The professionals are shouting for attention
Sunday 17 March 1996
Adrian Jeffery, a creative partner in 1576, the advertising agency in Edinburgh that produced the commercial, explains: "We follow a young offender into a prison cell, he becomes aware of his cell mate, who looks terrifying. The cell mate then blows him a seductive kiss. The punch line is, `In trouble? You could be in a lot more' and says `Call Sinclair 24 hours a day'."
Mr Jeffery admits it is a shocking advertisement but says: "The commercial is aimed at young male offenders. They may not have been to prison yet but they are heading that way. They may view prison as an occupational hazard but we are pointing out the realities. If we said, `Been a naughty boy? Call us', it would have no relevance to the sort of people this law firm deals with, but if you say that you could be raped in prison, it has much more resonance."
The commercial has only just been screened so it is still too early to tell whether Edinburgh's hard men have turned to Sinclairs in droves or not. What is certain is that it is a long way from the stuffy local press advertisements that many solicitors use to drum up custom.
When solicitors were first permitted to promote their services in October 1984, many feared that the profession's image might be tarnished. But American-style ambulance-chasing lawyers have so far failed to swamp our screens.
Those practices that have chosen to advertise their services have generally used discreet local press advertisements. Television campaigns have been deemed too expensive, too risky and their benefits too hard to measure by most law firms.
One of the few to use television advertising is Prettys of Ipswich in Suffolk. It has run a corporate campaign rather than focusing on services. Toby Pound, who was managing partner when the decision to advertise was taken, says: "We did it to increase our visibility. We used an animated form of our logo and struck a deal with Anglia TV so that our total budget was under pounds 5O,000." He adds: "While we cannot measure the results in terms of the number of clients coming through the door, it has put us on the map in a way that we weren't before."
While small regional firms are prepared to investigate how advertising can raise their profile, many larger commercial firms are not. One head of a London advertising agency said: "We talked to a leading firm of solicitors but in the end they were rather snooty about the whole business of advertising and were worried that existing clients might not like it."
In Scotland, individual law firms have not had to invest in advertising as the Law Society of Scotland has run a generic advertising campaign for three years to make the profession appear more approachable. Ian Skillen, a director of Rileys Advertising in Glasgow, says: "We tried to give lawyers a more human face by using humour and telling consumers it is never too early to contact a solicitor."
It is a step already taken by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which last year ran a poster campaign, including one telling consumers to use a chartered accountant for business and tax advice rather than a "cowboy accountant". The adverts, which are also intended to dispel the boring image that accountants are saddled with, included one that said: "It's easier to sleep with a chartered accountant." Susan Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the ICA, says: "The campaign has worked hard to redress some of the problems of awareness faced by the profession. We have identified the need for further activity to differentiate chartered accountants from others and those who are unqualified."
Now English lawyers may be getting some of the same treatment. The Law Society of England and Wales is considering imposing a levy of pounds 100 on every partner in a law firm to raise pounds 5m to run a generic advertising campaign to improve the image of the profession. A spokeswoman said: "We are considering it but it is in the very early discussion stages." One thing is for sure, if the advertising campaign does reach our screens, it will not feature homosexual rape.
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