26 February 2001
Those not preoccupied with opening their pictures of Anna Kournikova or reading one of 11bn text messages on Valentine's Day may have noticed a new poster campaign breaking.
Carrying the simple slogan "I [upside down red heart] page3.com", the message was clear. Draw it, you'll see. There was no need to add The Sun, let alone News Corporation. Clearly, both felt the need to spend money on pushing the website, but the brand spoke for itself. "Page 3" might as well be in the Oxford English Dictionary, such is its resonance in our culture.
Despite News Corporation's well documented confusion about its online activities and branding, its offline brand-building and marketing has been focused, coherent and logical.
The issue for law firms here is not the subtleties of online marketing. It is the equally delicate challenge of marketing individual features - if you'll forgive the nudge, nudge pun.
News Corporation is a successful mega-business. The Sun is a successful brand. Page 3 is a successful feature, image and ideology. News Corporation has never tried to place itself at the heart of its marketing, preferring to develop The Times, News of the World, Fox et al as names and services themselves. The danger is in splitting The Sun's brand and pushing a particular element.
What the paper clearly believes is that the parent brand is strong enough to take the reflected glory from the Page 3 campaign and that the success of one department adds to the success of all. Leaving aside the thorny issue of online business cannibalising offline media, historically they have been proven right - page 3 is at the heart of The Sun, what it stands for and what its readers see it as and buy it for.
As law firms grow into global businesses whether organically or through mergers, they will face a not dissimilar dilemma. Do they put the marketing push into the global conglomerate, into the national firm, or take the next step and look at marketing a firm's features?
As firms gingerly step through the doors of the big ad/branding houses, meeting, perhaps for the first time, people who can play the billing hours game as well as they can, the task is for the firm as a whole or some sexy internet venture about to roll out. Rarely will the discussion be about putting some marketing push behind a practice area, or, heaven and headhunters forbid, a practice team.
Yet in every firm there are real concrete features that existing and potential customers can relate to, form a relationship with and use to understand a firm's position. Few, if any, in-house counsel (the customers) know the firm as a whole and fewer, if any, would commission work purely on that basis. Work comes out of a complex mixture of personal relationships, reputations and specific needs. All of these can be aided by appropriate marketing at the right level.
Marketing a practice team and its successes is not the equivalent of putting a "for sale" sign above the prize rainmaker. It is pushing the key feature a firm has to offer - its work and its people. Investing in marketing what a firm values (its legal practice and its practitioners) may actually be the best way to keep that rainmaker.
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