Are ads congratulating clients an opportunity or arm-twisting?
November 13, 2014
Should you buy an ad in a publication that is honoring your client when they are given your firm’s name as being a key vendor?
There are two views here of this decades-old media practice, commonly seen in the construction community but being adopted elsewhere, and an ethics issue.
The first view is that the publication creates a list or honor that means little and then writes a puff profile of a “winning” company, in a special report no one really reads or relies upon, in the process identifying suppliers during interviews, then puts the arm on the suppliers to buy a congratulatory ad, putting the suppliers in a position of looking unsupportive of customers-clients if they do not advertise. This amounts to arm-twisting or “soft extortion” many suppliers and several law firms have told us over the years.
The other view is this allows the suppliers or law firm to explain or show they are an important element of a prominent industry-leading client’s success and that this demonstrates to others in the industry who read the article that they should use or recommend the supplier or law firm.
Our experience and all of the data we have seen do not indicate an ad is particularly effective way to create referrals or retention. It may help create name recognition if the publication is well read.
Question: can a law firm say or suggest it represents a company absent permission from the client; meaning is there an ethics issue here? Yes, your client gave the name of the firm to the publication, but the privilege rests with the client not the firm or publication and is not waived as a result, as we understand the rule. What can your ad ethically say, congratulations only? that you do defense work?, that you do anything specifically? Did the clients know you would disclose the nature of your work?
The reality often lies somewhere in between the two views. You have to evaluate the client, the billings, the industry, the publication, the confidentiality, your budget, particularly if this sets the firm up for a series of unscheduled (often pricey) ads.
We tend to think firms should avoid these “opportunities” for the most part. If you are an integral part of the client’s team and success the ad makes no difference in the relationship. Few of these articles are well read, so the ad’s effect is commonly scanty beyond the client’s reaction to it. Certainly recognizing the article was published, by a personal note to key contacts in the firm, by the firm or lawyer makes sense. So does a case study on the firm’s website.