Why World-Class Law Firms Are Funding Scholarships (And why yours should too!)

Our presenters, Tanner Jones, Michael Gardner and Ashley Krohn discuss various ways in which scholarships can help a law firm’s marketing and PR efforts, especially with regards to its online presence. They provide some helpful information, and tips for law firms who are interested in starting or improving their own scholarship effort.


Mike: Hello everybody, and welcome to the Consultwebs webinar “Why World Class Law Firms Offer Scholarships (And Why Yours Should, Too).” I’m Mike Zellmer, director of marketing for Consultwebs. And we have with us today, with their photos here on this slide from left to right, you can see Tanner Jones, our vice president of business development. We have senior marketing consultant Michael Gardner and outreach specialist Ashley Krohn.

Thank you all for being with us today to talk about something that more and more law firms, especially those that seem to be more savvy and world-class in their marketing/PR efforts, are doing. Of course, I’m talking about funding scholarships and running scholarship campaigns.

Today, our presenters will give some examples of scholarship campaigns that law firms are running. They’ll discuss the various benefits involved, provides some tips, some do’s and don’ts.

So to show you a couple examples of law firm scholarship campaigns and get the ball rolling is Michael Gardner. We call him Garney. And, Garney, the floor is yours.

Garney: All right. Thanks, Mike. First of all, good afternoon everybody, and thanks for attending the webinar this afternoon.

We want to start off by just giving you a couple of examples of law firms that we feel like are maximizing the potential out of their scholarship campaigns. I’ve got one on the screen share here, Joye Law Firm out of Charleston, South Carolina. They’re a personal injury firm. They’ve been running their scholarship for eight years now and have been very successful with it.

On this screen right here, you’ll see the webpage with a couple of overlays here. The webpage in the background is the page on their website that shows off the scholarship program. You can see it at the very top there. It’s in the top navigation. On the left hand side, you’ll see some of the outreach that we have done for their campaign, getting them featured on scholarships.com. As well as on the right hand side, you will see a opportunity there that the firm had for local press with a news station.

The second law firm . . . And we’ll go through what makes these successful a little further on in the webinar. The second law firm is out of Atlanta, Georgia, Miller & Mixon. Another personal injury firm, been running their scholarship for two years. And on this screen right here, you’ll see the first year that we ran their scholarship and the design of the page linking to underage drinking awareness and the scholarship that they did. So without further ado, I will pass things off to Tanner Jones, and he’ll talk a little bit about scholarships and community.

Tanner: Yeah, most certainly. Thanks, Garney.

There’s a number of things that we’re going to cover in this webinar about scholarships that really express the value, the benefits to your firm and, more importantly, what to do. But first, we want to cover some of the major things that you want to avoid.

As Garney and Mike both suggested, we’ve been doing this for clients for a number of years. And through that process, we’ve made our own fair share of mistakes. And we want to be able to save you all from making those mistakes and costing your firm money and time.

Some of these major things that you want to avoid if you decide to implement and manage a scholarship campaign for your firm, first and foremost, you want to avoid self-promotion. That’s the last thing you want to do as part of a scholarship campaign. Essentially, there’s no sense in trying to get clients from a scholarship initiative. By the whole effort itself, you’re going to brand your firm. You’re going to build awareness. And there’s likely going to be spillover, if you will, and getting future business from that. But that should not be the intention or the sole intention of running a scholarship campaign.

Rather, you want to consider what fits in line with the culture of your firm, what fits in line with your ideal target market, your clientele. What’s the passion, the interests of the partners of the firm, the passion, the interests, the culture of the law firm itself? And try to align that scholarship with that because that’s something that everyone in the firm can get behind, and you can feel good in doing that. It’s going to do good for the community. And ultimately, it’s going to provide value to your firm and to your business.

The next thing is not to run a scholarship campaign solely focused on search marketing efforts, solely focused on getting backlinks back to your website. And we’re seeing a lot of law firms today implement scholarship initiatives with an obvious sole intention of getting backlinks to the website. That is most certainly a supplemental benefit if you use proper outreach and have the proper systems in place to do so. But that should not be the driving force behind the scholarship.

The next piece is a poor a design of the scholarship page. And we see this pretty commonly as well. And what we mean by this is when you have a scholarship page represented on your website where people can come learn more about the scholarship and even submit applications for the scholarship, you want that page to be absolutely clear of any typos, any errors. It needs to be able to present professionalism, be able to present credibility, because you have to understand that the colleges, the universities, the high schools that are going to this page to consider whether this is something reputable enough to list for their campus, they’re going to be reading this very closely. And they’re looking to ensure that it is in fact credible and reputable. So make sure that that design is well-laid out, removes any commercialized content. There’s no call to actions. Again, there’s no sense in trying to convert a client on this page. So there’s no sense in including practice area content or calls to actions on this page.

Lastly, very similar to the links effort, there’s no sense in using this campaign solely as a PR initiative. These scholarships are not link building strategies or sole PR efforts. The idea is to implement a holistic approach, where you do get value, from a linking standpoint, you do get value from a PR and brand and press perspective. But you also give value back to the community by helping people further their education, by rewarding students who are doing well in academics.

So with that being said, Ashley’s going to come, and she’s going to speak a little bit about why these are beneficial and valuable for the law firms.

Ashley: Thank you, Tanner.

Like Tanner mentioned, I’m going to talk about how scholarships will help your firm in a variety of different ways.

Sorry, I’m getting a little bit of lag here with the slides on my end.

Okay, so scholarships are successful because they’re fulfilling a need that your community has, which is helping students to afford tuition. We all know how expensive tuition is these days. And other businesses, the schools themselves, both high schools and colleges, universities, tech schools, they’ll appreciate that you’re offering to help their students to further their education.

And by helping the community, you’ll be building your brand through positive publicity. Running a scholarship basically tells your community this is a business that cares, that works for causes, has a specific purpose other than just practicing law and making money, which is an important factor in what people are looking for today when they’re considering a law firm.

In terms of public relations, offering a scholarship will garner positive feelings about the firm in the community and additional awareness on who you are and what your firm is passionate about. Onscreen, you’ll see an example of a news write-up that we received from our scholarship outreach for a specific client.

Scholarships will help your website and online brand presence immensely. Schools often share about your scholarship opportunity through their social media to reach more students and potential applicants. So you’re being recognized by their community, parents, students, faculty, alumni. You can also attain extra social media exposure on the type of scholarship you offer. Michael Gardner will talk a little bit more about this later. But by adding a social voting component to who the final winner is will allow finalists to promote their entries on your site. This encourages lots of visits, additional exposure on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Lastly, scholarships will help your website because they result in a high number of strong links to your website. Like Tanner talked about, this should never be your primary reason for hosting a scholarship. But schools will post links on their own websites and link to the firm’s page. In addition to links from schools, new sites, local businesses, awareness organizations on specific prompts, and scholarship databases and websites are also typically willing to link and share to scholarships. This creates additional opportunities for visits to the page, brand impressions, and has a strong SEO benefit too.

With that, I’m going to hand it back over to Michael Gardner to give you some more tips.

Garney: Awesome. Thanks, Ashley.

Before I get into the tips, I want to talk about a few things that you must consider when you get ready to start your scholarship campaign. One of the things that we realized is you may be listening to this webinar and think, “I’d like to start a scholarship campaign,” but there’s a lot involved with that. I understand that there’s a lot involved with getting that started. So we want to go ahead and talk about a few of the things that you need to consider when getting ready to start a scholarship.

First thing you want to consider is that there are many different types of scholarships. And you want to tailor this for what you’re trying to accomplish, what your firm is all about. And creativity is your only limit in this. I’ve worked with law firms that just wanted to go after high schools and target high schools for their scholarships. We’ve done athletic scholarships, memorial scholarships, awareness scholarships. But once again, just get creative when thinking about what type of scholarship you’re wanting to create.

Here’s an example of a design that we did for an athletic scholarships for a firm out of Oklahoma. Example here on our screen of a memorial scholarship that we did for a law firm in New York. And here’s an example of a recent scholarship that we did for a law firm in Washington D.C., which raised awareness on cyber bullying. Once again, another strong campaign that was ran.

When looking into your scholarship and you’ve decided what type of scholarship you want to do, you’ve got to consider, what types of entries are you going to accept? The standard one that we see a lot is essay contest. We’ve also worked with law firms that have done video PSA, public service announcement, contests, like a 30-second video. And we’ve also done a few of the letting the kids get a little creative with artwork scholarship contest as well.

Sorry about that, I advanced one slide too many.

The next thing you want to be able to do is you want to be able to determine your prizes. And I know there’s questions about, does this always have to be monetary? How much does it need to be? that sort of thing. We have worked with many different law firms in determining this. And the biggest thing I can tell you is that you just want to make sure that, one, we have found that scholarships that have multiple prizes, such as a first, second, and a third, do really well in terms of the number of responses and applications that you receive. As well as . . . You just want to make sure that it’s worthwhile. You don’t want to have a first place prize of, let’s say, $200 for a 500-word essay.

We’ve also seen a good combination of monetary as well as other types of prizes. As an example, a recent scholarship that we did for a law firm had a first and second prize that were both monetary. And the third place prize was an iPad Mini. So you can definitely switch that up a little bit.

The next thing you want to consider is what your timeline is going to be. When I think about this, I started thinking about the old saying that “Time is money.” There’s a lot of planning that goes into the proper execution of a scholarship program. It requires a lot of resources to pull this off, from creating the application to even selecting the review committee if you want to have that involved. So there’s a lot to consider there. We normally tell our clients that we work with, “Look, if we’re going to start working on this, we want to start planning in advance because we want to make sure that once the scholarship is ready to go live that we’re ready to execute the scholarship.

The next thing you want to consider here is, what students? Who are the people that are going to apply for your scholarship? Do you want to set a minimum GPA requirement? Do you want to tackle high school students, also include maybe college students? So you want to make sure that you are properly targeting that audience as well.

And then the last thing that you have to consider here is that outreach is key. Ashley talked a little bit about outreach. That can’t be overstated. It’s very, very important, the outreach process in this, to allow as many people to be able to have visibility on your scholarship as possible.

Couple of tips that we’ve seen . . . We’ve mentioned that we’ve run these for a couple years for law firms. And we’ve learned some things, certainly in that time frame.

One of the biggest things that we’ve learned is everyone in the firm needs to be aware that you’re running the scholarship. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but you’re going to get, once you start placing this on your website, social media, and various places, you’re going to get folks that are going to call. And they’re going to ask questions about your scholarship. You want to make sure that everyone in your firm, particularly starting with the folks that answer the phone, know that you’re running a scholarship and are aware of your scholarship so they can target and send that person to the right person to answer their questions.

We’ve also found that there is a best time of year to run the scholarship. We’ve had a lot of success running the scholarship at the very beginning of the year, once the students have come back from Christmas break, maybe beginning of January, and running that scholarship through the first of April, allowing you also to have time to determine your winners and reach out to the schools, okay, if you’re working with high schools, before those schools let out for the summer.

We’ve certainly learned some valuable lessons in terms of not doing a scholarship during the summer, those sort of things. But there is definitely a best time to run a scholarship.

Creating an electronic application, I won’t spend much time on this one. But just keep the students from having to print these out, pay for postage, and send it to you. It does make a huge difference, and we help law firms create that electronic application.

Involve your social channels, you can’t do this enough. Ashley had mentioned one of the things that we’ve done for law firms is certainly, obviously, they share this on all their social channels. The schools will oftentimes share it on their social channels as well. But you can also throw in social voting as a part of your contest as well. And we’ve seen a lot of success with that, drawing a lot of additional people into the website to vote for their favorite video, that sort of thing. So involve social as much as possible.

Then you have to determine the winners. This is one thing that we find a lot of law firms will not consider in the very beginning, which is if you’re going to . . . Let’s say you’re going to run an essay contest. You have to keep in mind that you don’t know how many scholarship applicants you’re going to receive. Maybe you might have a lot of success, and you might get a couple hundred applications. You have to consider, “Do I need a scholarship committee? Or, “Who’s going to review these essays when they come in to help determine who these winners are?”

And then finally, awarding the scholarship. Probably, one of the most rewarding parts for your law firm, getting to reach out to these students and award them the scholarship on a job well done. I talked about the timing. You want to make sure you’re running your scholarship, ideally, particularly if you’re working within the high schools, we have found that law firms really enjoy being able to reach out to the school, tell them that a certain student from their school has won the scholarship, and be able to reach out them then and potentially even maybe attend award ceremony or something and award that student with the scholarship.

And that’s it for the tips, Mike, I’ll turn things back over to you.

Mike: Great. Thank you, Garney. Thank you everybody for some great information about scholarship campaigns and the ways that they can contribute to a law firm’s marketing and public relations success, especially online.

Thank you all for being with us. We hope it was valuable to you. And we look forward to seeing you at a future Consultwebs webinar. Have a great afternoon.