BD tips and insights

Traditional advertising: a wasteland for professional services business development

October 14, 2015 | Posted in: Grow your business

I hoped our 2015 research into Australasian law firms marketing and BD activities would show that advertising in traditional media (print, billboard, radio, TV) was finally dead. But our data shows that plenty of firms are still persisting with advertising, despite knowing it doesn’t work.

Preliminary research findings reveal that advertising in traditional media is the one of the least effective sources of new business enquiries – only legal directories was rated lower. When we asked which one marketing and BD activity respondents would like to stop doing, the overwhelming response was traditional advertising. Comments provided some reasons: there was “no cut through”, and print advertising was “very expensive with little or no measurable benefit to the firm”.

Traditional advertising is a wasteland for professional services firms (mostly)

Traditional advertising wasteland

The most effective BD activities for professional services are in-person: referral relationships and networking. Referral relationships and networking were consistently cited by respondents as the two most effective traditional marketing and BD techniques to stimulate new business for their firm.

I need to acknowledge that there are a tiny handful of firms who do advertising well, and for whom it is an appropriate mechanism to generate work. The firms who do well out of advertising tend to have highly targeted messages, appropriate calls to action, and place ads in the right place and at the right time. Criminal lawyers still report lots of benefit from persevering with Yellow Pages ads, for instance.

Despite acknowledging it doesn’t work, many firms continue with traditional advertising mediums. If you are in a firm that, for whatever reason (legacy, political, fear, vanity, laziness), feels compelled to do advertising, read on for my tips on how to do it right.

How to do traditional advertising right

The first step to proper advertising for professional services firms is a clear brief. Here’s a simple outline to help plan your advertising.

Your objectives

  • What do you want this advertising to achieve? For example:
    • create a need
    • increase awareness
    • generate interest or influence an attitude
    • generate enquiries, leads, and/or clients
    • educate clients about your services
    • inform clients about how your services relate to a problem
    • announce an achievement.
  • What increase in market share, clients or fees do you want to achieve with this particular project or communication? Set a clear target.
  • What is your call to action? That is, what would you like the people who see this advertisement do once they have seen it?

Your targets

  • Are you promoting to existing clients? Prospective clients?
  • What do you know about their attitudes, awareness levels, and current behaviour?
  • What are their business problems, professional aspirations, and priorities?
  • What barriers exist in the minds of each group?
  • What risks are they taking in buying you?

Your competition

  • Who is a credible alternative to you?
  • When people do decide to go to another firm instead of you, who do they usually choose?
  • What are similar firms doing (locally, nationally)? Collect examples of their advertising, brand image, printed material, editorial and similar, if feasible.

Your position in the market

  • What are people saying about you now?
  • What feedback do you get from colleagues, clients, competitors, media about you and your firm?


  • What client need or want are you seeking to address?
  • What are the likely motivations and emotions involved?
  • What unique benefits do you offer?
  • What does your service offer that the competition can’t match? Is this important to the client ? Can you really deliver ?
  • What is the thing or things that you can promise your clients, that you know your competition cannot?


  • How much will you allocate for this advertising? Design? Copy writing?

Tone and manner

  • What is the feeling you want this ad to convey?


  • What is your tag line?
  • What themes, slogans, or directions are you currently using or have used that may influence this?
  • What is your own firm doing locally, interstate or internationally? Is it relevant to your targets?

Measure the success

How will you determine the success of your ad? Once you understand the clients you’re pursuing and how your firm can attract them, you can look at how to track and measure advertising performance.

Many of our research participants claimed it was “too hard” to measure the impact of advertising. Measurement does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. It can be as simple as instructing your front-line staff to ask first time callers or visitors how they heard of your firm.

Once you have results, you can decide if it’s worth doing advertising in this way, or whether to spend your time and money on something else.  And for professional services firms, our research is clear: stop wandering mindlessly through the traditional advertising wastelands.

We can help, please get in touch.

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