Marketing through bar associations is an opportunity to reach a like-minded group of legal buyers in a professional, organized setting. While this strategy takes effort to launch and maintain, the benefits can be significant. Working with a bar association will bring credibility in the eyes of its members, you can help the association advocate on your behalf, and you will be able to tailor your messaging to the motivations of a well-defined audience.
An essential first step is choosing the proper association with which to launch a program. Voluntary associations – local and regional, industry-specific, and demographically targeted associations, for example – are often more amenable to marketing partnerships as opposed to mandatory licensing bar organizations. Partnerships help associations offer benefits to incentivize membership and may seek non-dues revenue. Also, consider the organization's prominence, as well-known associations can lend credibility when establishing additional partnerships.
As you evaluate potential partners, understand what you can afford to invest to establish and promote the relationship. There may be upfront or ongoing costs to joining their benefits program. In addition, associations will generally expect you to sponsor events and advertise in their publications. As your association channel grows, you may also need dedicated personnel to manage your programs. These costs, in addition to the time and energy you devote to marketing the partnership, can be substantial. Compare your investment projections against a reasonable expectation of the revenue you will generate to help narrow your list of potential partners.
There is no standard approach to setting up partnerships. Each organization has its preferences and requirements. Most will carefully vet your services to ensure you are trustworthy and will add value to their members, so be prepared to demonstrate your ability to meet their expectations. Most importantly, understand your value proposition and how a partnership will enrich the experience of the organization and its members.
Finalizing a partnership agreement is just the beginning; these programs are not a "build it, and they will come" scenario. Create a marketing plan designed with an understanding of the channels, subgroups, and networks unique to each association. While each association is different, some common ways to get involved are:
- Participating in Continuing Legal Education programs offered
- Contributing to association events
- Engaging in the community efforts, forums, and social media of the organization
Working with Practice Management Advisors
Many state and some local bar associations employ Practice Management Advisors (PMAs) to assist members in making and implementing decisions related to vendors, technology, and improving their practices. They are influential, have well-rounded expertise, and work closely with their networks.
Building relationships with these advisors is a great way to increase your reach within the association. If you help them increase engagement with members – by providing content or adding value – you will benefit from their relationships with association members. Keep an open line of communication with them and be willing to assist them in moving their initiatives forward.
Whether with Practice Management Advisors or through your separate marketing efforts, you will see the most significant results by being a valuable member of the association's network. After all, members join for social and educational opportunities as much as professional.