Working well for her multi-office immigration firm: loyalty programs for referrers, surveys of prospects who go elsewhere, and multiple blogs.
Maria Coppola may not have known it when she first got into marketing, but she was destined to work at a law firm. She’s held marketing positions in many different industries, including information technology, insurance and risk management, consumer electronics magazines, and even furniture.
Her shift to the legal field began with working as a marketing consultant at Berardi Immigration Law. Today, she’s the marketing manager at Serotte Law Firm.
Coppola has worked for “really large companies, and really small companies,” with the law firm she’s currently at being the smallest company she’s worked for. Having such a diverse background in marketing has helped set her up for success in her position with Serotte.
“Working in a smaller law firm really requires you to have a certain level of initiative,” she says. “You need to be able to work on your own, and just know what you need to do. So the broader your background before you get there, the better off you’re going to be because lawyers don’t really have time to deal with marketing, and many of them don’t want to.”
Life on the Job
Coppola says that even though it’s a law firm and not a consumer brand, the marketing techniques themselves aren’t all that different. But there is one thing that makes marketing a law firm completely different. And that’s especially true because her firm deals with immigration law.
“The whole conversation with the client is different,” she says. “You’re really dealing with very personal matters. It’s very different from, say, trying to sell somebody toothpaste. There’s a much higher level of confidentiality that you have to work with. And you have to be able to track and manage cases and case information, which is far different than trying to track the sale of widgets, for example.”
Another thing that makes marketing a law firm challenging is the conversations in social media.
“The conversations you’re trying to have via social media, those are very different as well,” Coppola says. “People look to you more as a source of information, and what’s going to keep them compliant or legal, depending on what their particular interest is.”
She says it’s “much easier to create a conversation about a product,” so she has to make sure her firm is “going to market with a much different message—one that’s going to resonate” with its target audience.
In order to determine the marketing messages her firm uses, they do market research, as well as look at “what’s trending in the media, what’s trending in current legislation and what’s of concern to our clients.”
“For example,” she says, “last year when DOMA fell, there was a huge opportunity for same-sex bi-national couples to marry and obtain immigration benefits in the United States. So being able to communicate that sort of information is really important. You have to stay on top of the news and on top of what people need to know or want to know.”
Staying up to date is a priority for Coppola. She follows the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, as well as several Washington-related blogs, and everything coming out of the House of Representatives and the White House.
When it comes to industry-specific organizations, she stays up to date with several, including: the American Immigration Lawyers Association and ILW the Immigration Law Publisher.
And for non-industry stuff, she likes to “follow things that are relevant to getting the job done,” such as Moz (formerly SEOMoz), the American Marketing Association, and the Legal Marketing Association.
“The LMA is pretty cool,” she says. “They have newsletters, guides and tips—it’s a really great reference for law firm marketers.”
Loyalty Programs and Other Marketing Tactics That Work
The Serotte Law Firm gets most of its business from other law firms and business associations with places like accounting firms, as well as from client referrals. Coppola uses a variety of marketing tactics to help spread the word about the firm and its services, in order to bring in new business.
Some of these tactics include client communications like emails and newsletters, and she also does “quite a bit with social media.”
“The other thing we do is we’re focusing on the web and on search engine optimization,” she says. “We’ve made efforts to build our website with the user in mind, and to achieve organic search success by optimizing every page on our website with long-tail SEO keywords related to our business.”
The Serotte Law Firm also has three blogs that Coppola maintains: U.S. Immigration, a general blog about everything immigration-related; U.S./Canada Border Lawyer, a blog that deals mainly with U.S.-Canada legal issues and issues with crossing the border; and Immigrant Entrepreneur Lawyer, a blog for foreign entrepreneurs and foreign student entrepreneurs.
“The blogs are created in WordPress, and they’re all tied to our website,” she says.
But the main marketing tactic that helps the firm keep business rolling in are in-house loyalty programs.
“Loyalty programs are working really well for us right now,” Coppola says. “Initially we look at it from a few different levels, in terms of somebody sending us a new client or a client inquiry (aka: lead). We track referrals from the standpoint of: are they calling us for information? Does that information request lead to a consult? Does that consult lead to a case?
“We will let the referrer know that, ‘so-and-so has called us, thank you for referring them,’” she says. “And then if the person moves onto a case, we have our loyalty program in place to show appreciation. What we reward them with is based on how many clients they send to us and how large the clients are.”
Another thing Coppola does that’s a bit different is having a process for finding out why people decided not to work with the Serotte Law Firm.
“We like to know why people who call us for information don’t end up working with us,” she says. “So we use incentives to collect information. We’ll ask: ‘why is it you chose not to work with us? Did you choose to go with another firm because of A, B, C or D reason?’ And then we say, ‘thank you” and give them a gift card.”
Finding out why people choose not to work with the firm helps Coppola hone the firm’s messaging, and it also helps her “better target our audience and better optimize the website.”
“For example, if we’re getting a lot of traffic from one particular source, but it ends up being all people looking for free information, we know that’s not where we want to focus, so we tweak our internal strategies to try and refine the target audience we want to reach.
Tools to Get the Job Done
Coppola uses a variety of tools and programs to get her job done. She uses Hootsuite for sending out and scheduling social media messages, as well as Google Analytics for tracking website traffic and data. Right now she does the firm’s SEO through the content management system DotNetNuke, which powers the Serotte Law Firm’s website, but her firm is transitioning to a new website provider in the next three months.
“And unlike a lot of law firms,” she says, “we use salesforce.com for customer relationship management (CRM). We did that intentionally because of the way we wanted to run the business. A lot of firms use other CRMs, and all these programs are pretty similar, but we wanted to use something that was more readily available in the marketplace, and something that would translate to the business world.”
Coppola also uses an editorial and marketing calendar to keep track of content and marketing initiatives.
“Because we deal with the borders, the holidays are a big time of year for us,” she says. “Helping people cross the borders more smoothly is always important. There are also certain seasons, like H-1B visa season, which is something specific to immigration law. The other thing to remember is that government agencies often don’t have the same fiscal year that businesses do, so there’s always room to have a calendar in place so that you’re not missing opportunities. We definitely use a calendar, but we keep it very practice-specific.”
A Final Word of Advice from Coppola
Coppola says the most important thing that marketers who work for law firms need to be able to do is communicate effectively with the lawyers they’re working with.
“You need to be able to communicate with the lawyers very quickly, get your point across and make sure they know exactly what you need from them,” she says. “Setting expectations with them is really important; they don’t have a lot of time to give and they really don’t want to give you a lot of time. So being able to do things quickly and get what you need from them in the amount of time they’re willing to give you is really important.”
She also advises that if you’re doing marketing for an immigration law firm, you need to be thinking long-term, and work on creating strong relationships between your firm and its clients.
“Immigration is really different than other areas of law,” she says. “Working with people on immigration issues is really personal to them, so you have to be able to build a rapport. You can end up working with people for 10, 15 or even 20 years, so in some cases there becomes a personal relationship with the law firm.”