If You Don't Communicate A Difference, You're Wasting Your Money

125When you work in the communications business, you can’t consume media like a “normal person.” As case in point, take my most recent experience reading a local business magazine. Yes, I read it for the articles but I also couldn’t help spending time looking at the ads. Many of them, all full-page and in full-color, were placed by professional service firms, a business sector Don and I have both worked with for our entire PR careers.

While advertising is not our core business, paid ads should communicate the same brand core that should be extended over all communications platforms. Ads, particularly business-to-business ads should, in a compelling and succinct way, somehow communicate who you are, what you do and, most importantly, how you’re different. When your company is paying top dollar for space that reaches a target audience, it’s imperative that time and energy be spent in the right ways to take advantage of the communications opportunity. Instead, what I found was a lot of wasted money. Here’s a short take on each of the professional services ads in this issue:

-The ad on the inside front cover prominently features a stock image of a woman (presumably a client?), rather than the people the law firm says are its strength. It uses the we’ve-heard-it-before phrase “from the boardroom to the courtroom” and describes the law firm as “fearless” (as opposed to all of the timid litigators you see out there).

-Two pages later is an ad for a firm that does litigation support “in either the boardroom or the court room” in text on top of courthouse columns, another well-worn cliche.

-A few more pages in is a law firm ad featuring a stock image of four lamps, with one shining toward the reader. I found this on Google images in one click while searching “different.” Even though this is a local ad, the firm couldn’t even spend a few extra dollars to have its designer put Michigan first in the list of states where it has offices.

-A few pages later there is an ad for a law firm that touts its 160 years in business and its “deep bench” (over an image of a baseball team in a dugout). At least those are points of difference amid stock photography. But below, there are three long paragraphs of copy that only a lawyer with a taste for text could love.

-A few pages later runs an ad for “tough” corporate trial lawyers with an image of a coat and tie wearing torso with boxing gloves on each hand. It touts experience and service. Are those real points of difference, especially with the boxing glove image, used by a personal injury attorney in billboards across Detroit? Michigan is listed third in the states where they have offices in this local-only placement.

There are reasons why this can happen with professional service firms. Because they are often run by committee, “groupthink” can prevail with the winning strategy appealing to the room’s lowest common denominator. That helps explain spending thousands of dollars on placement but maybe hundreds on stock, cliched creative work. Also, these firms are often run by professionals whose expertise in their own field creates ego can trump any professional marketing counsel.

Whatever your business, it’s important to remember not to say the same old thing in the same old ways. Dig deep, spend the money, develop your brand and communicate why someone should really choose you over anyone else.