The right message

If asked whether I like a law firm's brochure, I usually say: “Yes. What do you do with it?” We are shown a lot of brochures, and it is often apparent that a lot of work has gone into their preparation.

The answers we get to my opening question reveal, however, that the use to which the finished brochure will be put has often not been so clearly thought through.

This innocent question raises three issues: for which clients (or target clients) is the brochure intended? Depending on the answer to the first question, what message is it intended to communicate, and does it convincingly separate your firm from its competitors? Indeed, does it even try to; how will the brochure reach those who it is intended for?

As the director of marketing of a large law firm which each year spent a lot of money on thick glossy brochures that were then displayed in reception, I tried an experiment. Inside each brochure we placed a questionnaire, with a Marks & Spencer gift voucher as an incentive for the reader to complete it. Replies cascaded in – over 400 in a month, 92 per cent from visiting lawyers.

The managing partner confirmed, somewhat tartly, that this was not his intended

audience.

The intended audience can be divided into three groups. First, existing clients who may not make use of the service that is described in the brochure. Placing the brochures in reception on the off-chance that existing clients may drop in and pick them up seems a trifle hit and miss.

The second group is multipliers; not clients but people who influence clients, such as accountants. Again, you will need a more purposeful means of getting the brochure to them than hoping they will drop in.

The third group, of course, is target clients. Here the contact method is less obvious. It will not be effective simply to send the brochure as a single isolated contact.

The pursuit of target clients requires a pattern of regular and persistent contact, often spread over many months, before the first work results. This steady contact requires careful design so as not to waste partner time at too early a stage, and will probably involve other kinds of communication.

There are two other common traps to avoid. The first is to make the brochure's marketing message a panegyric to the

firm's illustrious history or partners' expertise. Sadly, the clients aren't impressed.

Second is to use vague motherhood statements about quality of service. Firms insist that they give a “personal partner service” as if it had just been invented and no other firm does it. If your firm has not checked out the clients' quality requirements via a good client survey, it is safer to avoid the 'Q' word altogether; clients can easily tell whether there is anything

substantial underpinning your words.

So, if you already have brochures, ask yourself if you are using these well, and do you know if you are getting results from them.

Better still, if you are thinking of a brochure, stop before you spend any money, and ask yourself why you are doing this. Who will this publication go to, and is it likely to have the effect you want?

Stephen Owen was director of marketing of the Norton Rose M5 Group and now heads Owen Partnership Consultants.