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Is TV or Search Advertising More Effective for Law Firms?

Written by Erik J. Olson on . Posted in .
Home > Blog > Is TV or Search Advertising More Effective for Law Firms?

Recently, a managing partner at one of the Personal Injury law firms I serve asked me if investing $10,000 to $15,000 in broadcast television was a good idea or would that money be better invested in other strategies. Specifically, this client was asking if the money would be better invested in expanding his efforts in Google Search. 

This is a medium-size firm with about ten attorneys and several managing partners. They have a rudimentary understanding of broadcast and digital marketing. After all, their job is to run a law firm.

In order to provide context to the answer, it is necessary to know the market in which they were considering investing.  Our market, the Norfolk-Portsmouth DMA, is the 42nd largest market out of the 210 major US markets with approximately 1.7 million people. 

I’ve worked in sales and marketing for over 30 years and have extensive experience with print, broadcast, and, for the last seven years, have been focused on digital. Currently, I work at a premier, full-service digital marketing agency that specializes in law firm marketing.

We’re cutting edge and deep in technology, psychology, and behavior as it relates to digital marketing. So I felt I could offer some pretty good objective advice. 

If you’re considering or have ever considered whether advertising through TV advertising or search is better for your business, the following should provide you with some very good insight into the pros and cons of both. It’s an insider’s perspective on how these tactics work for Personal Injury and what you need to invest.

I’ll also reveal some questionable strategies that broadcast sales representatives will suggest are effective ways to circumvent broadcast advertising limitations.

TV Advertising

You think that TV is a good idea. Scores of PI competitors are vowing to “fight for you”, “no fees unless we win”, and “get the most with us”. You see these commercials year-round for a long time. These are the competitors that you want to beat. So, it makes sense to do TV and it might sound easy – just duplicate what you see and you’ll make money too. 

Well, it isn’t that simple. Regarding the efficacy of TV advertising for personal injury law firms and its ability to convert viewers into clients, it’s not as simple as it sounds. There are several variables to be considered. 

The abridged challenge for law firms that want to use broadcast advertising is the need to invest in a relatively large budget allocated over a long period of time that paces with the competitor TV spends.

You will need to produce multiple creative spots. Lastly, broadcast does not have the ability to target based on intent. This means that you cannot target people that are specifically interested in your service. 

This nature of TV marketing necessitates running multiple commercials at a high frequency thereby, making TV advertising a very expensive proposition to do effectively whether for brand awareness or conversion. Typically, service roll-outs in TV require at least a frequency of five plus times a month for years in order to gain any traction in the market.

Plus, production costs for multiple TV spots. Because it is a thin market, an effective personal injury campaign has to maintain a frequency of around 5+ – – provided the campaign airs over a reasonable length of time (at least 12 months to 24 months). And still, there are many other issues to take into consideration.

Of utmost importance is the spend level of the competitors. For example, our market is dominated by four or five players who allocate over $1 Million yearly for TV ads. So coming in with say a $100k monthly spend would be risky even if frequency, messaging, and time period goals are reached.

Coming in with a budget that is any lower than that and you can easily get drowned out because you will lose the battle for the share of voice on the air.

Bottom line: You run a huge risk of seeing little return or no return on investment. In my market, I learned from broadcast spending reports and inside industry knowledge that $1 and $2 million dollar yearly budgets are not uncommon. 

As stated previously, marketing research proves that it takes repeated exposure to multiple messages before brand recall occurs with an individual. Only then will they take action and call you. Now consider that the individuals where brand recall has been created will not contact you or find relevance in your message until they need a personal injury attorney.

This is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event or it may never happen at all. This is called a thin market.  It’s not like running a TV commercial for toothpaste which we can only hope individuals need all the time.  

So now you’ve spent all this money targeting every individual in the area that may never need your service with repeated and multiple messages. Top this off with the fact that when they do need a PI attorney, based on the repeated exposure concept, the individuals who do choose a lawyer like this will most likely pick the one they became most familiar with over time from all the past TV advertising.

These will be the firms who have been spending hundreds of thousands on TV for years and years.

So, unless you can commit to a long-term campaign and compete for share of voice in broadcast with the firms that are investing huge budgets, you will most likely not get the business. 

Another danger with TV advertising is that all this competing for the share of voice turns into a budgetary rabbit hole. Say there are six major competitors in the market all spending in the $100k range.

You will be competing to be the one or two firms the individual remembers when they do have a need. Realistically, if all six spent the same amount of money, how many firms do you think an individual would remember – one, two, three at most? 

The fact that only two or three might be remembered creates a budget battle to be the firm that is remembered, resulting in ever-increasing budgets in an attempt to be the firm with the top of mind awareness when the need for a personal injury attorney arises. 

As a former TV insider, the TV reps will tell you that there are ways to get around this. They will tell you that we will get super creative on the production side of things and make you some unbelievable TV spots that will outproduce or perform better than the ones they create for their top spending clients. Also, the reality is in terms of developing the creative, I think it’s reasonable to state there is a certain sameness to the spots created for most law firms.

As mentioned earlier, it’s all the same general claims: “We Win The Most” “We Fight, We Win” “No Fees Unless We Win” “We Are The Best”. I mean really what can be done that is all that different, that sets you apart from the rest? So on that end, the TV company would have to create spots so special, so different, so creative, so brilliant that it could beat the competition’s million-dollar budgets allowing you to purchase a schedule a fifth to a tenth lighter and get the same result? I don’t think so.

Another common tactic TV reps will use is telling you they will develop a media plan that will create a perception of a heavier schedule by running two weeks on and two weeks off and pulsing the push.

They tell you that viewers will remember you as easily with two weeks on then off as they would if you went four weeks consecutively. More nonsense. TV is all about the total number of unique eyeballs reached and how many times you do that over a time period.

That simple formula (eyeballs) x (frequency) x (time period) x (exposure time) is what creates the brand recall that gets results. In my opinion, saying 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off is as good as 4 weeks consecutive is like saying that 100 x 100 x 2 will give you the same result as 100 x 50 x 2. 

So, what would you need to spend to effectively use TV? In a typical market, you would probably need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a year if not millions over the course of a couple of years to make it work. As mentioned before, you put this money on a product that does not reach people that need you now.

A last strategy that broadcast sales representatives will propose is to run spots in less costly time slots or run shorter format commercials. To simplify, the cost of TV advertising is based on how many people you reach and for how long you put your message in front of them. It is priced on a cost per thousand basis.

This is why TV ads in the early morning and early evening are so much more expensive.  Again, the goal with broadcast advertising is to repeatedly expose the message to a mass audience.

All you really are doing is reducing the number of people that are exposed to the message which does not help you reach the goal. The flip side of this idea is to run shorter spots such as bumper ads or 15-second ads to reduce the cost.

In this case, the amount of exposure time (opportunity time) to the brand is reduced. As stated before, brand recall occurs based on this simple idea  (eyeballs) x (frequency) x (time period of campaign length) x (exposure time) = brand recall.

Now, if the goal is just general brand name awareness to create some name recognition/recall, some familiarity, and some trust, that would be attainable at a lower level spend. However, you could not depend on it to generate new cases. 

At best, it could aid you with sign-ups since some individuals would be more familiar with the brand. However, the top of-mind awareness necessary to consistently convert cases would be nearly impossible unless you compete to win with the bigger players in your market. 

As stated previously, the majority of people targeted by broadcast rarely or never have a need for a Personal Injury Lawyer. However, in search, you are capturing the attention of people who are actively looking for the services that you specifically offer.

In my experience, the best use of your marketing dollars is to invest them in capturing as many of the searches for your service as possible.

There is a finite amount of search volume for your services but until you have reached the limit of searches possible to capture, search will always be a better option for new case generation since the individual is actively seeking a personal injury law firm. 

If you delivered a search result in 45% of all the searches (search impression share) available for high intent keyword searches for PI lawyers, car accident lawyers, etc. in the geographies you serve locally, you could theoretically double the number of cases generated by search. 

Hypothetically, if your ads are present for about 45% of the personal injury keyword related searches in your market and you increase that number to 90% you can almost double the number of new cases generated in search.

This is true until you reach the saturation point of search impression share which is about 90-95%. Hence, there is no reason to invest in broadly targeted advertising options until you have reached the saturation point of search. 

So my advice is to invest in search until you reach the saturation point before you begin considering other advertising tactics because through search you are capturing the highest intent audience available.

I am not saying that TV does not have a place in a marketing plan but it just doesn’t make sense to invest in a broadly targeted medium until you have gotten the most out of the search tactic. This is especially true if the goal is to get new cases now! 

A Word About Search 

Simply put: search is the highest converting advertising tactic. It is that simple. There is no debate about this. The simple reason why – Google is where people go to find services and products.

Even if they have a brand name in mind or a referral, the majority will still research online before acting. It is the highest converting advertising tactic available for legal practices. 

There are a finite number of searches conducted by individuals seeking personal injury attorneys over any period of time. On the low end, if there are 10,000 searches a month for personal injury-related keywords, about 5% of your results will get clicked and about 7% will convert into a lead.

If you invested enough in SEO and advertising to have your results show up in 90% of those searches, you will get 450 clicks (10,000 impressions x .90 impression share x .05 click-thru rate) and you will get 31.5 leads (450 clicks x .07 conversion rate).

If you invested to show up in 45% of these searches, you will get 15.75 leads. So if it cost $5,000 to be seen in 90% of the searches it would probably cost about $2,500 to be in 45% of the searches. In other words, search scales proportionally with spend and the results are proportional as well. 

Search dominates conversion activity and has value across the funnel. However, it dominates within the bottom-of-funnel conversion activity. There is no doubt about this. Searchers convert into business faster and more often than other forms of advertising. 

Search is king for trust and volume. Search consistently dominates the rankings of tools customers turn to for reach, depth, and relationship. Customers trust their search results with 72% saying search results are trustworthy – the highest rating for any digital channel.

Search Is A Primary Tool For Customers Through Their Life Cycle

This study found that customers turn to search channels as one of their top sources of information at all stages of their customer life cycle (see Figure 2). In fact, more than 90% of consumers in our study say they use one of the search channels offered (mostly general Internet searches, but also searches on retailer sites or social platforms) when discovering, exploring, and engaging. 

Search is an effective way for brands to reach the majority of their customers

95% use search and 50% discovered a brand with TV.  Search is a significant way study participants discover or find out about new products or services, with 95% reporting they turned to search in this stage of their life cycle. In comparison, only 50% indicate they discovered a recent product via TV advertising. 

Search Ads Lift Top-of-Mind Brand Awareness

Search ads lift brand awareness. That’s the finding from a meta-analysis of 61 studies by Google and Ipsos MediaCT. Consumers were prompted to search for a category keyword and then shown either a Control search engine result page (SERP) or a Test SERP that featured a test brand in the top search ad position.

Of those who saw the Test SERP, 14.8% named the test brand; only 8.2% who saw the Control SERP did so. Search ads lifted top-of-mind awareness an average of 6.6 percentage points. 

If you are ready to learn how to grow new cases for your firm without gimmicks and good old digital marketing, message Glen Kosik for his expert advice. Glen will use his decades of experience to create a strategy that helps you gain a wider reach and get more cases now.

Written By Erik J. Olson
Founder & CEO
Erik J. Olson is the Founder & CEO of Array Digital—a marketing agency that enables its clients to achieve their dreams, fulfill their missions, and impact more lives with their services.

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