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You've undoubtedly walked by a billboard featuring a smiling lawyer in a suit, with a caption claiming that he'll fight for you, along with a checklist of things he'll help you fight for. Then there's a phone number at the bottom. Maybe it includes a silly nickname.
Have you ever wondered about billboards -- known in The Biz as "outdoor advertising"? Opinions vary about outdoor advertising; it's either a great, cost-effective idea or it's a vestige of an earlier time (and wouldn't you rather launch a social media campaign?).
If you're thinking about getting a billboard ad for your law firm, take some of these thoughts into account:
Billboards Look Cheesy
Lawyer billboards aren't seen as the classiest way to advertise. How many other "professionals" advertise on billboards? You don't see many architects or doctors (well, maybe there are a few) plastered on a sign by the highway saying, "Need a flu shot? I can help!" And yet, lawyer billboards remain, with that same guy and that same caption.
Billboards Are Cost-Effective
The companies promoting billboards as ad platforms point out that, unlike TV or newspapers, billboards are always there, all the time. Of course, the number of eyes that will see a billboard is a function of where the billboard is located, which means a billboard in a more high-profile location will be more expensive than one located behind a high school.
Yeah, that's great, but how much do billboards cost? The marketing company Grasshopper estimates that it costs about $1,000 to gain a customer by using a billboard. But that's not the end of the story: A 2003 paper prepared by ESOMAR, a market research firm, suggests that billboards have a tremendous return on investment, higher than television and slightly higher than radio due to their lower costs.
What's the Point of a Billboard?
Because they cost so much, Grasshopper says billboards are probably better left to "businesses that sell truly mass market consumer products (things everybody needs like cars or insurance)."
This makes sense in some sense if your practice is devoted to high-volume work, like DUIs or personal injury: The client is just interested in making the problem go away (for DUIs) or getting a settlement to pay for medical bills (personal injury). This also explains why so many lawyer billboards feature ads for -- drum roll, please -- DUIs and personal injury. (Can you think of a billboard for estate planning?)
Will It Get Clients in the Door?
Arbitron, a market research firm, conducted an "in-car study" in 2009 -- basically, how effective are ad techniques that target people driving in cars? The survey responses suggest that billboards are good at getting people to think about messages in the abstract, but when it comes to something more specific -- like noting a phone number or a Web address -- they don't care so much (26 percent and 28 percent, respectively). And maybe that's all you want: To put that initial thought in the client's head ("Maybe I do need a lawyer!").
Editor's Note, October 28, 2015: This post was first published in November 2014. It has since been updated.