing version of “paying to play,” and the possibilities for it have multiplied in the past five years or so. The only limit seems to be the imagination of those hoping to make money promoting lawyers--and vendors have gotten more aggressive. Sky Radio, for example, apparently figured out that it was more successful calling lawyers directly than dealing with a firm’s marketers.
“It’s hard for law firm marketers to say no to the bigger lawyers when they get that call from someone wanting to feature them in what looks like news but requires a fee,” says Elizabeth Lampert, whose Alamo, Calif. based eponymous company does public relations, media placement and training for law firms.
Lawyers and law firms constantly look for the best way to get themselves and their names in front of potential clients. Not everyone can be a TV talking head on the next notorious trial du jour. But nobody has to stay tucked in the phone book ads, either.
More and more of those who seek a competitive edge are paying to put themselves in situations that portray them as knowledgeable and experienced experts in their fields. From “advertorials” to sponsored research, from seats on panels and roundtable discussions to one on one meetings with potential clients, the leg up seems to have money in its stocking.
“The competition is so great today that it’s hard to avoid paying to play,” says Geri Clark, marketing director at New York City’s Davis & Gilbert, a firm that specializes in legal work for companies involved in advertising, marketing, promotions and public relations. Various legal publications and others have ramped up revenues by selling seats at roundtable discussions. These often bring together lawyers who are experts (or want to be seen as such) and corporate in house counsel who interact and watch them perform. A seat at the table can cost anywhere from a couple thousand to near $30,000, depending on the sponsorship package purchased by a law firm, legal marketers say. This often includes firm logos on conference materials.
Or some buy ink. Many trade publications sell space for lawyers to showcase their own work along with that of journalists, though the layout, design and often a tagline indicate that it is an advertisement.
Since 1993, Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, a thick, tabloid size monthly, has sold its pages to law firms that want to publish their lawyers’ musings on various legal topics. It goes free to roughly 35,000 corporate in house lawyers. About 60 firms pay for various packages of pages that are theirs alone.
“We don’t change anything that comes with someone’s byline,” says publisher Martha Driver. “If it needs a change, we talk to them about it.”
The publication is aimed at in house lawyers who want information. “It’s not meant to be a flashy kind of thing,” Driver says. “This is not entertainment. It gives the writers an outlet and keeps them on their toes.”
No small amount of effort goes into catching the eyes of in house lawyers who decide where to send legal work.
Chicago’s 471 lawyer Jenner & Block is the sole law firm sponsor of Inside Counsel magazine’s annual SuperConference--launched in 2001 and last year attracting about 600 in house legal department decision makers and more than 200 lawyers and vendors. The two day conference offers dozens of sessions on issues in the law and legal business, with an emphasis on matters of interest to corporate general counsel.
There are nonlaw firm co sponsors, though the lineup has changed for this, the sixth year. J&B is joined by Wolters Kluwer information services and publishing company, and FTI Consulting.
“The focus isn’t to trot out a gazillion Jenner & Block lawyers,” says Theresa Jaffe, the firm’s marketing director. “We do have some speaking spots, but it’s minimal. What we do is partner with Inside Counsel to shape the curriculum.”
At last year’s conference, J&B lawyers either made introductions or participated in all the substantive discussions, along with general counsel, corporate leaders, judges and others.
Cruising for Clients
How far will lawyers go to score some exclusive time with in house decision makers? Maybe it’s a cruise ship off the New York and New Jersey coasts, with guaranteed face to face meetings and an all business version of speed dating. That’s where 50 lawyers pay for the opportunity to spend three nights and four days on the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn. Corporate Counsel Magazine puts on this show with Richmond Events, which specializes in forums on ocean liners. Lawyers pay from $23,000 to $25,000 apiece for the privilege.
That’s without the marriage partner. “Spouses are not invited because this is a business cruise,” says Kevin Vermeulen, vice president and group publisher for ALM, which produces a variety of publications for the legal and business communities. He adds for emphasis that “the bar is closed during the day.”
Not everyone is happy with the play they got for their pay. “Other than you calling,” Cohan says, “only one other person has told me they heard [the Sky Radio interview].” Still, this is not your father’s legal profession anymore.
Jeffrey Morgan of Washington, D.C.-based Greenfield Belser, a marketing firm specializing in branding, puts it this way: “All this has gained a lot more traction and respect in recent years from the conservative law firms that in the past never would have considered such things.”