Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal – by Becky Bergman
If it’s true that you reap what you sow, then the Salinas-based law firm of Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss is about to yield a bountiful harvest of business. The 20-lawyer, full-service practice recently hired Illinois-based Ross Fishman Marketing, Inc. to develop an ad campaign targeting the valley’s agriculture industry.
Mr. Fishman, the creative mind behind a host of law firm campaigns that have redefined the field, rolled out the “Lettuce Lawyers.” There were advertisements in California-based agricultural trade magazines depicting Noland Hamerly attorneys parking tractors in front of the office, holding a pitchfork in front of a barn a la Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting and striking cowboyish poses while riding horses in their business suits.
There was a new firm motto — “Together We Grow.” A new Web site — www.lettucelawyers.com — tailored to the ag businessis up along with the Noland Hamerly corporate Web site. And there were giveaways — overalls and seed packets that double as business cards.
“It’s just a fun thing we do and the clients like it,” says David Merritt, executive director for Noland Hamerly. “It helps in linking our name to the industry.”
It has also drawn national attention. ALM Small Firm Business Magazine recently gave the firm its “Best Practices Award” in the marketing category, in part for overcoming initial firm resistance to marketing themselves as the “Lettuce Lawyers.” Noland Hamerly boasts its extensive agricultural law capabilities and deep client relationships it has nurtured, but the firm didn’t want to limit its access to potential clients.
While the firm wanted to show that it can address a roster of ag-related needs, Mr. Merritt explains, “We are not just another agricultural firm… We’ve been here for a long time and we understand this business from A to Z.”
Noland Hamerly execs say they can handle everything from commercial litigation and real estate and land use to regulatory compliance and employment law. The firm currently has nine attorneys, 11 partners and three other locations in Monterey, Gilroy and King City. The marketing scheme tops off years of courting the ag industry. Although the 78-year-old firm performs work for other clients, its agriculture work has flourished to the point that all the lawyers within the practice do at least some, according to Mr. Merritt.
The firm’s attorneys represent agricultural enterprises and farm families involved in growing, shipping, harvesting and marketing the produce industry. The firm also works with commercial property and ranch owners, vineyard operations and agriculture-related tourism and hospitality businesses. Mark Waxman, a 25-year marketing consultant in Silicon Valley and currently senior vice president of marketing for CBiz, Silicon Valley, says the strategy will pay off.
“I expect that they will do really well. They are tapping into the convergence of several trends in marketing and branding to gain a unique position in the marketplace. They are differentiating themselves and breaking through what I call the noise factor,” says Mr. Waxman. “The professional services industry has been largely conservative and hasn’t seen a need to advertise to a niche market.”
“I’m impressed the attorneys would roll up their sleeves and be real people,” says Mr. Waxman.
Rolling up their sleeves may be one thing, but for Noland Hamerly attorneys, jumping into the saddle for their career was quite another. The concept initially was rejected by the attorneys. So Mr. Fishman, former litigator and founder for Ross Fishman Marketing, worked for several months to educate the attorneys about the benefits of going leafy.
“Here you have a legal firm that is particularly dominant in the thriving ag industry, which creates an opportunity to leverage their history and experience for the firm’s benefit,” says Mr. Fishman. “But it was a huge sacrifice for some attorneys because not everyone works directly with agriculture clients. By doing this industry-focused marketing strategy, you’re asking these attorneys to approve aspects of the marketing plan that don’t directly affect them.”
Part of the challenge was getting the message out in a fun way without damaging credibility. “It had crossed our minds that we might not be taken seriously, and we had to think about that long and hard. But we also believed that if you can poke fun at yourselves, you’re on equal footing,” says Mr. Merritt.
The potential increase in revenue convinced the objecting attorneys to allow the firm to pony up $120,000 for the campaign. “The marketing materials set the stage and create visibility and brand,” says Mr. Fishman. “This entire concept really reinforces the firm’s expertise and commitment to the industry.”
And it turned out that jumping on a horse wasn’t a bit of stretch for the partners after all. Firm partner Myron “Doc” Etienne Jr. posed with his horse alongside Timothy Baldwin, who owns five quarterhorses. Although Noland Hamerly is the first law firm to undertake a major campaign like this in the area, industry-focused marketing is nothing new.
Mr. Fishman created the nation’s first law firm computer-game for Orrick and pioneered the legal profession’s first marketing plan targeting law school recruiting programs. These campaigns have received the international Legal Marketing Association’s “Best of Show” award three times in the past seven years, as well as the group’s “Lifetime Achievement” Award.