Law firm courts CNN viewers

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An exclusive, $3.5 million marketing deal between a national corporate law firm and CNN could open the floodgates for advertising among the nation’s more traditional law firms.

The law firm, San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger and Harrison L.L.P., which specializes in high-tech and emerging growth companies, started running its ads in mid-January on CNN, CNN Headline News, CNNfn, CNN Airport Network and CNN’s various Web sites. The spots will get the most play during CNN’s “Moneyline,” one of the network’s most highly rated programs.

"Our target audience is not lawyers but senior managers of American business," said Tower Snow Jr., chairman of Brobeck, Phleger. "And CNN has the broadest business audience of any public broadcaster."

Bulking up budgets

The campaign, which is scheduled to run for a year, has sparked considerable buzz in the legal field. "Nothing less than a piercing of the legal fraternity is occurring," said Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications L.L.C., which provides marketing consulting to several law firms. "Law firms don’t want to do anything new. But once they see somebody else do it successfully, they’re forced to repeat it."

Levick, who is also an attorney, said the Brobeck, Phleger ad campaign should inspire other law firms to increase their marketing budgets from the current and rather anemic average of 1.5% of overall revenue. By contrast, most other industries devote an average of 15% of overall revenues to marketing.

"I’d be amazed if law firms don’t substantially increase their marketing budgets" as a result of the ad campaign, Snow said. "You can’t get market share without first getting mind share. The law is no different than any other business."

Indeed, Brobeck, Phleger’s campaign follows the lead taken by consulting firms such as Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P. and Ernst & Young L.L.P., which count among their employees as many lawyers as the world’s largest law firms. Such consultancies began in the early 1990s to target eyeballs through mass broadcast campaigns.

"If you look at leaders in a category historically, very often competitors have seen the benefits of branding [in terms of] new business, new clients and better morale, all of which are powerful inducements to advertise," said Larry Goodman, CNN sales and marketing president, adding that CNN is now mulling over marketing campaigns from other law firms. "The stigma of legal advertising has disappeared."

Indeed, most white-shoe law firms have historically grown their businesses via networking and word-of-mouth and have generally avoided print and broadcast ads. Brobeck, Phleger’s aggressive ad campaign could change that.

Goodman said, "In conjunction with referrals and relationship lies some branding, and the difference between who gets the business and who doesn’t."

In one spot, titled "Glider plane," a plane glides around a Gerber daisy suspended above a snowfield and then passes by a nattily dressed businessman. In the next image, the plane is reflected in the sunglasses of a young woman standing in aqua blue water. At that point, the plane starts to lose altitude but a hand comes out of the sky to lift the plane and send it soaring.

In another spot, "Bullet train," a bullet train speeds through nature’s elements before approaching a mountain pass where the track curves. Again, a guiding hand comes out of the sky, reaches down and straightens out the track, putting the train back at full speed. Both ads end with the tagline: "Brobeck. When your future is at stake."

The spots were created by San Francisco-based ad agency Modo Futuro and use the same computer graphic arts team that worked on the films "Titanic," "The Matrix" and "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." "[Viewers] will associate high-quality service with a high-quality commercial," said David Geyer, marketing director at Brobeck, Phleger.

The campaign is part of a multi-pronged marketing plan. Although Brobeck, Phleger will cut back on its print media placements, the law firm will continue to schedule ads for the remainder of the year in The Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Business 2.0, The Industry Standard and several American Lawyer Media Inc. publications.

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