Text messaging: Is there anything it can't do?
Thanks to the miracles of texting, you can use your cell phone or personal digital assistant to order fast food, place sports bets, get your bank balance, request a weather forecast and check the value of your neighbor's home.
We even conducted interviews for this story via text message!
But it's difficult to overstate just how interwoven into our lives text messaging has become. Consider the case of local trial attorney Ed Bernstein.
Bernstein has three daughters ages 21 and under, and sometimes, it seems like the only way he can find them anymore is via text. That realization led to a marketing epiphany: Texting could help Bernstein attract younger consumers. (Although, given the communications skills of the younger set, we have to wonder how intelligible any text-initiated business leads might be: "SLIP ANDFELL ON STAREZ. LOLZ!!!!!! NEED U 2 SUE 4 ME!!!!!!!!!!!! :-D")
"If you want to reach out to potential clients under the age of 40, texting is a really important way to do that," said Bernstein, a pioneering legal marketer who was the first local attorney to buy billboard space and advertise in Spanish. "I see texting as another new beginning, another first for our firm that will help us make legal services available to the public as easily as possible."
So Bernstein has rolled out television spots advertising a specialized, dedicated business-texting number -- 24-00-00 -- through which consumers can text him in an emergency, or if they think they might have a case. People who text Ed receive an automatic response with five options, including requesting a chat with a live representative, scheduling an appointment or getting tips on what to do if they're in an accident. If they want to speak with a live person, a message appears on the firm's computer screens, and an attorney versed in the area of trial law specific to that case will call back and ask how he can help. It's a system that Bernstein said vastly improves on old-fashioned phone calls, which can subject consumers to labyrinthine voice-mail mazes and lengthy wait times for callbacks.
Marketing experts and Bernstein's competitors called the text-messaging campaign inventive.
"(Bernstein is) clearly cutting edge. This is a guy who's very tech-savvy," said Larry Bodine, a Tucson, Ariz.-based business-development expert who helps law firms with sales strategies, but who hasn't worked with Bernstein. "I haven't seen any other law firm do this yet, so there's a coolness factor. Also, you're tapping into how the Net generation communicates. They don't use phones, they don't use e-mail. They use their hand-helds. And it's interesting: Those (the younger demographic) are the people who get into the most accidents."
Bodine noted that businesses spent $2.3 billion on text-message advertising in 2009. That amount will grow to $3.2 billion in 2010, so Bernstein is on the leading edge of a growing trend.
Tracy Eglet, managing partner of local trial-law firm Mainor Eglet Cottle, said Bernstein's latest campaign is an innovative way to find new clients.
"We're such a fast-paced society, and people want quick service," Eglet said. "Fifty years ago, someone might wait a couple of days for a return phone call. Things are very different now."
Eglet's firm, which is working on the massive Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada tort, looked into similar text-based lead generation in 2009, but decided against it because the method is better-suited to higher-volume firms that do more business with individual consumers, rather than firms that handle fewer, larger cases.
Phil Pattee, an assistant counsel with the State Bar of Nevada, said he doesn't know of any other law firms using texting the way Bernstein's deploying it.
And though it's a new frontier in legal marketing, the texting campaign doesn't run afoul of any Bar rules or policies, Pattee added. It's similar to listing an attorney's phone number or e-mail address in a TV spot.
Launching a new lead-rustling venture hasn't been easy or cheap.
First, Bernstein needed to obtain that individualized business text number, which had to be a five- or six-digit affair different from the standard seven digits that make up regular cell phone numbers. He also had to sign agreements with every cell carrier to use the number, and he must pay the companies monthly fees to continue the service. Bernstein estimated that he's invested more than $50,000 in the texting initiative since his firm began coordinating it nearly a year ago.
Bernstein said it's hard to gauge whether texting is paying dividends for his firm yet, because the number hasn't been live long enough to develop tracking statistics on how many legitimate leads come from the service. Some of the messages the firm gets come from puckish sorts who read the text number on TV and want to see if it really works, or if Bernstein himself responds (sometimes he does). Others text to tell Bernstein they think he looks cute on his billboard ads. He's even taken messages from his cheeky daughters, who write to ask what's for dinner.
It's partly fun and games now, but Bernstein said texting will enjoy a serious place in his business in the years to come.
"We expect it to be really successful, and to continue to grow as more people get sucked into texting," he said.
Some of those folks about to get lured into texting include other attorneys, Bodine said. Toward the end of 2009, Bodine said he noticed a substantial uptick in the number of attorneys calling him to set up seminars and programs covering social-networking vehicles such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It's only a matter of time before smaller, nimble firms embrace the benefits of using text messaging as well, he predicted.
"As electronic media increase, I would think smart, entrepreneurial lawyers will think of all different kinds of ways to use electronic media," he said.
Eglet said she can't wait to see what cutting-edge ad technique the forerunning Bernstein tries next.
"In 20 or 30 years, maybe he'll be a hologram," she said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512.