Episode 107: How Creative Advertising Campaigns Set Professional Services Firms Apart with Larry Cohen and Brad Wilder

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Episode 107

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why advertising for professional services is unique compared to other industries
  • How to make the subjective creative process more objective
  • The process behind some of Brad and Larry’s most well-known campaigns
  • Why law firms need to be responsive to the changes in the marketplace, and why advertising is no longer optional
  • Why a good website is a nonnegotiable, especially when it comes to hiring and retention

About Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen is the president and co-founder of advertising agency Glyphix. His vision of a small agency of talented, skilled professionals doing great work for great clients is what drives the group. He’s a writer. Copy. Scripts. Children’s books. In addition to his work with clients, he understands the financial side of their investment in Glyphix…and keeps Glyphix financially strong and stable.

About Brad Wilder

Brad Wilder is creative director and co-founder of Glyphix. Art direction and design are his thing. The national and international awards he’s won prove the point. Awards for almost everything… corporate identity, advertising, packaging, in-store merchandising, display and trade show booth design, interfaces, for clients like Nestlé, Mercedes-Benz, Baskin-Robbins, Xircom and Disney. He’s also a tech geek.


In the legal industry, advertising has done a 180. What was once considered tacky is now a requirement. And according to Larry Cohen and Brad Wilder, co-founders of advertising agency Glyphix, if you’re going to advertise, you better make it count. They joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about how to make the creative process run smoothly; why a strong website is a critical part of attracting top talent; and why even the best brands need a refresh from time to time. Read the episode transcript here

Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guests are Larry Cohen and Brad Wilder, who are some of the professional forces behind Glyphix. Glyphix is an advertising agency which works across all genres but has particular expertise in the professional services space. They’re specialists in all kinds of advertising, websites, print, etc. I say specialists because they’re specialists in having their work stand out from the crowd. We will learn more about Glyphix today. Larry and Brad, welcome to the program.

Larry: Thank you very much for having us

Brad: We’re glad to be here.

Sharon: We’re so glad to have you. Each of you, give us your career paths just briefly.

Larry: Interesting question, because our career paths are almost exactly the same in the sense that—

Sharon: Larry, that’s you speaking?

Larry: Yeah, this is Larry. Brad and I met in high school at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. I was a writer for the school paper. Brad was the photographer and designer, and that’s where we met. After college, we got together and began working for an advertising agency called Mendelson Design. Back in 1986, when the Mac came out and gave us the tools to do a lot of great creative work for a very affordable price, we decided, “Hey, let’s start our own new agency.” We’ve been together since 1986. So, it’s been a very similar career path.

Sharon: So, you’ve known each other a long time.

Brad: Longer than we’ve known our wives, yeah.

Sharon: Can you tell us what Glyphix does in general?

Larry: In general, we do professional services-focused, full-service advertising, some marketing, no PR. We try and delineate those two things, but it’s soup-to-nuts advertising from brand building to SEO and social.

Brad: The bottom line for us is really helping our clients position themselves in the marketplace against the competition and keeping them ever-present in the minds of their potential customers and clients. That can start with the strategy, and then from there move right through to naming their websites, logos, branding, TV advertising, print. All those are different tools we have at our disposal to keep our clients front and center in front of their clients.

Sharon: How do you describe each of your roles at Glyphix? Are they the same?

Larry: No, our roles are very, very different. I came out of university with a business degree. So, for me, it’s the business, dealing with clients, doing some copywriting. Brad is our creative director, so he runs the creative. Whether we’re designing websites, shooting TV commercials, doing print ads, Brad’s the guy that runs the creative here. I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve survived together, as we have a good delineation between who does what with respect to each other’s talents. 

Sharon: That is a good delineation. You’re not crossing over on each other. Brad, the first time I ever saw the agency was when you did something—I can’t remember which company it was for—it was advertising an x-ray. It was for a healthcare law firm.

Brad: It was for Fenton Nelson which is now Nelson Hardiman, health-care attorneys. What was the question? That was a great piece. It was so radically different at the time. No one had ever done it before.

Sharon: It was radically different. It was for healthcare marketing attorneys, as you say, and it really stood out.

Brad: To give some background on that, Fenton Nelson is a healthcare law firm specializing in all things healthcare. They wanted direct mail, not digital, but they wanted it to completely stand out. We actually shot x-ray film with a design that became a direct mail line. It was a full x-ray in an x-ray envelope. It was sent to all the healthcare agencies on their call list. It was 10, 15 years ago, and people are still talking about it. 

Sharon: So, it was a real x-ray?

Brad: Yes.

Larry: We actually had to source x-ray film. 

Sharon: How did you come up with that?

Larry: That’s a great question. We came up with it because Brad and I always try to look for what makes a client unique, what makes them special. In this case, we interviewed Harry Nelson and his staff and they said, “We could go to any healthcare facility. We can walk through the facility and see what their issues are and where they’re going to get in trouble. We see things that other people don’t.” That gave us the idea that an x-ray allows you to see things other people don’t. That gave us a positioning line for the firm, and it was, “We see things other firms don’t.” It was a positioning that said, “We’re unique because our experience and expertise allow us to help our clients.” In that case, it was to help healthcare clients, hospitals, and facilities stay out of trouble. 

It really came out of the client organically, and that’s what Brad and I tried to do. I think we’re good at helping clients find a position for themselves, find the thing that makes them unique. Are you the most expensive? Are you the most experienced? What is it that you’re the best at, and how do we translate that into a creative message? Then, how do we get that in front of our potential clients?

Sharon: Do you tell the client that even if they don’t ask for it? Do you tell them what you’re working from?

Larry: Yes, absolutely, because we want to educate the client. I think clients find it exciting. People love hearing stories, and every firm, every client has a story to tell. The trick is to find that story. I have to uncover that and deliver that story. It’s compelling. You think about great brands. Most of them have a story behind it: why the company was started, what problem you are solving for your customers. That’s what customers and clients care about. Nobody cares about what you do. They care about what you can do for them, how you make them successful. Our job is to translate what you do into why somebody should care. 

Sharon: Is that how you got the name Glyphix? Is there something with Glyphix that tells clients that?

Larry: It was painful naming. We’re a creative firm, so we have to have a creative name; we have to do things differently. We went through hundreds of names. We kept focusing on the name “glyph” as in a hieroglyph. It’s using a picture or several pictures in a row to tell a story. At the time, everything that ended in X was much cooler, and we just stuck with Glyphix. Even our logo is a little “GX” man—it’s on Glyphix.com; check it out—that tells a story through pictures and simple storytelling.

Sharon: I was thinking this while I was looking at the website. You have these very simple line drawings that tell what you do. Was it you who came up with that, Brad?

Larry: Are you talking about the video?

Sharon: Yeah, the video.

Larry: We typically come up with work as a team. At Glyphix, we have a great bunch of people who work together as a team. At the time, we had a gentleman, David Allman, working with us. I think David and Brad came up with that idea. Then we had it animated, and we had a wonderful gentleman who did the voiceover. We wanted a very simple way to explain what we do to people.

Sharon: As I was looking at it, I thought it was great, but it’s like, “How do they come up with it?” I don’t know if I could have.

Larry: We’re very glad that other people can’t do it; otherwise, we’d be out of work. 

Sharon: If somebody says to you, “What does the firm specialize in?” do you have an area you specialize in?

Larry: I’m not sure about the word specialize. We do a lot of work with professional services firms. We understand how they function and how they work. We work with dozens and dozens of law firms and accounting firms, helping them craft their position, understand the brand and keep it in front of clients. 

Ballard Rosenberg is a firm out here in the Valley. We keep them in front of their clients by keeping them in the business journals every month. For other firms, we’ll get them on television. For others, we’ll put them on KCRW radio. For us, it’s helping our clients manage their brand. For others, it’s evolved into websites and doing some social media for them. I think nowadays people are so busy, it’s difficult to keep up with everybody. The key is keeping our clients front and center in the minds of their clients so when a need comes up, they remember them.

Brad: And I should say we don’t do only professional services. We just happen to be very good at it. Professional services, especially with law firms, they bring their own special challenges, and we’ve learned to work around those things. You often hear that working with law firms is like herding cats. We’ve gotten pretty good at herding cats, but we handle many other firms. Our newest onboard is an AI and machine learning company. It couldn’t be any more different than law firms, and the approach is very different from law firms, but again, we’re looking for that story, that one thing they do best.

Sharon: How would you say that working with professional services firms is different than working with a products firm, let’s say?

Brad: It’s super different, because with professional services firms—I don’t mean this in a negative way, but there’s a lot of ego involved because it’s personal. You’re talking about selling the people. With a product, you can get some distance in between them. I can go to a CEO or marketing group in a firm and say, “Hey, your product is this and that. Here’s the audience. Here’s how they’re going to respond.” There’s some objectivity you can bring to that. 

With professional services firms, it’s very, very personal, especially when you get in a room with three, four, five partners of a law firm. They all have opinions. They’re all valid, but they’re all personal. Imagine taking five lawyers at a law firm out to purchase one car. You’d come back with a motorcycle. They have very strong opinions. They’re always very articulate. They’re very bright folks, so they all have valid opinions. Trying to get to a consensus is oftentimes difficult, as opposed to a product that stands on its own. Instead of telling a story about the product, you’re telling a story about the people at the firm, and you have to get them over that hurdle. The firm itself has a brand and that brand stands for something. If you can get to that point, they can put their own personal biases aside and do what’s best for the firm, but that’s a challenge sometimes. 

Sharon: I’m sure that’s a challenge if you’re dealing with ego. How do you overcome that? If you have a managing partner who feels one way and a senior associate feels differently, or if you’re talking to an equity firm and the driver feels they’re going one way and the other people are going another, how do you overcome that?

Larry: It’s a great question. It’s challenging. You can start by listening. Hopefully, we can spend the first meeting or two really listening and coming back to them with a creative brief that says, “Based on all the input we’ve received, this is what we’re hearing. This is the direction to go in. Do we all agree on this?” We’ll never start a design, whether it’s a logo or a website or an ad campaign, until we understand who we’re talking to, what we’re trying to say, what our goals are. We try to get them all on the same page. That’s the first hurdle.

The second hurdle is when you show creative. Creative is subjective in nature. People like blue, but they hate green, and they like flowers, but they don’t like butterflies. Who knows? With that subjectivity, we try to bring objectivity to this process by saying, “Based on what we heard, this works well for you. Here’s why these colors work well. Here’s why these graphics work well. Here’s why this typestyle works well.” We bring objectivity and some rationale behind the design, but again, you can look at a painting and you can love it or hate it. It may be a Rembrandt, but you may still hate it. It’s hard, and you just take time. Sometimes these projects will go on for months and months because they’re debating in-house or they’re busy. We do our best to keep moving things along and trying to get to a final answer.

Brad: In addition to that, I think it’s partly common ground. If you have a lot of partners and they all have strong opinions, it’s sitting down long before any creative and discussing likes and dislikes, because personal likes and dislikes are every bit as valid as any other design criteria. In talking with you as long as possible, we try and pick out the common ground they all agree on to start with and then build outward from there. We build on the common ground and the trust that’s been created in the initial discussions. Then that’s where, as Larry was saying, we try and make it as objective as possible in a very subjective industry. That’s one of the biggest challenges about being in advertising. 

Sharon: I bet it’s a challenge with a lot of professional service industries. Are you ever the order takers, as we sometimes get accused of being? Do people call you and say, “We need a new website,” and you go in thinking, “O.K., let’s look at the website. We may not need everything new.”

Larry: I would say definitely not. In fact, we’ve lost business in the past by saying, “This is not what you need.” I feel like our responsibility is to talk to the client and say, “Based on your goals, here’s what we suggest.” Now, if you want to ignore that, O.K., we can do what you’re asking us to do. But I’ll always give a client our best advice right up front, because otherwise I don’t think we’ll be successful in the long term, and they won’t be successful. That doesn’t work for us. 

Most of our clients we’ve had now for, some of them, five, 10, 15 years. I think they know we will make the hard call and give them good advice. We may not be so popular, but I think in the long run, it serves them well. We try very hard to avoid being order takers. We always say, “If you ask for this, we’ll give you that, but here’s what we think you should do as well. Here are both options for you.” I always want to feel good that we gave the client the best thinking we could, even if they want to make a bad decision. That’s up to them, but I want to give them an option and say, “Here’s another way of going. What do you think?

Brad: We will never do only what the client asks for. I don’t want that to be taken wrong, but if they ask for something very specific, if they’ve got something in their mind they want to get out and see how it looks, we’re happy to help them with that process. But we’re always going to give another opinion or two about a possible better way to get them thinking in larger spheres or in different directions.

Sharon: Do you think it’s possible to rebrand? If everybody has a brand in their mind, is it possible to change that?

Brad: Oh, absolutely. Brands evolve constantly. If you look at the big brands, the Apples and Cokes of the world, they’re constantly evolving and changing and staying current. We do that very often. We just finished a project for Enenstein Pham & Glass, a great law firm over the hill in Century City. They wanted to tighten the name up to EPG. We had a great project we did with them. We redid the logo and updated collateral materials. 

I think firms constantly need to be responsive to the changes in the marketplace. They need to stay fresh. Law firms oftentimes say to us, “We don’t need a website because nobody checks our website.” Well, the truth is when you’re hiring, that’s the first place they go. We’ve been working with a lot of our law firm clients and accounting clients so their site is designed in part to attract young talent, to bring people on board. Your website is your calling card. It’s your office. Everybody goes there and checks it out just to validate who you are. Oftentimes, you have to understand who is going there. If you are looking to hire, which every accounting firm we know of right now is looking desperately to hire talent, that’s where talent goes. They check out your site and get a sense of who you are. 

Larry: And to see if it’s some place they want to join. The better the candidate, the better the website should be to impress in both directions. Most people think of a website as outbound. I don’t get new business from my website, especially in professional services. It’s usually word of mouth. But they’re always going to validate, and that validation has to be up to date. It has to be modern. It has to be credible for every law firm, and everybody knows this. 

For 20 years, the professional services industry has been going through upheaval after upheaval because it came from a time when law firms, if they advertised, they were shysters. Now more than ever for law firms, you have to think about marketing and social and putting your best face forward. That’s a huge turn of events, and I think some law firms are still having trouble getting used to that idea.

Sharon: Do you think that in any professional service there’s room for traditional advertising, for print, for newspaper ads or magazine ads? Is there room for that?

Larry: Oh, sure. I think they all complement each other. As I said, for Ballard Rosenberg, we keep them current. They represent companies in employment law cases. So, for that firm, we keep them in front of the L.A. Business Journal, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and some other publications where businesses are looking, where CEOs are reading those publications. I think there’s definitely room for that. 

For other clients—I’ll give you an example. With direct mail, people think, “Why would you use direct mail for a law firm?” Well, we’ve got a number of law firms who don’t want to do traditional advertising, which I completely respect. They have a list of 5,000 clients they’ve worked with over the past 10 years who they don’t normally talk to. We put together a concept called an annual review. It’s an annual report that goes out, basically. It’s not the financials, but it’s a yearend review on what happened at the firm this past year. It talks about cases they’ve won and publicity and pro bono work and new hires. It’s a lovely booklet, and it goes out at the end of the year to 5,000 clients. Suddenly, it’s a non-advertising way to get in front of all those clients you’ve had in the past, remind them of who you are, remind them of the exciting things going on at your firm and why they should do business with you. 

We’ve done this for a number of firms and they’ve gotten tremendous response. People say, “I love this. I get an update on what’s happening at the firm.” It’s a very non-solicitous advertising piece, but it still an advertising piece because it communicates what’s going on. It’s a communication tool. I think it’s traditional because it’s direct mail, but it’s been tweaked a little bit to be more contemporary. All these things combine to deliver an impression to your clients. 

Sharon: That’s interesting. Given the amount of direct mail I receive, my first reaction to what you’re saying is, “Who would do direct mail today for any kind of marketing?” But I guess a lot of people do.

Larry: I think the key is to do it well. I agree with you. You get a lot of crap in the mail. 90% of it is garbage. Our job is to make sure that whatever we do, like that x-ray we did for Harry Nelson years ago, it’s got to stand out. We’ve done those campaigns for law firms. We have a lot of nonprofits we work with. Whenever Brad and I do a direct mail campaign, we always push the pedal to the metal on creative. How out there can we be to get some attention, whether that’s headlines, colors, different sizes, different materials? Brad and I have sent things out in tubes before. 

Brad: Even bubble wrap.

Larry: The direct mail piece was sent out in bubble wrap because they were an insurance company. It was about protecting yourself, so it went out in bubble wrap. People went nuts. They were like, “This is so creative. I had to open it. I got a piece of bubble wrap in the mail. I had to open it up and see what was inside. You got me. I gave you the 10 seconds to read it.” So, I think the trick is to get creative.

Sharon: That makes a lot of sense. Brad, when it comes to picking the right photo, you did a little booklet on your website. What do you think about when it comes to picking the right photo? What do you both think about?

Brad: Actually, that one was very specific. That wasn’t actually about photo composition choice. We tried to educate our clients about aspects that are really different with digital advertising. The biggest problem we’ve had over the last five, six years is responsive web design. Every screen has a different ratio, a different dimension, a different pixel count, and website elements move depending on how big the screen is. Most people think of websites as the old desktop publishing page layout, where you put everything in. Then, if you want to move it around, it’s going to stay exactly the same, like a print piece. The web is not that way at all anymore. It is completely data-driven and responsive to the screen size. It’s a phone up to a 32-inch monitor. It still has to lay out properly, but it’s not the same. 

So, we had this issue with photos. People would pick the exact cropping of a photo they liked, and it would have things on the edges and the corners of the photo that were very important to the composition. When we put it in the website, when the website responsive design would change for different screen sizes, the photos would crop differently and something that was important on the edges would get cut off. It’s a very difficult concept to understand, that even a webpage looks different on every screen. It’s a difficult concept for everyone to deal with. I know people in the industry who still have trouble with it. So, that booklet was to try and help clients understand that digital technology is not the way it used to be and there are adjustments that need to be made in that area. 

In terms of regular composition of photos, we generally do it for the client. We alter it. We choose stock photos, and we work with them to find the photo they like. We are always keeping an eye on the images we give them to make sure they are proper for the branding with their approval. I totally forgot about that being on the website.

Sharon: How do you keep current? As you said, it changes so quickly.

Brad: Neither of us wants to answer that. It is insanely difficult. I personally spend probably eight hours a day in addition to work trying to keep up. I’m not the spring chicken I used to be, and it’s getting harder and harder, but I love the industry. In fact, I love the web far more. I grew up on traditional advertising. I’ve done print. My first job was for a print company, actually, on the presses. I know traditional, but I prefer digital. It’s more free flow. It’s more creative. Sometimes, when things have a lot of hard parameters, you have to get super creative, and the web has a lot more parameters than print. I love it. 

I love being in it, but it’s starting to vulcanize a little bit where you need specialists. There are specific SEO specialists now in different areas. Social has become an industry in itself. We used to do it all in-house, and it’s starting to get too complicated to do that. So, we find the best we can. We don’t do PR, but I love the industry. If I didn’t love design and trying to make companies look better, I wouldn’t have been doing this for the last 30 years. It’s barely better than ditch digging, but I really love it, as an old partner of ours said.

Sharon: You have to love it. You have to bite the bullet, I suppose, to keep abreast of everything.

Brad: Absolutely. Larry, on the other hand, he wants nothing to do with technology. So, we keep him doing what he does best, and we try and educate him as best we can on the fly. But we have developers in-house, we have designers in-house, and all of them have to be more up to date on the nuts and bolts of digital marketing than you did before. It used to be that a designer had to know how to create something that will print correctly, but he didn’t have to know how to do the printing. Now, you have to learn a little about coding and what coding platforms there are for web and for social and APIs and all of that stuff. It’s getting into the weeds, but once you grasp it, it’s actually fascinating. It really is. 

Larry: You’re talking about technology. Once we thought we had it all figured out and websites were a piece of cake, then the ADA comes along. Now you have ADA compliance issues. You have to really understand what ADA limitations are in terms of fonts and colors and be responsive to that. Technology is always going to be encroaching on the creative aspect. You have to learn how to balance the two of them.

Sharon: I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. You do have to balance, and it seems as soon you’ve learned it all, it changes. Let me ask you before we end, because you did write something about this. How do you know if your logo sucks and what do you do about it? 

Larry: That’s a tough one. It’s hard to go up to someone and tell them their logo sucks. It’s like telling them their baby is ugly. They may love the logo or hate it, but if you say something about that, they’re going to take it personally. They should take it personally. Your logo represents you and your company, especially in professional services, and very few friends are going to tell you your logo sucks. That’s just the way it is. When someone’s building a company and building a brand, you don’t want to tear them down if you’re a friend. 

So, the best thing to do is get a third opinion. Get an objective view. Every design firm, every ad agency will be more than happy to do a quick review of your identity. Every marketing design firm is going to have a different opinion about it, but they will be as objective as possible within their preferences. There are design rules that can’t be broken. So, if it breaks design rules, the logo needs work.

Brad: Things also just get dated. I’ll go back to the Cokes and the Disneys and the Apples of the world. These are companies that don’t need to change their logo, yet they do because society evolves. Things change, and you want to look progressive and contemporary. I think even just a logo refresh is a great idea. You don’t have to change the whole thing, but maybe bring it up, make it current. Fonts change. Colors change. There are lots of ways to refresh a brand. Plus, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to go back to your clients and say, “Hey, check out our new logo. Same great commitment to service, but a new logo reflecting whatever it is.” It’s a nice way to take a new look. It’s like painting your house. It gives it a new, fresh look. 

Sharon: Larry and Brad, thank you so much for being with us today. You’ve answered a lot of questions and given us a lot to think about.

Brad: It’s a pleasure. It was great.

Larry: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

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