TV Advertising For Law Firms

by May 25, 2014

TV Advertising Guide For Small Law Firms

Television advertising has changed a lot for attorneys. With the power, lower price, and trackability of online advertising and website content marketing, television doesn’t hold the same appeal as it once did. Nonetheless, when a firm does opt to have a television commercial created, it’s never been less expensive to produce, and the result can also be utilized online by the law firm. So, what was out is now starting to fall back into favor.

When you embark on a television production, we recommend that you build into any spot you have created a direct response component (versus a simple branding spot). Be sure your commercial has legible contact information available throughout the majority of the commercial. Also, be sure to have your producer arranges for web rights in every commercial you produce (including with all talent used).

The Typical TV Production Process

Having a television commercial produced for your law firm is a big decision for many reasons. There’s the cost. There’s the potential liability that comes with production. And there’s the exposure that follows its airing. Plenty to worry about. Yet, done right, and run on the right media, it can increase your firm’s brand awareness and connect with more potential new clients than any other media. Plus, you’ll have a marketing asset you can run online and use, if done right, for years to come.

As part of our mission to help empower solo practitioners and small firm attorneys with everything they need to market their practices successfully, this post breaks down the average production of a television commercial. Hopefully, it will demystify the entire process so, when you’re contemplating pulling the trigger and having a TV spot created, produced and aired, you’ll know what to expect and how to manage the experience adeptly.

Digital Revolution Made Commercial Production Much More Affordable

Before digital video became standard practice, producing a quality television commercial was cost-prohibitive for small law firms. I have to emphasize “quality”. No firm should allow their brand image to be tarnished by a clearly inferior commercial. This lesson is assuming you want a quality commercial for your law firm. With the digital evolution came lower cost cameras, lighting, computers, editing software and even media.

So, nowadays, having a quality television commercial produced for your firm is entirely feasible. When my first commercial was produced, the average cost was around a million dollars, not counting the media buy. Today’s television commercial average closer to a hundred thousand, again, not counting media. And in local markets, you can a quality spot produced for a fraction of that. There are a lot of different ways to make a commercial (live action, animation, stills with moving typography, to name just a few), but for our purposes let’s think in terms of a commercial with some live action shot at or around your office, some close-ups of the partners speaking, some b-roll footage of typical kinds of cases and of the local area, with some screen graphics and an announcer voice-over. The variations are innumerable but, generally, commercials for a local/regional market for a law firm are not big budget.

The Overall Process

So, your firm has saved its nickels and is ready for a real marketing push in your community with its first television commercial. What should you expect when you decide to have a television commercial created? For the purposes of this example, let’s say your law firm hired a local ad agency to create and produce the commercial for you. Probably goes without saying, but what follows is simplified, yet should give you a foundation for how the production should play out.

The Brief

Your firm will meet with an ad agency and tell them what you’re looking for. You are the client in this process. You’ll also tell them what you don’t want. You’ll tell them your budget, where you’d like the commercial to run, its length (probably thirty seconds), and the overall timing of the project. Hopefully, they will ask you about your law firm’s unique selling proposition or strategy, your competitors, your target and your expectations. They’ll go away, think about it and come back and present options for the commercial. If you don’t like anything, rinse and repeat. But you’ll probably like something, probably with some changes.

This initial period of your briefing the agency, their ideating and then presenting ideas, and both sides having a meeting of the minds as to what the television commercial will be about, should take a few weeks, maybe a month. Ideally, the ad agency will present their ideas in storyboard form.

They come in many shapes (many are plotted out horizontally) and sizes, but your storyboard will break down the key action points/scenes as well as the dialogue, voice-over, music and on-screen graphics. It helps lessen the chance of any surprises in the final product, but keep in mind that there are always unexpected aspects in a production. Still, at this point you firm should have a very good idea of the commercial that will be produced. Make sure all key decision makers at your firm agree to the commercial at this point in the process. No reason to do it sooner, but definitely don’t want to wait until later.

Once you’ve selected the commercial you want to have produced, you’ll enter the pre-production phase. The agency will select, with your input, who will direct the commercial. The director is most often part of a production company, so, generally, when you pick a director, you pick the director’s company to handle all aspects of production (except for post-production, more below).

Your agency should also provide you with options for who will edit the commercial and handle the post-production of the spot. This may be same company that handles the shooting production, but not necessarily so. During all of this, your firm and the agency should also be planning on the media where the commercial will run. Some ad agencies have their own media buying department, many don’t. If the agency doesn’t have their own, they will recommend one.


And so it begins. During pre-production, you’ll work with your agency and the production company on all aspects of the production. Locations, actors, sets, camera operator (usually the director’s choice), permits, contracts and contingency plans should all be ironed out so that when the day the commercial is to be shot arrives, very little is left to chance.

Make sure that, if you use actors or voice-over talent, you have a clear understanding of your locality’s standing with SAG and all pertinent union rules. Generally, your ad agency’s producer will know all the governing rules, taxes, liabilities, and will have the appropriate standard contracts. This is especially important if you’re going to run your commercial on the internet after airing it on TV. Also, if members of your firm are going to be on-camera, make sure your agency’s producer knows what the SAG rule on this is for your area. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the difference between principal actors and extras (and what they’ll be costing you) The same goes with music, as far as making sure you have a clear understanding of what you are paying for, license-wise.

The pre-production period should map out the entire process, all the way through delivering the finished spot to stations for the airing of the commercial. It should break down the day of shooting the commercial by the hour. It should provide a timeline on the editing of the commercial. Throughout it all, there should be dates clearly set for when your firm will need to provide approvals on everything from final selects of the actors, locations, and wardrobe to music track and final edit of the commercial.

The schedule is important especially when you’ve purchased media time; your commercial needs to be with whichever stations are going to air by a certain time. So, maintaining a tight production schedule is essential. There will be a lot of moving parts so this is often easier said than done, but the right agency, with the right producer, along with the right production company, can make the process painless, and often enjoyable.

The commercial’s director should give you a clear idea of how the shooting day will unfold: which shots will be shot when and where, how each scene will be shot, which actors will do what, and how the entire commercial will be captured over the course of the day.

Production Day

The day of the shoot arrives. If everyone has done their job, there shouldn’t be any surprises. Yet, there always are. Like the weather (did you make sure there were contingency clauses in all the contracts?) or, if you’re shooting indoors, someone next door decides it’s remodeling day. Generally speaking, production companies are used to thinking quickly on their feet to handle any surprise.

Make sure someone from your firm oversees every scene that is shot. You should have a copy of all scripts and the storyboard. You should have headphones if there’s going to be any on-camera dialogue so you can make sure every word is clear and that there isn’t any background noise interfering. In a nutshell, even though there’s a director and a production company handling it all, you need to be very  vigilant during every moment of the shooting day.

Try to get a few extra takes of every shot (without annoying the director), so you have more to edit with. Make sure someone is watching the continuity from one shot to the next. An extra can take off a sweater between shots, or a member of the crew might move a prop. The result could mean subtle differences in the sequence of your commercial, and they’re the kind of things the naysayers love to point out in blogs and social media. Best to catch it beforehand.

Also, it’s a good idea to record “wild lines” at the end of the shooting. Basically, have every line of dialogue that spoken during the shooting, recorded separately. This will also give you more options during editing. You may decide not to use a certain shot of an actor, but still want the words that were spoken to be said during a shot of your firm, for example. Recording wild lines by all of the actors is another way of giving you more options in the editing room.


The spot is shot, and in the can, so to speak. Next, you’ll watch an editor do his/her magic with all the footage. During this time it’s important to give the editor their room. Let them create their first cut without your intervention. It’s also important to note that, for almost every commercial production, the director has not been involved in post-production. This aspect is different than the movies or television, where directors play a big role in the edit.

During post-production, you’ll make sure that the commercial’s sequence of shots truly flow right. You’ll also fine tune all of the audio. I make sure to hear the audio for the commercial out of the crappiest speakers possible. So often, editing suites are equipped with amazing speakers so everything sounds amazing. But, when aunt Bertha hears it on her small TV in the kitchen, will she be able to make out every word? Make sure of it.

Your agency should submit to you a final cut for your firm’s approval. Once approved, it will be sent to the networks/stations that will be running it. Make sure your firm has digital copies of the commercial. You’ll probably want to have it on your website. And they may come in handy down the road for other media (for instance, if you want to create rich banner ads using a clip from the spot). Generally, agencies keep copies of every spot they’ve produced practically forever, so you can most likely get it from them when needed. But, some production companies have been known to go out of business.

A Star Is Born

Obviously, there’s no way to cover everything involved with producing a commercial in the confines of this blog. But, hopefully, this post gives you the big picture of what to expect and a few “watch outs” to be aware of.

LawLytics Newsletter

Get insights, webinar invites and exclusive legal marketing news in your inbox.