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Marketing: Make first impressions count

Every Issue

Cite as: (2006) 80(9) LIJ, p. 87

The way your office looks says a lot about the type of practice you have.

OK, so not everyone gets to work in prestige offices with imposing, polished, expensive looking recep-tion areas that scream “we’re classy”, “we’re costly”, “we’re the crème de la crème of law firms”, but first impressions count.

You need to ensure that your law offices reflect the messages you want to give existing and potential clients.

This column is not going to tell you to spend a fortune on your reception area – if indeed you have one. But it does recommend that it’s clean, and is as tasteful and professional as possible.

Because after all, you want your clients to at least think that of you and the way you practise the law, don’t you?

The rules for reception areas extend to any client meeting space. If your budget does not extend to the whole office having matching décor, that’s fine – just make sure the front end looks pleasant and alludes to your corporate style.

This means that you need to give some thought to the style of your letterhead and ensure that it’s reflected around the office. If your logo is conservative and classic then try and apply that style to the reception and meeting room area.

Easy ways to do this include:

  • colour coordination – are the walls/floors/seats etc. in a colour that suits your letterhead/logo/brochures?;
  • is your office clearly identified from the outside and perhaps with some interior signage in the waiting area?;
  • is the furniture in keeping with the overall corporate style you are trying to project? If not, do you have a plan to regenerate it as budget allows?; and
  • what kind of magazines, newsletters and collateral do you have in your waiting room/reception area? Make sure they are updated and do not become old and tatty.

This last point is critical because it’s often an opportunity, at the appointment that has brought them to your waiting room, both to inform your clients and to cross-sell services they may not be using right now.

If your practice does a lot of work for families, do you have items such as books and toys to distract kids in the waiting room so they aren’t using the brochures and newsletters you paid for (for clients) as drawing canvasses?

Brochure racks and stands for your firm’s collateral (advertising material and business cards) are important in your waiting room areas. This is partly so you have them handy in the areas you are most likely to need them and partly so that clients can view them at leisure and think about their own legal needs in the process.

On the topic of colour, it’s useful to think this through. Does your colour scheme reflect the kind of practice you are? That you want your clients to think you are?

These are questions that dovetail with previous columns on establishing your corporate style. And if you think it’s just too pretentious and fluffy to be discussing colour schemes when you’re a serious law practice then my question to you is: if colour means nothing, why then do so many law firms pick the colour dark blue?

There has been plenty of research to show that people respond strongly to colour. Men and women respond differently and ageing affects our responses too. But think how your client might feel if they’re coming to see you about a stressful legal matter and have to sit in a brightly-coloured or red room? Or have to stare at frayed carpet or sit on wonky or uncomfortable chairs while they wait.

If you want to instil calm and confidence in your clients, you need to create an environment that harbours those feelings. It will take your clients a while to recognise your legal brilliance if their first impression was that your practice is perhaps dishevelled (although hardworking) or uncoordinated (although well-meaning and friendly).

By the same token, you need to strike the right balance – too expensive screams pretentiousness, too trendy and you lose messages about being reliable and pragmatic.

It’s entirely appropriate, if you’re a smaller firm in particular, to have some allusions to your credentials in your waiting area to help instil confidence in your clients about your skills and expertise.

Another technique to create a good first impression is to have something in your reception area that can be a talking point – it might be a picture or a fish tank or an interesting plant – which give people something to focus on while they order their thoughts.

Your front end is an extension of your corporate style, which is all about the image and impression you want to convey to your clients.

If your brochures, newsletters, business cards and website are all in order, make sure your reception and meeting rooms reinforce the investment you’ve already made in terms of effort and money.

ALICIA PATTERSON is the Head of Marketing at the LIV and the former Victorian marketing manager of a large national law firm. A former journalist, she has extensive experience in marketing communications and PR campaigns. She can be contacted on ph 9607 9464.

To do this month

Check the décor and paint in your reception and meeting areas – are they clean and professional looking?

Does your front end match your overall corporate style and if not, what needs to change? Create a plan that you can afford to update it.

Ask a friend to come to your offices and tell you what their first impressions are so you can check you’re saying what you think you are by the way your offices look.

Check your corporate publications/brochures in your reception area and make sure they are up to date and available. If not, reorder or reprint.


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