I recently spoke to an AmLaw partner who hired a marketing consultant to help them with IAM (Individual Attorney Marketing) to grow their personal client base. The consultant outlined a strategy that focused primarily on social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Adwords, etc. This would require a significant investment of time and capital. Having already paid an advance, he tried some of the suggestions but quickly realized he had wasted his money.
While these social platforms can improve SEO and branding for businesses, they’re just not effective for high-end individual advocates. He was so frustrated that he didn’t bother to get the last paid hour.
A lawyer is not a pet shop
Since he still had credit on his advance, I told him I wanted him to call the advisor and ask him a question:
“How would your strategy be different if I opened a pet shop?”
The so-called “expert” could not find an answer to this. A lawyer and a pet shop. As I was taught in kindergarten, “These two things are not the same.”
Now let me be clear that social media and content marketing are indeed the wave of the future. Anyone who says otherwise is just not paying attention. However, executives seeking advice on an IPO don’t look to Facebook or Instagram for their next lawyer.
Whether traditional or cyber specialists, there are marketing consultants who can offer advice that will attract customers or build your “book of accounts”. There are also those who offer generic templates, academic theories, and technical jargon that are useless.
How to test the amateurs and identify the pros
#1: Find a niche.
In the above case, the marketing agent’s niche was “Anyone who pays me”. This would be the equivalent of having a personal injury attorney file your software patent application. While the PI attorney may be adept in their field, their specialist knowledge is not applicable to your patent needs.
The peculiarities of legal marketing are complex. You are looking for someone with legal expertise and ideally a solid understanding of your practice areas
#2: Experts know how to play to their strengths.
First, an expert evaluates the customer and analyzes factors such as market position, etc. to determine strengths and weaknesses. Pay close attention to whether what you receive fits your strengths or the strengths of your company. If not, it’s time to end the relationship and find a counselor who will.
#3: Do your due diligence.
When a consultant claims expertise in a law firm or IAM, there are simple questions that verify it. How much time have you worked as a marketing director or CMO in a law firm? Are the customers they have worked with comparable to yours in terms of tariff structure, target customers, etc.?
After asking some security questions, google them and see what you find out about their experiences, results, and the online presence they created for themselves.
#4: Ask for references.
Let’s start with the basics: Solid references confirming acumen and the results achieved are worth more than the best websites or the most sophisticated sales pitches. References should be a must, with one possible exception: newbies.
I have a soft spot for newbies because everyone starts somewhere and like most jobs it’s a chicken and egg dilemma. Also, some of the best consultants I’ve personally hired have been brilliant young entrepreneurs who just needed a break.
However, if you have the luxury of trying something unfamiliar, use some street smarts. Recall: they need you more than you need them. Negotiate aggressively. Make minimal commitments on your part and include contingencies that work in your favor. Dangle the carrot, too, and make a glowing testimonial and potential testimonials a part of your transaction.
#5: Beware of the “extractors”.
It will come as no surprise to lawyers that there are consultants who, like their profession, focus on getting the maximum number of hours rather than offering the greatest value.
Ask a counselor the number of hours they expect to have, how success will be measured and on what schedule, etc. Their answers will often tell you what you need to know to qualify or disqualify them for further interviews.
#6: Ask about alternative fee arrangements.
Instead of the billable hour, see if there are ways to structure some or all fees based on results. This can be difficult and you must follow ethics guidelines, but there are ways to pay reduced rates and contingency pay for any professional service. I’ve even heard of lawyers doing things like this…
#7: Ask for a guarantee.
No marketing consultant can guarantee results. This is because the client often resists change or does not act. But consultants can still give certain guarantees.
I recommend asking for a “30 minute guarantee”. It states that during the first 30 minutes of the consultation they agree to refund your entire advance if you do not feel that the consultant is both qualified and “well suited” for your specific needs. This is basically a guarantee over those who would give you “pet shop advice”.
Another benefit is that this can provide clues as to the level of confidence they have in their offering.
#8: Competition brings better results.
If a consultant does well in the pitch process, give them a shot, but buy them in first. Also, let them know you’re shopping with them. Prices, offers and more can change once a provider knows they are up against a competitor.
#9: Go with your gut.
In the end, trust your gut feeling. If this is a new consulting firm but your gut feeling (and the way you pay) tells you it will help you bring clients in, give it a shot. Just remember to minimize your financial and time investment accordingly.
On the other hand, if for some reason the most experienced and well-known professional in the business elicits a violent reaction from you, don’t sign the check. There are few comments expressing regret like “I should have gone with my gut.”
The Street Smart Rule of Three
Like all professions, legal (or other niche) marketing consultants can be classified into one of three groups:
The best. They can be brilliant, new up-and-coming talent or seasoned professionals with a proven track record. The only thing they will definitely bring to the table are well-defined strategies that make sense to you. They will instinctively know they can help you or your business.
The worst. They make big promises but don’t offer a preview or summary of what they will offer. They want all the money up front with no guarantees or details of what they’re going to offer. Your attorney would be just as helpful to a pet store owner as an attorney would be.
The in between. They might not be the worst, but they aren’t the best for your specific needs. They might be pretty good on a general level or for some other area, but they’re not exactly what you need.
If you’re paying a marketing consultant for their expertise, make sure they fall into the first category.
Frederick Shelton’s corporate website can be found here http://www.sheltonsteele.com/
This article was first published here https://attorneyatlawmagazine.com/street-smart-guide-marketing-consultants