In Law Marketing No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Most Americans have never heard of Milton Friedman, two-time winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. They have, however, heard the simple phrase he coined: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." But despite Mr. Friedman's sage warning, every year millions of savvy Americans get tricked out of their hard-earned cash by offers that are just too good to be true. And yes, though we'd like to believe that marketing professionals must surely be clever enough to avoid these traps, there are plenty of successful 'free lunch' scams that target marketers every year.

Here's a list of ten 'marketing opportunities' that you might encounter which merit a closer look before going forward.

1. Bargain Basement Advertising
Now and then I'll get a call from a company offering me online advertising at 80-90% below standard rates. Upon further review, these offers always turn out to be complete scams. For example, one company offered me 100,000 'ad impressions' which in fact turned out to be annoying pop-up ads. Another promised a very low CPM (cost per thousand impressions), but when I looked at the webpage where my ad would show up, I realized that I would be one of about 20 advertisers fighting for the user's attention.

2. Sponsored by the Number Zero
Law firms are often bombarded by opportunities to sponsor conferences, seminars, or community events. Don't get me wrong, many of these events will create great branding for your firm and bring in new clients. But caveat emptor, ask a few questions before you buy. How many other sponsors are there (a few or hundreds)? How many people have registered for the event? Is the organizer a reputable company? How targeted to your firm's focus is this event?

3. The 'Other' Yellow Pages
Even though we at FindLaw believe that online marketing is far and away the most effective way to market your law firm, there are still a lot of attorneys who rely on the yellow pages for new clients. But what exactly are the yellow pages? I've received ad proposals from three or four different companies calling themselves 'the yellow pages.' One turned out to be a 'national yellow pages' (it was unclear how and to whom it was distributed), and another was a start-up yellow pages looking to compete with an established local player. The bottom line: the yellow pages aren't always, well, the actual yellow pages.

4. Printing Problems
When shopping around for a printing company for your brochures, you may run into companies that will cut corners and pass the 'savings' onto you. As a result, that beautiful brochure you envisioned will not turn out the way you planned, and it may be a lot more expensive to boot. A few key questions to ask first: What quality paper are they using? Is 'finishing' included? Are there hidden charges for 'set-up,' 'handling,' or 'pre-press checks'?

5. Paltry Public Relations
Hiring a public relations firm? Your costs may not end with the monthly retainer. Check for fees per press release, for news clippings, or for travel and communication expenses. To avoid unexpectedly large monthly bills, make sure the retainer clearly outlines the precise services, personnel, and expenses that are included.

6. Pay-for-News
This scam isn't very relevant to law firms, but I find it interesting enough to share with you. I've received several calls from "news programs" telling me that they are very interested in doing a segment on a legal website, and that FindLaw is 'one of several companies' they are considering. This news story, they continue, will be shown on all domestic flights on a major airline for an entire month. The catch: to qualify for coverage, FindLaw has to pay production costs, which generally run around $40,000. Just think how profitable the local news could be if they charged people every time they ran a story on them!

7. You've Won an Award!
This is, in my opinion, one of the cleverest scams out there. There are plenty of companies waiting to award your firm "best website" or "mark of excellence." All you need to do is pay several hundred dollars to have your site considered. In general, be cautious of any award that requires a significant application fee, or of a company that is too actively seeking nominees for their award.

8. New Kids on the Block
New businesses pop up all of the time. Some of these companies are well-run and destined for long-term success. Others last three to six months and disappear. Be wary of new businesses that offer products or services at far-below market price. I once purchased "CD-ROM business cards" from a start-up company at an unbelievably low price. The company went bankrupt about three months after they received my payment and, to date, I've never received those business cards.

9. (Not So) Free Trial Offers
A good salesperson will do anything to get you to try out a product. Sometimes, "anything" means a 30 or 60 day no-risk trial offer. But before you sign on for that trial, read the fine print (if you work in a law firm, I hope this is the standard M.O.). I once had someone offer me an advertising deal for $3,000 a month for one year, or alternatively, the first two months free with a one-year contract at $3,600 a month. In other words, the same contract.

10. The Free Website
Another good scam. I received a fax (first warning sign) from a 'university' in Florida asking if their students could design my company website as part of a class project. There was a nominal 'supplies' fee of a few thousand dollars. As I have said many times before, your website is one of your firm's most important marketing tools, and this is one area where you do not want to cut corners. In most instances, a 'free' or 'discount' Web site isn't going to give you a site that will do your firm justice. If you do need a website that will yield results, check out Law Firm Marketing Solutions from FindLaw.