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Law Firm Makes Case With Magazine

Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP, a mid-sized law firm based in Atlanta, replaced 17 print newsletters with a quarterly magazine mailed to clients, business leaders and prospects nationwide and overseas.

Called Leaders, the 36-page publication showcases the firm's expertise. Attorney-written articles in practice areas like construction, environment, aircraft, tax and real estate laws underpin this lead-generation tool rarely employed by U.S. law firms.

“We want it to sell incremental business to current clients and introduce the firm to prospects,” said Connie Frost, director of firm image at Smith, Gambrell.

The switch to one publication bucks a trend of targeted media to dedicated constituencies. For example, an environmental law newsletter typically went to a client of that practice, and one on healthcare went to a pharmaceutical company.

“It had no cross-selling or cross-promotional component for the firm,” Frost said. “So what Leaders does for us is, we have an article about environmental law that goes to clients that also see articles on tax law, aircraft financing, immigration.

“What we're hearing from our clients is what you commonly hear, which is, 'I didn't know you did that. I didn't know that your firm specialized in that area.'”

The first issue mailed in mid-September to 15,000 people from a print run of 20,000. Of those copies mailed, 8,500 went to executives at current billing clients and 3,000 to business leaders. And 3,500 dropped to friends of the firm, or firm alumni who now occupy leadership positions inside companies. The 5,000 copies not mailed are for trade-show and seminar distribution.

The magazine, whose next issue is in November, also is available online at sgrlaw.com/publications.

Subjects in the inaugural issue run the gamut. The cover touts an article on fractional leasing of aircraft. Also in the issue are pieces on franchising successful businesses, the debate on taxing e-commerce and what's in store for toxic mold litigation. Stock photos of confident-looking people litter the pages.

“Major consulting firms say that law firms should focus on one specialty or two or three or four areas,” Frost said. “But what our clients are looking for is contrary to what the consultants are saying. Clients are looking for law firms that offer expertise in multiple areas, and that's what the magazine does for us.

“We've gotten calls from people that are interested in particular areas of the law firm. Not only has it generated good feedback, but it's actually resulted in new business as well.”

For example, an attorney who wrote the article on aircraft leasing got a call from the owner of one of Georgia's largest car dealerships. That person wants to meet with the Smith, Gambrell attorney about leasing an aircraft.

“We would never have got that call,” Frost said. “[The attorney] was very happy. That new client alone will pay for this first issue of the magazine.”

Smith, Gambrell attorneys drafted all the pieces. Terry Ferraro Schwartz, a firm partner specializing in corporate law, was the editor-in-chief. CreativeBeast Marketing Communications Inc., Atlanta, handled layout, graphic design and production. Fulfillment was by Tommy Nobis Center, an Atlanta company that employs only disabled workers.

The switch made no dent in the firm's budget. It earmarks $100,000 a year for publications. This is part of a $1.5 million marketing budget, which goes toward print advertisements in American Lawyer Media's American Lawyer and Corporate Counsel magazines, the various Business Chronicle city editions, National Public Radio and PBS.

In fact, Leaders got its name from the tagline in the firm's ads: Trust the Leader. Graphics of situations where one would trust a leader in times of dealings or change reinforce Smith, Gambrell's advertising position.

The firm spent $10,000 for the inaugural issue's design. Another $15,000 went toward printing. Mailing worked out to 56 cents a copy, presorted through a bulk-mailing permit. The costs almost nudge $2 a copy if 350 copies mailed to overseas clients are included.

“We're still spending $100,000, but we're doing four issues of Leaders versus all the different newsletters,” Frost said.

This is despite the newsletters having had varied frequency and reach. The immigration practice newsletter went to 8,000 people four times a year, and healthcare law to 5,000 and construction law to 2,500, both twice a year.

The practice-specific newsletters have not been abandoned. Some, like the venture capital missive or the construction law and healthcare publications, migrated to online newsletter format for e-mail distribution. The online frequency stays the same as the previously printed version.

“Law firms aren't known for their innovative marketing techniques,” Frost said. “While custom publications is no breakthrough for many marketers, it's innovative for law firms. We don't use outside writers at all, and the attorneys are investing time to write for us.

“They've written for law journals and reviews,” she said of the magazine contributors. “The hardest challenge I have is keeping them committed to their word count limit and the deadlines.”

Founded in 1893, Smith, Gambrell has 195 lawyers. They work from offices in Washington, Jacksonville, FL, and the Atlanta headquarters.

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