How to Allocate Your Firm’s Marketing Money When You Don’t Know a Lot About Marketing

By Lisa


Category: Content Marketing Productivity SEO

There’s a question we hear from partners, managing partners, and marketing managers at law firms all the time: what’s worth spending money on?

The menu of marketing expenditures available to partners at small-to-midsize firms is extensive.

But what’s a good investment? Below, we consider the most popular options and offer a frank assessment of their value and potential for ROI.

We’ve divided our analysis into three categories, as follows:

  • Advertising (TV, Radio, Print, Digital PPC Ads, and more)
  • Digital Marketing (Websites, SEO, Inbound Content Marketing, etc.)
  • Mail Marketing (Direct Mail, Email Campaigns, etc.)


Television Advertising

Even in 2018, when broadcast ratings are in a nosedive and cord cutting is a national pastime, television remains a force to be reckoned with. No other medium can offer quite the same level of direct visual impact within American living rooms.

But this article is about ROI, and before we get to the R, we have to talk about the I.

Television ads are expensive. Expensive to produce and expensive to air. And not all of them work. Audiences have grown weary of the conventional attorney ad, with three aging lawyers staring blankly into a camera and reading from cue cards about their degrees and offering a clichéd call to action.

The TV ads that really work today are creative in nature — more like short films than commercials. Attorneys must do to the TV spot what Michael Jackson did to the music video. But creative, high-quality commercials are the costliest of all.

Bad commercials cost a few thousand dollars. Good commercials cost tens of thousands — and well into the hundreds of thousands if you choose a large market or air them often.

And even after all that investment, most of your audience won’t be interested. That’s because TV limits your ability to target individual groups or demographics.

Sure, you can choose particular timeslots and programs (actually, your budget might make that choice for you), but even then, you’re casting a wide net — most viewers simply aren’t in the market for a lawyer at the time.

  • Pros: Powerful visual impact; huge reach; go direct to people’s homes
  • Cons: Extremely expensive; limited targeting abilities; shrinking audience; hard to stand out

Digital Advertising & PPC

Compared to television, Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) gives you precise control over the people you target.

Using Google AdWords (the leading PPC platform), for example, you can target local prospective clients who are already online and looking for legal services or researching legal issues.

Using Facebook Ads (the second most popular PPC platform), you can tailor digital ad campaigns to highly specific local demographics or persona profiles.

But PPC can also be too expensive… TV expensive if you aren’t careful.

Consider working with an expert PPC management agency to keep your costs down. PPC ads are priced and distributed according to a complex series of algorithms, metrics, and campaign controls. Knowing what you’re doing means the difference between high-yield ROI and a disastrous cash blow.

  • Pros: Go after exactly the clients you want; target your messaging; get top-of-search-engine placement
  • Cons: Costs can quickly and easily spiral out of control without careful campaign management.

Print Advertising

Newspaper and magazine ads don’t offer the reach of television, but they’re also available at a fraction of the cost. They make the most sense in local publications that are widely read within the community you serve.

So we see it as a local call for you to make. No one knows your client base better than you do.

Do they gravitate toward local publications? If so, it might be worth running a reasonably priced ad. The community will appreciate your support too. But don’t expect a print ad to have new clients breaking down your doors.  

  • Pros: Can be reasonably priced (at least in local or small-town publications)
  • Cons: Limited readership; subscription rates dwindling

Phone Books & Yellow Pages

You probably already know the answer to this one.

Most people don’t even have a landline anymore. Phone books have become kindling and coasters. And yet, Yellow Page ads remain expensive. Might you get some mileage out of them? Sure. But advertising dollars are not unlimited. Yours are better spent elsewhere.

  • Pros: An older generation grew up looking for lawyers in phone books.
  • Cons: It’s 2018.

Billboards, Benches, Buses, and Radio

Billboards are a venerable advertising forum for attorneys, and while our agency doesn’t deal with billboards, we aren’t going to tell you not to consider one. They can be good for top-of-mind-awareness and, with strategic placement, can even pick up a few clients who are driving by the right place at the right time.

Here again, you know your community best. Are there billboards available with prime placement at a reasonable cost? If so, then maybe they deserve a place in your marketing plan. But we aren’t aware of a single marketing study that lists billboards as one of the most effective modes of attorney marketing today.

Benches and buses are local calls too — and the price points for those vary substantially. Radio, meanwhile, calls for essentially the same analysis as television, albeit with a smaller reach and a lower price.

  • Pros: Billboard ads are timeless, even if not the most effective.
    Cons: These methods divert dollars from other, more direct marketing means.

Digital Marketing

A Well-Designed Law Firm Website

It all starts with a website. If you’re going to run a digital marketing campaign, you’ll need a home base. Your law firm website is that base. Be sure yours is optimized for generating and then converting leads. Fast speed, mobile responsiveness, clean and Google-compliant coding, and sleek design are all imperative.

  • Pros: A well-designed website is where most new clients will learn about you and, ultimately, decide whether to contact / hire you.
  • Cons: There aren’t any. Every law practice needs a website. Just make sure you work with a web designer whose feet are firmly planted in the present day (not in the design practices of five or ten years ago, because everything has changed).

Written Content for Your Website

Content is the food that Google eats. Feed it and your search rank will grow. Its favorite flavor? Original, high-quality, long-form content — written recently and published frequently.

When done well, content marketing offers higher ROI than anything else on this list.

Naturally, you will need to invest in quality copywriting (you get what you pay for — bad writing or plagiarized content will drive your site’s Google quality score south and will run the risk of a search engine penalty). But the upfront investment is so much less than what you’d spend on almost any advertising campaign.

As with PPC advertising, content marketing allows you to target the keywords of your choice, pulling in traffic from people who are already searching for services like yours. It’s smart, cost-effective, directly targeted, long-term-results-oriented marketing.

  • Pros: Relatively low-cost; high ROI; boosts Google rank; allows you to target relevant keywords
  • Cons: Content marketing doesn’t work overnight. It typically takes a few months before you start seeing big results. You also need to make sure you work with the right writers.

Visual Content

Images, infographics, YouTube uploads, and other video content… it’s all visual, and it’s all important.

Visual content works best as an adjunct to your written content. Don’t underestimate it, though. While Google is the most popular search engine, YouTube is right behind it. And Google’s Image Search feature is a big driver of web traffic too.

Studies show that users are more likely to take action on written content when it’s accompanied by a visual aid. Here again, you want to work with good people, so pay for talent. But graphic designers won’t break the bank.

Video production, meanwhile, can cost a coin… but airing it on YouTube is essentially free (though paid advertising is an option there too). So you aren’t looking at a TV-sized budget. And hey, there’s something to be said for a point-and-shoot vlog… and that’s virtually free!

  • Pros: Boosts the effectiveness of your written content while also generating leads on its own
  • Cons: If your marketing budget is strapped, you’ll want to focus on written content for now… but do consider adding a visual component in the near future.

Social Media Marketing

Social media gets a bad rap as frivolous or “Millennial” (in the most pejorative sense of that term), but when executed properly, “pro-growth” is the better adjective.

Look, we’re very candid about this: social media marketing is a service we offer, but it’s not one that will land you tons of great cases all on its own.

Social media marketing’s real value is in making a personal connection with local prospects who might be on the fence about whether to hire you, driving traffic to your website, and convincing leads that your firm is “with it” in 2018.

We started offering social media services at Black Fin because clients asked for it… and, frankly, because most lawyers weren’t handling it so wonderfully on their own. As a complement to your other digital marketing efforts, it’s both worthwhile and affordable. There’s a reason our clients continue to keep it up. (They aren’t locked into long-term contracts).

  • Pros: Creates connections; drives traffic; reflects well on your brand; cost-effective
  • Cons: There are more direct and effective means of landing new clients, so if you’re on a tight budget, keep that in mind.  

Local Search Marketing & SEO

Your clients are local, so your SEO should be too. There’s a lot you can do to optimize your website (and its content) to target local consumers, local keywords, local trends, and more. It’s also imperative that you claim your firm’s Google My Business listing and optimize your Google Maps data online.

  • Pros: SEO is something you and your web marketer should be incorporating into virtually all your efforts anyway. For lawyers focused on one or several local markets, that means emphasizing local search marketing. A one-time audit from an attorney SEO agency can go a long way and won’t cost too much.
  • Cons: SEO is such a staple of web marketing that it’s something no law firm can ignore. As mobile devices become more popular, local search is dominating, so there’s really no downside here. 


One of our golden rules for law firm marketing is this: if you can’t measure its success, don’t commit to it in the first place.

In law, analytics is the science of preparing a case and predicting its outcome based on past docket and decision data.

In legal marketing, however, analytics is the science of measuring the effectiveness of your various marketing efforts. You need software to do that effectively.

  • Pros: It’s the key to making sure everything else in this article actually works for you. There are good tools available for free. Web marketers will have even better tools (and know how to use them).
  • Cons: Running analytics requires time and expertise.  

Mail Marketing

Direct Mail

Direct mail is still effective for just about every kind of business, but attorneys must be careful to stay within the careful confines of their ethics rules.

  • Pros: Studies show that a well-executed direct mail campaign can still produce high ROI (emphasis on the well-executed… most are not).
  • Cons: People have a tendency to throw away “junk mail.” As with TV, then, you’re spending a lot of money for something most recipients are going to ignore. Too many direct mail providers use irrelevant and outdated mailing lists… and unless you scrutinize the lists carefully, you might not even know. Lawyers must also be mindful of the rules on attorney advertising.

Email Marketing

The junk mail rule doesn’t apply to email marketing… at least not for lawyers. Surveys show that people actually enjoy receiving email blasts from law firms (they consider them interesting, informative, and important). In fact, the legal services industry has one of the highest email open rates.

  • Pros: Cost-effective with strong results (at least in terms of click-through and open rates)
  • Cons: Emails alone will rarely land new clients. For the most part, you’re targeting existing prospects or an established clientele. By all means, create an email list and use it actively… but be sure to mind the ethics rules, and don’t let email consume too much of your marketing budget (or your time).

So Which Kind of Attorney Marketing Is Most  Worth Spending Money On?

We are a digital marketing agency for law firms, so it may come as no surprise to you that we recommend digital marketing — and especially SEO & Content Marketing — above all else. What can we say, we believe in what we do.

But we also think the arguments we’ve laid out here make sense, and they reflect modern times. Having read them, maybe you think so too. (And if you’re still skeptical… ask us for cold, hard proof from the many law firms we’ve taken to the top of Google. We have tons of it.)

Black Fin is a digital marketing agency that works exclusively with attorneys and law firms. Our only goal: getting you bigger cases and better clients by using the web.

Give us a call and ask what we can do with your law firm’s marketing budget. (Here’s a hint: the answer is “make you more money.”) We’re standing by.   


Client Review


"I cannot be happier with Gerrid Smith and Black Fin, and highly recommend their services."

- Seth Gladstein, Gladstein Law Firm