What small business owners can learn from personal injury lawyer marketing and advertising

You have just been injured in a car accident through no fault of your own and want to claim damages. Who are you going to call?
A "we fight" personal injury (PI) lawyer
or a "we care" PI lawyer.

There was a time when there was no personal injury (PI) lawyer marketing advertising in Toronto – except for what was placed on U.S. channels by PI firms in Buffalo. Indeed, it would be fair to say that in those days the best known law firm in Toronto was Cellino & Barnes, a Buffalo based personal injury law firm.

We told a Toronto personal injury lawyer at the time that there was a lot to be gained by being the first local firm to launch an aggressive advertising campaign. You could get "top of mind", we explained. The lawyer, who was working for us at the time, declined. Too bad for him (but consistent with the bad judgement he applied to our legal matter).

Now let's fast forward to today. Personal injury advertising is everywhere in Toronto. On TV. On radio. On billboards and bus shelters. Most prominent are two campaigns promoting opposite marketing strategies: We care and We fight.  

The leading proponent of We fight is also the leading advertiser by far: Diamond and Diamond. They are all about the fight ("When it comes to fighting for your rights, there is nothing tougher than a diamond!") and they even have a Principal who looks like a Mixed Martial Arts fighter in an Italian suit. He has reached semi-celebrity status by getting a lot of screen time and is likely the best known personal injury lawyer in Toronto, a big marketing advantage he earned by spending big on personal injury advertising.

He is always shown in front of a long row of lawyers, presumably because the goal is to show that "our row of lawyers is longer than your row of lawyers!"  The original photo showed the firm had a lot in common with the Trump cabinet:  all white (almost) and all male (almost) – a bad image to present in a multi-ethnic town like Toronto, where fully one half of all PI clients will not be white or male. Today, there is an even bigger row of lawyers on the Diamond and Diamond website and the age/gender imbalance is somewhat corrected. Meanwhile, a competing law firm, Sokoloff Lawyers, has taken advantage of Diamond and Diamond's original misstep by positioning itself as "Toronto's Multi-Ethnic Personal Injury Lawyers".

The polar opposite of Diamond and Diamond is Cariati Law, the leading proponents of "we care" lawyer marketing. You see the key difference in the opening scene of a typical Cariati Law television commercial, where the Principal of the law firm, Mario Cariati, pledges to defend client rights. "We help seriously injured people every day," he says with arms open and extended, a posture rarely used by lawyers, who are typically shown with arms folded, a position any body language expert will tell you is negative because it projects detachment and defensiveness.

Where is the row of lawyers?

There is no row of lawyers in a Cariati TV commercial. Instead we get nurturing and caring messages, presented with an equally calming music track (and the usual cliché images of lawyers staring intently at paper.)  That's going to resonate with the not insignificant number of potential personal injury clients who are leery of lawyers and frightened by the thought of going to court.  The last thing they want to hear is that there is going to be a "big fight". A similar number, however, will want just the opposite and they are going straight to Diamond and Diamond or another law firm that makes a similar pitch (punch?). 

Ultimately, both Diamond and Diamond and Cariati deserve high marks for two things:

  • Betting big on lawyer advertising (and winning)
  • Clearly staking out their territory and not taking the "middle road", the deadly marketing sin that sinks so many businesses, large and small  

Good on both.

Read WolfBites and Head to Head for more advertising and marketing tips from Wolfgang Franke, the Marketing Guru for small business. 

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