Old School Marketing…Not!

These days, old is once again new.  As lawyers careen with increasing speed through the digital era, there’s still a good deal of emphasis on traditional ways of attracting clients — from establishing a great reputation to building relationships with other lawyers to generate referrals.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Like most of my colleagues, I concur that there’s no substitute for old-fashioned face to face networking. In fact, when it comes to old-school marketing I’ve got plenty of experience.  I started my law firm back in 1993, at a time when Google was a misspelling for a numberMark Zuckerberg was in grade school – so the myriad of modern-day marketing techniques available today – like pay per click, SEO optimization, blogging and Twitter – weren’t  a glimmer in anyone’s eye. And even today, few of my colleagues in my practice specialty – energy regulation – have entered the digital age, preferring instead to pay thousands of dollars to sponsor conferences or take out tombstone ads in the trade press.

Still, with all of my experience with traditional marketing, I’ve found that the vast majority of these activities don’t work –  or at least, never worked for me.  For example, six months into my practice – and inspired by a tip from Jay Foonberg’s classic, How to Start and Build a Law Practice, I decided to host a party and invite other tenants.  I painstakingly produced an attractive invitation (evite would have been a big help here if it had been around) which I sent out to 40 colleagues – and then dutifully trekked through the 15 floors of the building dropping it off at various office suites.  For three nights after work, I cooked for the party, then boxed up the food and drove downtown and unloaded it at my office.  As you can guess, only 7 people showed up for the party – a law student desperate for a job, a former law school housemate, a lawyer with whom I was co-counsel on a case, the guy who worked in the copy room at my former law firm and two lawyers who’d been visiting my suite and wandered into the party and  gobbled up all of the food.

Given my poor ROI on my first law firm function, it was more than a decade before I tried again – this time, not so much with a party, but with a lunch.  I invited other energy regulatory lawyers and suggested that we explore ways to work together to share resources or jointly market.  Though 15 people showed up for the free lunch, most of them made clear that they thought that I was offering employment rather than a chance to be entrepreneurial.  At least there, I got one client out of the deal – a $3000 matter referred to me by one of the lawyers who attended.

Other old-fashioned marketing ideas flopped as well.  My fancy $600/year Martindale Hubbell listing which I carried for three years never resulted in a single client.   Emails and calls to fellow energy lawyers congratulating them on positive results in a case, complimenting an article or just saying “nice to have met you” at a conference go unreturned.  Even thank you notes, which many  praise as a way to reach out to clients don’t get me business, as I groused recently at MyShingle (though I’ll continue to write them to be gracious).

But for all my failures, my experiments in old-fashioned marketing  haven’t been worthless because they’ve taught me what works and what doesn’t.  And these kinds of life lessons never go out of style.


2 Responses to “Old School Marketing…Not!”

  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing carolynelefant. Hosting events is hard. I always thought getting people to show up was the hardest part, but now I see that’s only one part! I do wonder what makes some gatherings more successful than others. Combination of topic, people, venue and such, I suspect but how to know the right mix?

  2. @econwriter5 carolynelefant I think today if you had a gathering such as this, it would have to be more than just a “meet-and-greet” People are so busy with so many things to to do that there needs to be more of a hook than “come meet the new lawyer on the block.” Taking Foonberg’s advice and adapting it to today, I’d say like an informal breakfast seminar on something that is related to your ideal client’s needs would be more helpful.

    I’d think the most important think is to give some value and get the right people to create the right buzz.