EPISODE 27 — Jay Kelley — Evolving a Beloved Brand While Honoring Its Legacy
When it comes to building your firm’s brand, it’s important to realize that your brand already exists — whether it’s by default or by design.
Jay Kelley is Managing Partner of renowned Ohio personal injury firm Elk + Elk, and in this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, he elaborates on the long-term marketing strategies that have established Elk + Elk as the respected brand and market leader they are today.
He dives deep into his experience growing and evolving a beloved brand, and provides valuable insight on establishing a legacy built to outlast the names on the door.
This game changing episode answers questions such as:
- Why does this attorney actively seek out complex cases and tough trials?
- How did a visiting acting professor inspire Jay to study law?
- What does creating a lasting law firm legacy look like, especially when it’s not your name on the wall?
- How can the courtroom art of persuasion help you build the ultimate brand?
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2:03 – A unique beginning. “I got into the practice of law on a whim of sorts in college. I met a visiting professor who was from the Abbey Theatre in Ireland — Vincent Dowling — and he convinced me to take an acting class. I absolutely loved the presentation aspect, and he was all about persuasion through acting. So it was how do you stand, how do you communicate, tempo — everything. It was my favorite class I took in college. I then took a second Shakespearean-style acting class within the second semester, and I was committed to doing something where persuasive speaking was a part of it. That’s what led me to law school, and then this practice.
5:23 – Utilizing past experience in the courtroom. “I think the greatest skill that I bring to a courtroom is that I listen. I find myself to be very patient before I act or take an approach. I work up a case from both sides and utilize those four different perspectives that I’ve tried cases from in every case. So when I look at a civil case on the plaintiff side, I start working it up as if I was the defense attorney. Then, I look at the plaintiff’s issues, and as I start to prepare a defense, I bring in some of the criminal aspects as well. A lot of lawyers are married to transcripts or forms and their litigation protocols — criminal law requires you listen. Use facts and common sense to create, you know, persuasion. So, I think I combine all of my life experiences, and for me it works.”
8:33 – On being an attorney and businessman. “I used to view being a businessman and being an attorney as something different, but I now actually think they’re the exact same thing. It’s a persuasion. In one forum, you are persuading people regarding the facts of the case. Then, whether it be utilizing data or TV or a podcast or a video, I’m trying to make a persuasive case in the marketing side that we’re someone that can be trusted. I look at the data the same way I look at medical records and fetal monitor strips. You are trying to do the same thing, whether it’s building your brand or building your case.”
15:04 – An answer for every caller. “We promise every single person who calls us is going to get an answer, and in the medical malpractice field in particular, the answer is no for nine out of 10 of those people. However, it’s our sincere hope that it takes away that worry and frustration that uncertainty can sometimes create. So, when someone calls, we promise a singular thing, and that’s that we will at some point sit down with you and give you an honest, unfiltered answer as to what happened, what should have happened, and what your legal rights are. We’re not rejecting you — we’re advising you.”
18:00 – The mark of good branding. “Sometimes you wonder what your brand is, and then something you don’t even intend slaps you in the face. For example, this year, I’ve started to be in some of the live ads with Arthur, and the theory being that we want to transition this very gradually. Well, you would have thought that a great unsolved crime had occurred during the first Cincinnati Reds game. People blew up our social media and our phone lines, wondering what happened to David. It got to the point where we actually had to put out on social media, ‘No, this is our transition. Dave is fine!’ We kind of had to prove David was okay. It became kind of a funny thing within here, but it was such an incredible tribute to them. You wonder if people are paying attention, and here’s proof that they are.”
22:24 – Giving back to the community through sports. “We are active with every one of our marketing decisions. We try to say, ‘What cause is this meaningful to?’ With the Columbus Blue Jackets, we sponsor a military honoree for every home game. They hadn’t done it before, but we didn’t just want to be fans. We want to say we’re fans, and this is something important for the Blue Jackets. We want people to see us here so that they can celebrate and support this cause with us. With the Browns, we do the USO every year. Then we do other community things in it as well. We always try to find something that gives us a chance to let people get to know us and see that we really are part of this community.”
23:56 – Big payoff for local marketing efforts. “We do outside testing to see what our brand lift is within every season, and we demand that it be done by an outside company. A lot of times people use Dr. Kirk Wakefield from Baylor, and what we find is his theory of, ‘Can you be recalled across multiple platforms to create a brand association?’ So, is there an association, and is it positive? What we have found is because we’re the local person — not Budweiser or some of those other larger companies — our brand recall goes off the chart because it is a local team and we are in local business. Obviously, the NFL and Major League Baseball are not easy places to market. It’s not low spend, but we have seen a measurable brand lift that is, honestly, absurdly high for us, and we think that’s because we are one of the very few local people marketing on that platform.”
25:16 – Recall and credibility. “Recall without credibility serves no purpose. Someone knowing our name but not having a level of trust or interest in our brand serves no purpose. They’re not going to call. You know, at the core of this is a legal relationship. It’s an attorney-client privilege, and that requires trust. So for people to contact our firm, they’re putting one of their biggest problems in their life in our hands, or at least considering us for that. So, I think recall is great. You have to have it. But what are they recalling? Are they recalling a phone number? No one needs a phone number anymore. I mean, Siri just dials it for you. What are they recalling, an address or your name? They need to actually have a positive association with your brand when they recall it, or it is pointless.”
26:39 – Focusing on long-term marketing strategies. “Those lead generation companies and pay per click are unsustainable. You are measuring an ROI that is so transactional and finite, that it can’t survive. If you can build a brand, that will lift all of those transactional approaches that you make. So, instead of starting at the goal line, you get to start at the 10 yard line, or the 50 yard line — the better your brand, the shorter you have to go to get a positive ROI. I get it, it’s expensive. Look, a sports partnership is almost worthless the first year, but you cannot build brand association in a year. You have to sustain it.”
30:17- You must invest to grow. “The biggest mistake you will make is not putting money back into the business when you have it. Everybody says, ‘I’m going to grow, I’m going to grow, I’m going to grow.’ But when you settle that first big case or have that first great year, are you going to put that money in your account for retirement, or are you going to put that money in your business to grow your brand? That’s the moment where I think the proverbial rubber hits the road and you see what someone’s made of. Are they a business leader who is going to grow a business, or are they a fantastic lawyer who had a great result?”
37:33 – Passing the torch. “Two years ago, probably the largest medical case in Ohio occurred. There were 87 law firms that had shared the 600 or so patients, and the fact that the court selected our firm to lead that case locally was something that brought pride for me, but also you could see it in them as well. That’s the other part of brand — the pride and the satisfaction when you see that the public starts to see your brand and the way you feel about your brand. For the legal community to select us to run something that large was incredibly flattering, and I could not have been happier than to come back to Arthur and David and say, ‘Look what you guys built. Look at the opportunities you gave us.’ John and I are lucky we get to start with the headstart they gave us.”
38:37 – How do you define success? “I think success is very personal. I think in my personal life, it is 100% the happiness of my kids and my wife. I mean, there’s no secret to that. I will talk about my kids and my wife as much as anybody will let me. As it pertains to the business and the firm as a whole, I want our firm to be seen as a trusted source within the legal community, the regular community, and most importantly, by our clients. Then for me personally within that space, I want my clients to feel like they made the right decision when they hired me. So it’s nothing super crazy, but when I’m gone, I hope people think I left it better than I found it.”
41:07 – Jay’s best advice for attorneys. “I would say, embrace failure as what it really is, which is a learning opportunity. I think that so many people are so afraid to make a decision and fail that they become paralyzed. You know, if you want to build a brand, start to build it, but make sure it reflects who you are. Be honest with yourself, and if you make a mistake, pick yourself up, learn from it, and move forward because nobody ever has gotten anywhere without making mistakes and failing along the way.”
42:31 – What does being a game changer mean to you? “To me, being a game changing attorney means that you are delivering something that is exceptional within your arena. For us, we believe everything comes down to, ‘Do we deliver exceptional legal service to our clients?’ So, if you want to change the game, deliver the best legal service. Then building the brand is, ‘How do you let the world know?’ But the first step, the condition precedent, is to be exceptional.”