Does Direct Mail for attorneys still work?
It is no secret that direct mail as a marketing platform has become more competitive over the years. It is hard to know for sure, but it looks like the first attorneys to ever use direct mail advertising where a pair of Arizona attorneys. They started using direct mail advertising in the 1970s. With no competition, they experienced considerable success.
Direct mail started to spread throughout the United States through the 1980s and 1990s. Even by the mid-1990s, direct mail was not a commonly used marketing strategy by lawyers partly because of the difficulty in getting the raw data to do the marketing (often this required an in-person trip to the local courthouse followed by hours of transcribing work) and partly due to the fact that direct mail marketing was frowned upon.
With the tech boom in the late 1990s, companies similar to Direct Legal Mail sprung up. Suddenly it was possible to collect records using computers. State governments began to centralize the collection and storage on mainframe computers.
Today, direct mail is highly competitive. There are often dozens of law firms in each county spending out a flyer. In Wake County, North Carolina, a defendant who gets a speeding ticket will soon be getting 12-15 mail pieces advertising attorneys’ services. In the populous and wealthy Virginia counties surrounding Washington DC, like Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax, if a defendant gets a reckless driving charge, they will get 2-3 dozen advertisements through the mail.
The result of this intense competition is that legal fees have been driven down. This is great for potential clients but not so great for the profits of law firms. In certain counties in North Carolina, it is not unusual to see a legal fee of $50 being advertised on advertisement letters for a simple speeding ticket. And even the almighty reckless driving cases that make up about half the revenue of Virginia criminal defense firms are seeing legal fees plummet. Attorneys are not able to command $400 and $450 price points on Virginia reckless driving cases anymore.
Attorneys seem to be adopting two strategies to deal with the lower legal fees caused by the glut of direct mail. Some attorneys are sticking with a market differentiation strategy: they are sending out a glossy more expensive mail piece and are advertising what sets their service apart in terms of quality and experience of legal counsel. Other law firms are following a compete-on-price strategy: they are sending out a simple but elegant letter and are trying to advertise as cheaply as possible and offer the lowest or tie for the lowest legal fees in the market. Honestly, at Direct Legal Mail, we have seen both of these strategies work.
But the critical question remains: what is the return on investment (ROI) for attorney direct mail? There is no one answer because each market is different. Even counties that neighbor each other can often very difficult ROIs for the attorneys advertising in those counties. The following guidelines may be helpful:
- The more rural the county, the greater the ROI. Although something to keep in mind is that the volume of cases you get is lower in a rural county and so going to court in a rural county tends to be less efficient because you handle fewer cases in court.
- If you have good online support for your direct mail campaign, the ROI of the direct mail campaign will be much greater. Basically, a good website is essential. Many times potential clients will get your flyer or postcard through the mail and will visit your website. It is especially helpful if your website and direct mail advertisement have the same looking style to them. Maybe this is a colorful banner across the top of the website and flyer. Even a distinct, memorable logo can make a difference. Having a page on your website that reiterates the message in the flyer can also improve results.
- Bottom line: we usually see returns on investment of between 25% and 200%. Thus, if you spend $1,000 on direct mail marketing, you can expect to receive about $1,250 - $3,000 in revenue. So direct mail can be marginally profitable or very profitable. ROI of greater than 200% is rare because of increased competition. If a law firm is getting a ROI of greater than 200% consistently, competitors will move into the market and underbid on price, pushing ROI down. There are some attorneys who do lose money on direct mail marketing, but this is usually because they pull the plug on the campaign before enough time has gone by to fully allow results to develop.