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Marketing: Message for the times

Every Issue

Cite as: (2009) 83(03) LIJ, p.86

Are your marketing messages right for the times?

Invariably terms such as “key messaging” and “core messages” get a mention when marketing or communications professionals gather together.

Any campaign, any marketing program will have them, and so do businesses, including law firms.

The problem is, not everyone thinks through their “messaging” because, really, how hard can it be to formulate some words to say what your firm does?

Well, it’s a lot harder than most think.

Key messages clearly and succinctly spell out what your firm is like and what it does.

You can have key messages around different areas of practice, and if you work with media (for example, on specific issues that might arise in your area of practice) you can have key messages around the issue. That is, what you want to say is crafted in such a way that it cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

When you hear someone talk about “landing” key messages, then what they’re talking about is getting the message intact and on time to the right person or place.

Key messages are actually another manifestation of your brand, but less airy-fairy than “brand” because they say something meaningful.

Use of the term “key message” is common in political parlance. You might hear a politician say something like: “The key point is this: our government supports a free and fair education system accessible by all”. The key message on the surface is “government supports education” but the bigger message is “government is left leaning”.

What does a key message for a law firm look like? Actually, you’ve seen them all – and you’ve seen them more than once. They look something like this:

  • we care about our clients and our people;
  • our people come first;
  • our clients come first;
  • we’re smart and strategic;
  • we are technically excellent;
  • we are the biggest and the best; and
  • we offer value for money.

Of course, they’re finessed a bit more than that, but that covers most of the ground. The idea is that whatever your messages are, they go to the heart of what you want the world (but mostly your potential and existing clients) to know and understand about your practice.

And you use those messages in all your marketing materials, including your website, and in the opening conversations with potential new clients.

You should reinforce them with existing clients in conversations, presentations and correspondence.

Look around. Check your competitors’ websites or brochures. You’ll start to notice the way they refer to themselves, and how they describe what they do – and the repetition of words and themes.

Key messages keep you on track and on point in your business development efforts and give you a coherent set of fall back points.

If your messaging is right, it makes sense to the clients you are trying to attract, and also positions your practice the right way for the kind of work you want to do.

For example, if one of your key messages is that you’re a boutique specialist in, say intellectual property, with particular experience in international luxury brands and trademarks, then you’d want to have that message clear and well circulated.

To simply be known as a “general” firm, or even an IP firm, will not be enough to send clear messages to the market (the clients who actually need you).

You don’t need a lot of key messages about your practice. But you need to come up with perhaps three to five that sound and feel right. (Word of warning – authenticity is important. Be confident but don’t make believe.)

Some questions to help get you started on developing your key messages;

  • what does your practice do best?
  • who does it do it for?
  • what do clients value most – what words do they use?
  • where is the practice headed?
  • what do clients need to know to make a decision?

Assuming you have your target clients groups defined and lined up, the next task is about tone, style and delivery – a topic for another day.

ALICIA PATTERSON is the director of House Communications. She was previously the LIV Head of Marketing and can be contacted on ph 8611 8188 or


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