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Tightly-focused marketing turns small firms into big fish

Tightly-focused marketing turns small firms into big fish

CLIENTS THAT used to want just good service from their lawyers are now seeking specialist industry expertise as well, attendees at a recent seminar on niche and industry marketing in New…

CLIENTS THAT used to want just good service from their lawyers are now seeking specialist industry expertise as well, attendees at a recent seminar on niche and industry marketing in New Zealand’s Auckland were told.

Speaking at the Australasian Professional Services Marketing Association event, former lawyer Ross Fishman, who now heads Chicago-based consultancy Ross Fishman Marketing, said clients are looking for lawyers who understand their specific industries in particular. Law firms that narrow the focus of their marketing efforts to a particular market segment can differentiate themselves from a mass of other seemingly skilled law firms and quickly generate a high business volume.

The key to building a distinctive brand through industry specialisation, Fishman said, is for a law firm to target its marketing strategy to a trade association. He advised lawyers to consider which industries have interested them when working for their existing clients, and to become actively involved with the relevant trade groups through attending meetings, speaking at conferences and advertising in the group’s newsletter.

“This focused strategy is the best way to create a larger group of people who think of you as a high-quality professional within their industry,” he said.

According to Fishman, law firms won’t harm their reputations as providing a full service range, because their other clients won’t see their targeted advertising. Marketing with a specialist focus does not equate to practising in only one area, he explained, but it is the firms with a practice speciality that generate publicity and are able to charge a premium. Once a firm has attracted business by targeting a particular industry, it is then easier for it to cross-sell its other, more general, service areas.

Niche strategies are perfect for the smaller firms, which comprise the majority of New Zealand legal practices, Fishman said, giving them the opportunity to be market leaders in an area rather than just another similar-looking small firm offering full services. “It gives them the opportunity to look like a high-end boutique, which means their marketing is easier and they can charge higher rates.”

He referred to the risk of smaller firms being perceived as offering lower-quality service because of an assumption that “if they were better, they would be bigger”.

“When you’re a small firm, you run the risk of being perceived as less skilled — unless you’re a high-end boutique — and niche marketing strategies give small firms a faster way to create that ‘boutique’ perception,” he said. “This is the best way for an individual to get started in their business development at whatever size firm they work within.”

By marketing more creatively and aggressively, one of the incidental benefits Fishman has discovered is that to internal morale. “Everyone wants to work with a market leader, to feel that their firm is the best, and this gives more people the opportunity to feel that way about their firm,” he said. “Being the best at something, being more creative and seeing your advertising in print improves your feeling about your employer.”

Firms that have employed niche marketing strategies not only enhance their external perception, but there is a direct benefit to internal morale and employee retention, Fishman said. “There’s lower turnover, and firms that have had a difficult time with staff retention and have significantly increased their marketing activities have found that turnover plummeted.”

Andrea Ruffell is the Editor of Lawyers Weeklyssister publication, NZ Lawyer

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