Blog Post

The Art of Saying Nothing

Creative alternatives to generic firm messaging 7 comments

Many mid-sized and large law firms have a messaging problem. They just can’t find anything distinctive to say about their firm as a whole. Over the years, they have hired a bevy of high-priced marketing consultants. Still, every tagline sounds hollow, and every headline seems to fall flat.

When these firms begin building a new website, they often ask us: “Should we use our tagline on the homepage, even though we know that it’s weak?” and “If we don’t use our tagline, what else can we say?”

Say nothing

If your firm is having difficulty developing a strong, meaningful firmwide message, I believe that having no headline or tagline is often better than having a weak one. Why? Because hollow messages like “Leaders in Law” or “Responsive, Resourceful, Results” cause readers to roll their eyes and discount everything that follows. These messages could actually hurt your marketing efforts.

In lieu of headline or tagline, I recommend that you let sophisticated design and beautiful imagery subtly communicate the qualities of your firm. You can then put resources toward developing meaningful reputation-enhancing content for your attorney bios, practice areas and blogs. Let your content brand you where it can.

How to “say nothing”

Below I’ve identified a few firms that have “said nothing” well. Instead of bland firmwide messaging, these firms skillfully employ compelling imagery and other types of content to effectively engage users on their homepages.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett puts potential clients as the main focus of their homepage, by having an extra-large search field front and center that asks, “How can we help you?” Without talking about themselves at all, the firm has presented itself as eager to listen to and assist new clients.

Rather than a headline or firm messaging, the Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler homepage is punctuated by a series of third-party quotes and client testimonials. This approach offers visitors a (seemingly) unbiased assessment of the firm’s competence and strengths.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges lets their experience do the talking. The firm’s homepage is a collage of article headlines concerning legal victories and firm news. Not only does this highlight successes, it enables the firm to look timely, active and relevant.

Firm news is a part of the Chadbourne & Parke homepage experience. But the real star of the show is a black and white background videographic of their actual office. This deceptively simple-looking visual presents the firm as being unpretentious, grounded and approachable.

Jenner & Block employs a very active and vivid videographic as the hero image on its homepage. The five scenes show the firm’s office locations, but the choice of shots manages to convey a far more global presence. The motion effects convey vigor and innovation.

We want a message!

Some firms dismiss the “say nothing” approach. They want a bold headline on their homepage that speaks to their strengths. Yet it might not be clear what strengths apply across all of a firm's 250+ attorneys and 50+ practice areas.

Is a powerful message even possible for large firms? Can a law firm that’s an amalgam of cultures and histories really develop a firmwide message that truly resonates? I think so. It just takes more work (and pain) than most firms are willing to endure.

More about this in my next post.

What do you think?

Is sidestepping bad messaging an effective marketing solution? Have you seen even better examples of firms employing the techniques I’ve discussed? Leave a comment and let me know.


7 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Ellen Tyson says:

    What about firms like Quinn Emmanuel? They’re a large firm with really clear messaging on their homepage. Would they be better off saying nothing?

    • Dion Algeri says:

      Quinn Emmanuel is a highly focused firm. They have no need to “say nothing.”

      If your firm has a focus on a particular industry (e.g. insurance) or type of work (e.g. global litigation) then your website messaging should clearly reflect that. This is the ideal. Legal marketers dream of having focused clients like Quinn Emmanuel. But it’s rare.

      The problem is that most larger firms are a combination of hundreds of attorneys, across dozens of practice areas. They have little focus. There might be remarkable things to say about certain groups, but these attributes don’t often apply to the entire firm.

  2. Mark Beese says:

    I SO agree. Say it to many of my clients. Well done.

  3. Gyi Tsakalakis says:

    (See what I did there?)

  4. Lloyd Pearson says:

    Agree that taglines are a substitute for having nothing to say. I like the blank/designed imagery instead, or if you must fill the space, like what Weil have done by focusing on the substance – the actual deals/cases they have advised on.

  5. Nancy Myrland says:

    I agree that leaving bad positioning statements off of homepages and the rest of the site is wise, but I agree more with the concept of working hard to find the right message your firm will want to use on your site. If you haven’t identified one yet, you might not have spent enough time brainstorming one, or you might not have brought enough of the right people in to help talk about it.

  6. Betsy Munnell says:

    This is just terrific. So very true. Excellent examples.

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