I was listening to a podcast by some new Twitter friends' podcast last night, called the Extraordinary Everyday Lives Show, in which they were discussing online advertising. EEL, celebrating its third year online this month, is a regular podcast series run by Dave Wallace, Kent Newsome and Mike Seyfang, and covers all things technological. From blogging to mashups, they've got it covered. So I listened with great interest when they began discussing Eric Clemons' Tech Crunch article, Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet last night. I don't disagree with several of EEL or Clemons' premises: ad revenues are down and, as a general rule, people don't trust advertising. But I think both EEL and Clemons are a little myopic in their argument. I counter that for advertising to be fully functional it must be done more holistically. Yes, I agree, online advertising is declining. But it is declining in a way that the gold rush declined. The internet was a new frontier ten years ago--it was free-for-all. Literally. Businesses would pay for ANY kind of online advertising to just be a part of the game. "Boy geniuses" were raking in adult dollars for posting hyperlinks on web sites and trading site names like baseball cards. But now the internet, and its audience, has matured and settled down. Buyers are more sophisticated and businesses are demanding more results for the dollars. Businesses are asking advertisers for metrics, measuring ROI and reading the analytics. Marketers, like me, are analyzing the productivity and effectiveness of their online marketing efforts and asking hard questions about how advertisers are measuring results. Marketers are seeing, with a mixture of amusement and weariness, that no one online advertiser measures online traffic the same way. Businesses have become more sophisticated and demanding better answers and advertisers are not able to coherently and intelligently respond. In fact, in true "Dan Draper" fashion, some of our online advertising channels are walking away from the sale because they cannot justify the ad spend to us. Business's naivete and wonderment at the internet is over. We still love the vibrancy of online art and flashy flash pages but know that when we started examining our own numbers these ads did not deliver the results we needed. So, now with 10 years of legal marketing under my belt, which thankfully has corresponded with the 10 years of internet pandemonium, the dust has cleared and I have a clearer vision of just what does online advertising mean. Online advertising is a channel. It is just another medium that exists alongside TV, radio, print and good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Any marketer worth their salt will never rely upon any one advertising medium. Because, think about it, marketing is war. Why do you think they call it a "marketing campaign"? To properly execute any campaign, there must be a a goal, a strategy, a task force, a plan, soldiers and ammunition. In a marketing plan, we will spend months developing and refining prior to execution, lining up our ads and educating our campaigners. And, marketing professional services and law firms is even more difficult: we don't even have a product to sell (by the way, this was an online business type that Clemons failed to cover). As legal advertisers, we have the unique challenge of marketing services that, prior to the 1980 Bates case, we couldn't, by law, even advertise. As it is, we still run the risk of violating ethics rules that are unique in 50 different states--let's not even mention the international legalities. And don't forget that we still, in this day and age, must persuade lawyers who still believe that any form of advertising or marketing is crass. So how do legal marketers promote our lawyers in today's marketplace? How do legal services fit into the online community? How do law firms position themselves online to maximize their exposure with out violating the market and their own sensibilities? For, remember, at the end of the day, the only thing that is of real value to a lawyer is his reputation. And the service that lawyers sell is that reputation because, potentially, his reputation can stop a case in its tracks. A lawyer's reputation, intelligence, personality and persuasiveness is what wins a negotiation, a trial and closes a deal. Try marketing THAT online. We, as legal marketers, learned very quickly that it "takes a village" to market a law firm. There is no one channel that will make a person think when trouble hits the door, "Oh, I better call Firm XYZ." Instead, legal marketing demands a consistent stream of a sophisticated blend of print, television, radio, online and face-to-face encounters. The ratio in that blend may change over time as measurements become more sophisticated and new ingredients, like Second Life or XML radio, may be added. But marketers will never stop using any one of these channels. Print is still viable; maybe not in the manner we are used to using it, but print will always have its place. Online is still viable. It is no longer the "free-for-all" it once was but it, too, has its place if an ad company has accurate metrics. Because, in the end, that is what is needed: consistent metrics for measuring ad traffic. Until all the web analytics tools and advertisers develop a consistent way to measure their ad rate, buying businesses will not trust them nor wish to invest ad dollars for services that don't deliver. So to turn a phrase, caveat vendor.