professional services marketing

Here are the only 3 headlines you should ever use in your advertising

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The most important part of your advertisement, direct marketing, poster, email or social media campaign is your headline.

The majority of people read little else. As proof of this, think about how you read. What draws your attention to the stories you read in your preferred newspapers, websites and magazines? I’d bet it’s the headlines.

And, just like the headlines used in news stories, your advertisement’s headline has one goal: to interest people enough to make them read on.

In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that your campaign might win or flop entirely on your headline.

So how do you write a good one?

Obviously your headline depends on what you are selling. But no matter what your headline is, it should fall into one of these three categories:

  • Self interest: The best headlines are those that offer the reader some kind of benefit. They offer your reader something they want – something they can get from you. Here’s an example:

“Your cold sore gone in 5 days with Vutuexin – or your money back”

This headline targets its prospects (people with cold sores) and instantly offers two benefits: to get rid of their cold sore in 5 days (which is what they want) or they get their money back.

Who can argue with that proposition?

This headline uses the problem / solution concept. Which is probably the most successful recipe you can use to create your advertising.

And it gets the brand name in too.

So all-in-all a pretty good headline.

  • News: Research shows that people love to get news. Think about how often you seek it out yourself. How often do you read newspapers, news TV channels or news websites?

This is particularly successful in business-to-business advertising. Here’s an example:

“Announcing the new way for you to improve your business’s cash flow – effortlessly”

How many business owners and finance directors would like to improve their cash flow? And do so with very little effort? I suspect quite a few.

Here is a news headline taken from consumer advertising. It’s from a banner advertisement running on the Sky News website at the moment. It’s for Boots No7.

“Now there’s a new serum to reduce the looks of ages for all women”

Like the cold sore one, this is good for other reasons too. It uses the word ‘now’, which conjures up the thought that this is something new. This is then backed up/confirmed by the actual use of the word ‘new’.

It also defines its target market too by clearly pointing out it’s for women. The visual then scrolls to show the different products for their different target age groups.

  • Curiosity: This is the most common type of headline used in advertising, although research shows it to be the least successful.

Here’s one I literally just found in my wife’s latest copy of Vogue Magazine:

“Life, intensified”

Do you know what this headline is for? Does it get your attention. Or make you want to read the copy that follows?

To be frank, this headline is meaningless.

But curiosity headlines can work. For instance a headline that stated “What’s wrong with this picture?” successfully sold a course for self- improvement. This headline urges you to read on. It taps into your subconscious because you automatically try to find out just what is wrong with the picture.

Some people think headlines will make sense when used with a relevant and engaging image. And to some degree that’s right; a great image can rescue a poor headline. But not always.

It is always sensible to write the best headline you can. That way your great headline, used with an attention-grabbing photo, has the best chance of being a winner.

And never look for an image and try to write copy that suits it. Always write the copy first, then get an image to dramatically and interestingly make your point

Here is a simple trick to quickly check how good your headline is

Write your headline down on a piece of paper. Then use nothing else other than your logo / branding and position it where you usually would do.

Show your paper to someone who knows nothing about your business / product or service.

Do they understand what you’re are advertising? Do they understand the general benefit? Would they be interested in reading on?

If yes – then  find a great photo to illustrate your advertisement and bring it to life. If no, look at re-writing it.

So the next time you’re writing headline copy for an advertisement, direct marketing, poster, email or social media campaign or any other item you want people to read – make sure it falls into one of the above three categories.

And by the way – the meaningless headline I mentioned early was for Porsche cars.


This is a great piece of old marketing advice from a new media seminar. But this is also a stupid way to organise lunch.

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I attended a really useful marketing seminar the other week. It was held at The Grand Connaught Rooms in London.

The seminar was about how to use email effectively in your marketing mix. I got lots of interesting insights from an impressive group of marketing professionals. This included people such as Jurian Van Der Meer, MD of Endemol Games and Alan Bray, Head of Sales and Marketing at National Express c2c.

But the presenter I enjoyed hearing from the most was Simone Vincent, Digital Campaign Manager at British Gas. She was honest, interesting and pretty funny too. And Simone made one comment that really resonated with me. It was when she was comparing the ROI from one of her campaigns against another. By all accounts one was a spectacular flop whilst the other was a great success.

Her comment was this “When creating headlines and marketing messages remember that, even though you might be using new tools, always apply the old rules”

I think this is fantastic advice. Because humans don’t change. We are all looking for things that benefit us at a time which is most convenient. And of course that ‘benefit’ could be almost anything. From getting more time in our busy lives, less hassle, more money or just a feeling that we belong.

Most of the people that email me regularly don’t seem to apply this theory.

Because not only are most of the emails I receive irrelevant to me, the subject lines, or newspaper headlines if you’re thinking about it the ‘old way’, are terrible.

I always try to apply these ‘old rules’ in my copywriting. Don’t get me wrong I certainly don’t get it right all the time – in fact far from it. But at least I put thought and effort into my copywriting. And of course monitor my results. This is why I can state with total accuracy that my last three emails campaigns had open rates of 26.7%, 22% and 25.7%

Moving away from what I actually learnt from the event and onto my experience – things weren’t so good.

Don’t get me wrong, one of the event administrators was very helpful before, during and after the event. In fact she kindly drafted me a bespoke confirmation of attendance letter for my Chartered Institute of Marketing CPD hours. For which I am very grateful.

However I thought the lunch arrangements were awful. Picture this scene. Around 100 marketing people all eating their lunch from plates that were too small. But that wasn’t the main problem. The main problem was that there were no tables to put our plates on. So all of us had to stand, small plate in one hand, cutlery in the other, trying to eat, drink, talk and at the same time cut up moussaka!

I think the old rules should apply here too. And by old rules, I mean sitting at a table to eat.

English and Welsh lawyers are waking up to a new competitive threat. It’s called bullshit, also known as PR.

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Law firms inEnglandandWalesare preparing themselves for battle. In October this year the Alternative Business Structure comes into force, opening up the market to a new glut of competition. 

In addition to this, and the seemly increasing number of unqualified Will writers and employment law charlatans exchanging crap advice for hard earned money, is QualitySolicitors. This is to my knowledge the UK’s first legal franchise which is being fronted by everyone’s favorite TV show panel judge for the mentally ill –  Amanda Holden.

The QualitySolicitors concept has taken a hammering from the legal world who, by and large, feel they are cheapening the profession. Whist there is a real danger of this, most comments I have read by lawyers could be translated into: “we’re scared and don’t know what to do.”  

I actually think that their approach, and that of the Alternative Business Structures, might result in law firms taking an objective look at themselves and sharpening their own marketing efforts. In addition law firms might benefit, by which I mean make more sales, by ‘piggybacking’ on the back of a general increase in awareness of the need for their services – for instance that 4 out of 5 people still don’t have a Will.

Anyhow, aside all that, law firms will start to understand just what a dog-eat-dog world we live in and how marketing can have a massive impact on their fortunes. This brings me on to my main point, public relations. A marketing tool that wields huge power but is very rarely used to full impact by law firms.

This is clearly not the case at QualitySolicitors. A couple of weeks back Amanda Holden appeared on ITV1’s This Morning programme promoting the brand she is paid to. She apparently commented: “You can walk into WHSmith… there is a list that is now recommended by the public, for the public, of solicitors who are kosher, who are not going to rip you off and who can help you. And it’s completely free, you get advice free and then you can get any information you need.”

Asked who drew up the list of solicitors, she suggested QualitySolicitors had official Law Society backing as she continued: “There’s a governing body for solicitors and what they’ve done is they’ve gone to each town, they’ve picked the best solicitor from each town so there’s not a whole load of them and they’ve done a survey, they’ve contacted the clients… listened to the feedback, picked the cream of the crop and put them on that QualitySolicitors list.”

This is bullshit of the highest order that has got thousands of solicitors up-and-down the land moaning on websites and contacting the law society to issue a clarification.

However law firms need to wake up as this is how the competitive world of business works. At every opportunity businesses try to get valuable media coverage, preferable via a celebrity, to promote their brands even if what is being said is questionable. Even if an apology was made by QualitySolicitors or a clarification issued by the Law Society the message is out and the damage done. Now I am not condoning lying about your service and marketing proposition, I’m just being honest about the reality of business and the tactics used.  Law firms need to stop obsessing about competitors marketing efforts and look at how they are going to compete in a new competitive world.

So tell me, are you proficient in Crayola?

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I have worked in marketing now for over 15 years; 7 of which have been dedicated to professional services marketing. During this time I have had the privilege of working with some of the wittiest, intelligent and forthright people one could possibly wish to meet.

Unfortunately, my work has also meant that I have had the displeasure of meeting a flood of pompous individuals who, professional knowledge aside, are pretty thick.

At a recent professional services marketing event held in London, I overheard two middle men aged talking about the marketing departments in their respective accountancy firms (it was fairly obvious that these guys were accountants) when one quipped to the other “Marketing in my firm is commonly referred to as the paper and crayons department!”

I have a couple of issues with this comment. First, if they have such a disdain for marketing why bother attending a marketing event in the first place (aside from free refreshments and a temporary escape from their own boring jobs) and secondly, this attitude highlights a rife misunderstanding in professional services firms that marketing is only about designing communications – which of course, it isn’t.

I wonder what reaction I would get from these two professionals if I announced that I was swapping my marketing job for a lifetime of accounting – after all, it’s only adding-up and taking-away – and I have a calculator that can do that!

Tesco Law and change management

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Last Wednesday I attended a seminar in London organised by Hubbard One, the law firm customer relationship management people.  The seminar was all about business development in law firms and covered a range of marketing topics most of which I found helpful, particularly the section on improving website conversations and new client acquisition – something law firms always struggle with. Anyway, I was speaking to the marketing manager from law firm Dickinon Dees on thesubject of managing change and I mentioned an article I had published in Legal Marketing Magazine towards the back end of 2009. She seems to like my opinions on the subject and also Flint Bishop’s approach to changing its marketing mix and portfolio of services in response to Alternative Business Structures.

To be honest it’s pretty old now, and I don’t have time to rewrite another up-to-date version, but I thought it might be helpful to share it – so here it is:

Mastering change management

Carl Weston on the actions regional firm Flint Bishop has taken to safeguard against the introduction of alternative business structures.

The legal profession is currently facing a seismic shift in the way it operates, thanks to the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) and, in particular, the emergence of alternative business structures. And while some firms may have previously thought the impending changes to be of little consequence, the potentially profound implications posed by external ownership and alternative business structures (ABS) should not be taken lightly.
There was a time, not that long ago, when most lawyers doubted that the LSA would change much of the environment in which they operate – now the picture is very different. And while none of us can predict precisely what effect the changes will have, the profession now recognises that this new regime will transform the landscape.
The smart practices are planning accordingly and taking positive steps, particularly in the sphere of marketing, to safeguard their operations against the increased competition that the emergence of alternative business strategies will encourage.
ABS, as enabled by the LSA, permit new possibilities for the more flexible and competitive delivery of legal services. This means that practices will now be competing with the offer of nationally recognised brands, such as supermarkets (hence the popular reference to ‘Tesco Law’) and motoring organisations, among others, which will now be able to own law firms or employ lawyers and offer legal services directly to their customers.
Most lawyers’ attitudes to ABS are determined by whether they see them as a threat or an opportunity. Some fear they will devalue the status of solicitors and commoditise legal services, and in the worst case, even put them out of business. Others see them as a chance to team up with other professionals to create exciting new types of business and to enable growth by attracting new investment into their firms. Those who support the new Tesco Law claim that it will benefit clients and, at the same time, offer attractive commercial opportunities to lawyers and those organisations that wish to go into business with lawyers. Those opposed to its introduction believe that clients will always have a natural inclination to use services provided by names that are familiar to them, even if they may not provide the best or most appropriate level of service to them.
They claim that the service provided by the likes of the Co-op, Tesco and the AA will inevitably be provided by unqualified call-centre staff, possibly outside of the UK, and overseen by an inadequate number of in-house solicitors.
The debate now, however, should not be about whether ABS are good or bad for the industry, but about how the High Street legal practices can ensure that clients, both individual and corporate, can access high-quality legal services from business structures of all types and sizes.

Taking action
The Midlands-based top-200 law firm, Flint Bishop, identified as long ago as 2005 that diversification was vital in order to safeguard its operation against the marketing of legal services by ABS.

When the LSA was published and it became clear that Tesco law would change the way that many aspects of our business operates, decisive action was needed to market our business in order to compete effectively with nationally trusted brands and increase the private client work that the firm generates from outside its traditional geographical area.
An extensive period of research into the marketing of legal services followed. Our findings showed that family law was viewed as an emotional purchase and not, therefore, suitable for the online marketplace; in addition, the online market for personal injury was already saturated. It became clear, however, that there was an opportuniy to expand our operating areas with the launch of a series of ‘commodity’ legal services, such as wills and conveyancing, which could be readily packaged.
This early research enabled us to steal a march on many competing law firms, who chose to wait and evaluate the impact of the change in regulations before deciding to take positive action.
Since then, we have worked hard to capitalise on our key strengths and have launched a series of ‘at a distance’ conveyancing and will-writing services, which have served to extend our client base substantially.
Working with a team of external consultants, we have developed two distinct brands: Flints Direct and FB Wills Direct .
Quality and reputation are of paramount importance to the firm and we are the first law firm in the Midlands to hold ‘Lexcel 4’, the Law Society’s new mark of excellence for client care and customer service. It was essential, therefore, that our ‘at a distance’ services maintained the same high levels of quality and service for which Flint Bishop is renowned. Both brands offer particular advantages over our traditional service offerings and are marketed and delivered using very different methods.

FB Wills Direct
FB Wills Direct is a dedicated wills and probate service, which aims to simplify and streamline the will-preparation process by enabling individuals and couples to prepare a will online, over the phone, or by post without having to visit a solicitor.
Guidance is available via the telephone to advise the most appropriate will for each individual’s personal circumstances and an online application form that can be saved, paused and revisited as needed – feedback constantly tells us how useful purchasers find this.

Flints Direct
Flints Direct is a dedicated conveyancing service, which simplifies the process of buying and selling homes. Clients from across the UK can obtain immediate online quotes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Instant telephone quotes and help are also available around-the-clock (for out of hours calls, telephones divert to a call centre).
A secure online login facility has also been developed to enable clients to access real-time progress reports, while SMS text messaging is available at key stages of the transaction. A comprehensive frequently asked questions and information area is also available.
Detailed research was carried out before the launch of the two services. We made the conscious decision not to market the new operations using typical online marketing tactics, such as search engine optimisation or pay-per-click campaigns; instead, Flint Bishop based its strategy on targeting organisations with no fewer than 5,000 members or employees, thus creating a network of ‘affiliate partners’.
The key benefit for the member organisations was the opportunity to provide its existing target audience with an added resource of discounted legal services via its own individually branded website.
In addition, each organisation can opt to receive either a referral fee (with strict adherence to solicitor’s regulation authority rules), from each matter the website generates, or to pass on the fee to the member as an additional discount. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of our partners have chosen the latter.
FB Wills Direct has been hugely successful within the charitable sector; and given the increasing competition for charitable giving, one unexpected by-product from the launch of FB Wills Direct is the opportunity that it presents for the consumer to leave a legacy to the charity in question.
In order to maintain control over our brand and ensure that we continue to deliver the highest possible levels of service, we elected not to join one of the growing number of alliances of firms marketing private-client legal services.
Clients using our services can be assured that they are marketed and delivered solely by our team of experts. Working with partners enables us to maintain total control over our brand and by owning the whole brand we are able to react quickly to feedback in order to ensure constant improvements to the services we offer.

The outcome
Since the launch of the schemes back in 2007, more than 30 high-profile organisations have signed up to become an affiliate partner. They range from regional financial organisations such as the Loughborough Building Society, the Earl Shilton Building Society, the Dudley Building Society and a user group of more than 450 IFAs, through to major national and international organisations including The British Medical Association, The Land Registry, Breast Cancer Care, Marston’s brewery, The Children Mutual, Voice (previously The Professional Association of Teachers) and, most recently, Oxfam, the world’s third-largest charitable organisation.
This gives us a total audience of more than five million people – more than any of the current alliances, which have been forced to unite to market their services.
In fact, our ‘at a distance’ services have generated in excess of 500 transactions per month – and from a geographically remote client base that would otherwise not have used the services of Flint Bishop.

Going forward…
Not content to rest on our laurels, however, we will shortly be extending our portfolio of brands, with the launch of a UK-wide fixed-cost employment law solution targeted at the small-to-medium-sized enterprises market, which will also be marketed online.
In return for a fixed monthly fee, registered users can download a whole host of employment guides and documents drafted by our lawyers. There is also the option to contact a lawyer directly where required.

In summary, I believe that the legal profession needs to ensure that it is ready to face the challenges of the new legal marketplace. And providing that like Flint Bishop, firms continue to plan and are prepared to expect markets and conditions to change, then it will be equipped to face change.

Marketing Awards: Are they worth it and, if so, 6 tips on things to consider before applying.

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There appears to be no shortage of marketing awards that businesses can apply for these days. Whether they are specific to marketing like CIM Excellence or ones that fit into a marketing category of an industry awards, for example the UK Broker Awards.

I guess like most things in life winning will make you happy. Add this to the glut of tangible benefits below and you’re probably thinking entering awards are a no-brainer.

Tangible benefits:

  • Make your boss and senior management think you’re doing a fine job (which I’m sure you are)
  • Generate positive public relations
  • You can inform your clients that they are working with an ‘award winning firm’
  • You can inform your prospects they could be working with an ‘award winning firm’
  • Its sticks two-fingers up to the competition who didn’t win
  • Staff can be thanked for doing a great job (this of course has additional business benefits as according to marketing professor Sally Dibb  ‘organisation performance is increased with satisfied, happy and motivated employees’)

However don’t just rush off and start downloading the application forms just yet as in my humble opinion, many business awards are simply not worth the effort.

Please don’t think my opinion is based on sour grapes (in fact I have been involved in projects that have won several awards, and in an act of shameless self promotion click here to take look at a professional marketing one) it is because there are so many awards that are totally obscure.

In addition the submission process can be lengthy and is often dropped onto the overstretched marketing team. However, if applying for awards is part of your marketing strategy, not to mention a true reflection of your obvious marketing genius, below are some tips on how to decide which awards are worth applying for.

Is the award ‘valued’?

Be honest with yourself. Before you read the finely crafted marketing communications piece tempting you to apply, had you ever heard of it? Usually if the answer is no, steer clear. To test an award’s value consider whether you would be impressed if one of your competitors won it. Would it make you envious of them and would you perceive the competitors brand to be enhanced by the accolade?

Also look at the previous winners. Have you heard of them and/or do you admire and respect them?

Does it represent a good return on investment?

Many awards charge a small administration fee to enter – and some are even free. Be warned though as this if often a bit of a ‘sprat to catch a mackerel’ strategy by the organisers. For instance, should you make the shortlist for the award you’ll no doubt want to collect it in person so you can have your very own Oscar speech moment. To do this you’ll need to be at the ceremony and most businesses tend to reserve a table for 10 guests; usually mixing some clients with your well behaved work colleagues. Costs can be anywhere from £100 – £300 plus per head not including alcohol. On top of this is the travel expensive which can be significant. To give you some idea I recently attended an award ceremony inLondon(traveling from theMidlands) with nine colleagues and the train and accommodation cost £2550 – and we didn’t go luxury as we stayed in the Premier Inn at Kings Cross!!!!

My rough math calculates that your marketing budget is already down £5,500 before you’ve even had a beer!

The Judges and sponsors – Who are they?

This might sound a little trivial but it isn’t. For instance there are legal awards whose judging panel consists of partners and senior managers from law firms. Now I might be accused of cynicism here (or undermining the professionalism) but in the real world, is your fiercest competitor likely to vote for you?

Have a look at who is sponsoring the awards too. Again if one of your rivals has ploughed marketing money into sponsoring the awards is it really likely that you will walk off with the prize?

Are you the current ‘holder’ of the award?

Several years ago I once entered a submission for an award that my firm was the current holders of. However we didn’t actually win the second time round and when I asked one of the senior judging panel why (it was about 2.00am and we were both pissed at the after-party) he simply replied “because you’re the holders, and it doesn’t look fair to the others if you win it two years running!”

Will it matter to your clients?

As mentioned above a tangible benefit of winning an award is having the opportunity to tell your clients. Not only is this a great topic for your client communications mix (although remember communications is about them not just you) this also reassures clients that they are working with a good firm. It is also an opportunity to invite them to the actual ceremony to further increase relationships – or just get drunk!

Will it help you turn prospects into clients?

On its own, no, of course it won’t. However it is another topic for your communications mix and if the award has value and is recognized by prospects it will certainly add to your quality perception and brand positioning.

Can your time be more effectively spent?

In my experience senior management often decide to apply for an award but the real work involved is pushed onto marketing. Award submissions can take weeks to get right; from drafting the application, researching and finding supporting poof, testimonials, sticking to maximum word limits and the endless re-writes and amends.

So yes, without doubt your time and money can be more effectively spent.

My conclusion

As long as you do your research before applying to evaluate the awards value, have the time and money to invest in the submission and organise a communications plan to announce your well deserved victory, then I guess some awards are worth winning.