Will You Be First? A Law Firm Marketing Lesson In Taking Risk and NEVER Accepting "No"

Have you ever been the first person to accomplish something new?

Earlier this month we heard about the passing of Roger Bannister, famous for being the first athlete to run the “sub-Four Minute Mile” in 1954. After Bannister’s success, other athletes also achieved this feat.

Bannister was the first. He showed the world what was possible, encouraging others to match his result.

“Impossible 4-Minute Mile”

But before Bannister, nobody had run a mile in under four minutes. It was believed to be impossible, as Wikipedia explains:

The claim that a four-minute mile was once thought to be impossible by “informed” observers was and is a widely propagated myth created by sportswriters and debunked by Bannister himself in his memoir, The Four Minute Mile (1955).

So if Roger Bannister had told his friends that he was going to run a mile in under four minutes, they would have scoffed at the idea.

“Impossible,” said the informed observers.

Impossible until it happened.

“Impossible” Law Firm Marketing

I too was the first to achieve something. It wasn’t thought possible until I proved otherwise. And it wasn’t as complicated as running a four-minute mile.

I understand that I was the first business owner in the US to have a fridge magnet attached to the front of the phone book and yellow pages.

Here’s the story.

I started sending out fridge magnets to my clients around 1997, when I saw the advantage of their long shelf life. A flier or business card might well get tossed in the garbage, but a fridge magnet is usually kept and stuck on a refrigerator.

And I’d been running ads in the Yellow Pages, just like the other law firms.

What I noticed was that the front of each delivered phone book had something attached that was basically pointless. Ma Bell was persuading businesses to pay for an advertising sticky note to be attached to the cover, and they were charging good money for this exercise in futility.

A post-it note on the front of the phone book was not really going to generate any extra business besides what the ad inside the book would generate.

Of course my Yellow Pages rep offered me the sticky note, but I wasn’t interested.

Asking For The “Impossible”

I said, “If I can put my fridge magnet on the front cover instead, I’ll take it.”

Of course, my rep said that it was impossible. It had never been done before.

“Please ask your superiors,” was my response.

Well guess what?

My ad rep’s superiors couldn’t come up with a reason why I couldn’t have my fridge magnet on the front cover of the phone book. It just had to be a thinner magnet than the ones I’d already been buying.

So in 2000, if I remember correctly, my law practice was the first business in the country to advertise with fridge magnets on the cover of the phone book. That was in addition to my ads in the book itself.

Now, this exercise wasn’t cheap, let me tell you!

I paid $200,000 just for my magnets to go to 400,000 in Raleigh, NC. That’s not counting the other satellite towns and markets.

And to put that in context, at the height of my advertising with Yellow Pages, I was spending $600,000 a year! But it wasn’t money wasted. I always tracked our results via dedicated tracking phone numbers. The $600k was worth it for all the cases it brought in.

But the outrageous results were from the fridge magnets.

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All Over Town

Our fridge magnets were on the front cover of the phone book that went to every home and business in the Raleigh area. And they all put up my fridge magnet.

That included the police stations, the courthouses, the federal offices, the libraries, the coffee shops, the supermarkets, the local stores.

Everywhere you went, my law firm’s fridge magnet was there.

The law firm’s marketing was all over town. We were ubiquitous. Everybody knew about us.

And because of that, we got a ton of new cases regularly.

Eventually, as you probably know, Yellow Pages became a pale shadow of its former self as the Internet became a useful tool for ordinary people and smartphones became commonplace.

Yellow Pages Spending Cut By 95%

We don’t spend $600k per annum on Yellow Pages any more. My Raleigh law firm has cut that by 95%. Again, we were one of the first firms in the market to cut way back on our Yellow Pages advertising.

But in the glory days, I was happy to spend those sums of money because I knew we had marketing that just worked. We had our market cornered.

Because I was the first to push for fridge magnets on the phone book covers, I got it. And by maintaining my order each year, I stopped any other law firm from doing the same thing. We’d crowded them out.

First Mover Advantage

There are a lot of advantages to being the first to do something. Sure you could hang back and let someone else take the risk, but sometimes when you’re second, you lose out to the guy with “first-mover advantage”.

And you also lose out on being able to brag that you were “the first”.

I don’t benefit from bragging about being the first to stick fridge magnets on the phone book. But I could benefit from crowing about being the first law firm to offer a Client Satisfaction Guarantee or a Clients’ Bill of Rights.

Because we were the first, any other law firm with same promise is just jumping on the bandwagon, just a “me-too” organization. They don’t get to say, “We were the first and this is why we did it.”

They can only say, “We copied the other firm because we could see it made sense.” Being the second person to do something is not remarkable. It does define who you are, it says you’re a chicken who didn’t have the guts to be first.

Remember The Winner

But really, nobody remembers who came second in a race. They only remember the winner.

With today’s technology, there are always new tools, strategies and tactics we can try. You can be the first person in your market to try them, and steal a lead on your competitors. Or you can wait until someone else has proven the concept and you can then play “me-too catchup”. But you’ll only be catching up on the others. You’ll never be in the lead. That approach may eliminate risk, but with risk comes the reward.

The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that take risks and want to be first to try something new. That could be a way of marketing your law practice, or it could be something like a new technology that might benefit your clients.

A Lesson In Law Firm Marketing: Never Take “No” For An Answer

If I took that initial “no” from my Yellow Pages rep as his final answer, I would not have enjoyed the same level of success. I know the difference my fridge magnet made to my law practice.

So the lesson here is that there are enormous benefits from being the first to do something, and there are benefits from being an early adopter.

You could play it safe by following the lead of other more courageous business owners, but the real success comes from not accepting “no” as a final answer.

When you believe that anything is possible, nothing can hold you back from making your dreams a reality.

So ask yourself, are you an entrepreneur who is willing to take an occasional calculated risk and be first to try something new?  Or will you always play it safe and allow others to gain that first-mover advantage?