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If you’re contemplating radio advertising, a worthy role model would be Rene Larson, a Thunder Bay, Ontario, lawyer who has been at it for more than two years. Larson’s wife sells airtime for three local radio stations and it was her idea for him to create a public information program in the middle of which would be a “sell ad.” Larson explained how the program works. “As a lead-in, we ask an interesting question about the subject matter of the day, then go into a 30-second ad on different topics, then follow that for a minute talking about the answer to the question.” The program runs every morning at 8:20, aka drive time or wake-up time. That time of day “has the most listeners, and it’s a more adult audience,” said Mr. Larson. Larson, who has a general practice firm (“everything except criminal”), said that what he’s targeting in the radio advertising is real estate, wills, powers of attorney and corporate. He recently hired a new associate to do matrimonial, so his advertising will focus a bit more on it, he added. The most important part of any advertising program is consistency, advises Larson. “We spend the time to produce a high-quality program that’s informative to the public and they tend to listen to it. And one of the secrets of radio advertising,” he added, “is it goes right into someone’s brain.” Over a period of time, it builds a certain image of the firm and complements other types of advertising, such as Yellow Pages. “Say there are 30 firms in Thunder Bay, and they’re all advertising in the Yellow Pages. Why do people stop at my ad? While I try to design my Yellow Pages ad with a marketing message, too, the reason they stop is the subliminal effect of radio. I get a lot of phone calls where people call up and I hear them out to see if it will develop into a file. More often than not I give them some practical advice and hope they remember me the next time. So it produces work that is both billable and non-billable.” Larson created 22 different commercials to mix in with the 60-second program. He shares the responsibility for producing the question-and-answer sessions with two other lawyers in his firm. “Each of us has to produce a week’s worth of Q&A sessions on a particular topic, say, landlord and tenant,” he said. “You do research. Make sure you’re talking in plain English, not legalese. Then go to the radio session and tape. Each of us tapes all 15 programs, and then the radio station alternates them. So there’s some repletion of the programs, but because they’re different voices, it doesn’t sound like the same old stuff.” The firm doesn’t advertise specific products or services, said Larson, “It’s more promoting the image of the firm, becoming known, becoming accessible. We haven’t used a slogan or a hook, although there is a consistent musical intro and outro.” How does he come up with the questions? Said Larson, “I read legal newspapers and cases and say ‘This is interesting, maybe we should write about it.’ Usually when I get into reading about something, I can formulate five questions and answers. Or it may result from an actual client matter, where you say, ‘It would be interesting to do something generic on this topic.’ We’ve done more than two years’ worth of these and I don’t feel like I have any limitations on what we can cover for the next five years.” Employment law has generated a disproportionate number of inquires. “We probably average one call a day with a new employment situation,” said Larson. “You can go a week without getting any calls, and then you get a whole bunch — usually at the end of the month, or at the end of a pay period, when employers are firing people. In fact, we have become known as an employment law firm for employees. Employers hate us. We get calls from them saying, ‘Don’t tell employees all that stuff.’ So that’s an example of where we took an area we were interested in, and expanded it.” Larson said his firm went with a radio station with a middle-of-the-road music format: “They promote themselves as the station everyone can agree on in the workplace.” One of the benefits of the format is that while Larson pays to air the segment, he isn’t charged as much as if he were airing a 90-second commercial. In addition, the production time is minimal, he says, and “because he’s a consistent advertiser — the segments run 52 weeks a year — he can take advantage of a special promotional package that the station has for selling out excess time. “They come to us and say, ‘If you pay us a fixed amount per month, we’ll throw in a minimum number of extra ads at a deep discount. It gets fitted in wherever — prime time, off-prime — and I get it on three stations, not just one. Another thing I always do in my ads is hammer my Internet site … .” The firm’s radio spots have been so successful, Larson is considering syndicating them. “I’m thinking that an attorney in another market could take my script, and with minor modifications such as inserting the name of the local landlord and tenant act, produce it in their own home town.” “The radio is interesting when you get into it,” said Larson. “If some radio salesperson had knocked on my door and tried to sell it to me, it probably never would have happened. But my wife is taking courses on developing her selling skills in radio — how it works, what approaches it takes — and she was interested in how to use it for marketing professional services.”

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