TV remains biggest outlet for attorney ads
By JOE MANDAK
AP photo/Lisa Kyle
Edward (right) and Alex Shenderovich are identical twins and personal injury lawyers with a practice in Pittsburgh. When they began advertising their services on TV, their business went up 500 percent.
PITTSBURGH — Their TV commercials call them “The Double Team.”
Attorneys Edward and Alex Shenderovich — identical twins — are proof that television advertising can boost a lawyer’s business. Since Shenderovich & Shenderovich began running their commercials six years ago, they say their Pittsburgh-area personal injury practice has grown by about 500 percent.
“ As soon as we put an ad on, the phone started ringing,” Edward Shenderovich said.
Advertising by lawyers has become a multimillion-dollar business, but one that still prompts debate in the legal community 27 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that attorneys can use ads to bring in new clients.
Lawyers spent more than $384 million on local TV, radio and print ads last year — not counting Yellow Pages ads. Most of that, $293 million, paid for local TV ads, said Gary Belis, spokesman for the Television Bureau of Advertising, a New York-based trade association that tracks advertising and other local television trends.
To put things in perspective, car dealers remain the kings of local advertising, outspending lawyers 10-to-1, Belis said.
Lawyers rarely advertise on national TV. A few, like Massachusetts personal injury attorney James Sokolove and his national network of affiliated attorneys, will spend millions on national cable or syndicated TV ads, Belis said. But most attorneys on TV are like Shenderovich & Shenderovich, smaller firms looking to build their practice in a local market.
The twins spend about $7,500 for 30 or so television ads each month, mostly sprinkled among Pittsburgh’s daytime TV menu.
“ We had a Web site but we didn’t get any response,” Edward Shenderovich said. “If somebody gets hurt and they’re laying in the hospital, they don’t have any access to a computer. But if they’re laying in bed, they can reach for the Yellow Pages or see us on TV.”
But that’s one reason state court officials and bar associations prohibited ads for decades before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling: They didn’t want desperate people turning to the first or best pitchman they saw.
The Iowa Supreme Court has developed some of the strictest ad regulations in the country, said incoming state bar association President Nick Critelli. Iowa attorneys cannot appear in their ads, and tight scrutiny keeps them from making many claims about what they can do.
“ There’s always the line between lawyers that recognize this is a profession ... and lawyers who look at it as a business and only apply the rules for the marketplace,” Critelli said. “And to some extent, there is a blend of both. But what you’re marketing to the public is professional services, not commercial services — and there’s a world of difference between the two.”
Others argue that ads are the best, and perhaps only, way to compete in a modern, transient society where referrals and word of mouth aren’t enough anymore.
“ The art of advertising, I think, is to give people familiarity. The twins are creating a brand that they hope will be recognizable,” said Arnie Malham, president and owner of Nashville-based cj Advertising, a firm that specializes in attorney ads.
Malham represents firms in more than 30 U.S. markets. One of his clients is E Eric Guirard, who spends in the seven figures annually to promote a firm with 10 attorneys in Baton Rouge, La., and New Orleans.
Guirard, 45, a former standup comic who majored in broadcast journalism before law school, worked in other firms for seven years before building his own, E Eric Guirard Injury Lawyers, on a cornerstone of TV advertising 10 years ago.
Guirard has used a rap-music theme, comical commercials (an old lady driver crashes through his office wall and asks, “Where’d you get a license to drive that desk?”), and self-promotion all built around his faux first initial.
“‘ E’ doesn’t stand for anything — that’s my nickname. But if you want to be successful, you have to have that letter out in front of your name,” Guirard said. “With me, you don’t have to remember a name, you don’t have to remember a slogan — just remember a letter: E.”
Although the Shenderovich ads play on the brothers’ twinship, Edward Shenderovich stops short of calling them a gimmick. “If somebody was not a twin and had two pictures of himself on a commercial and he wasn’t a twin — I’d consider that a gimmick.”
“ With us, people get the idea that they get two for the price of one,” Edward said. “We don’t have to run that many ads to be remembered.”