Buffalo News (August 9, 2012) by Stephen Watson
After years of drilling 854-2020 into the deepest recesses of our subconscious memory through repetitive and infectious jingles, the Cellino & Barnes law firm has a new phone number.
With the William Mattar law firm using 444-4444 for years, and O’Brien Boyd taking 222-2222, Cellino & Barnes has just switched over to 888-8888.
The firm’s new homogeneous number – coming to a billboard, TV commercial or radio ad near you – ups the ante in the battle among the area’s personal-injury law firms to make it as easy as possible for prospective clients to reach them.
“This has been done in many markets way before anybody in this market got there,” said Daryl Ciambella, chief operating officer for Cellino & Barnes. “It’s not something where we said, ‘They’re doing it, so we’ve got to do it.’?”
Lawyers and marketing experts say it doesn’t hurt a law firm to have an easy-to-remember phone number.
But they say it’s also important that the firm sell itself in a broader sense, emphasizing precisely how its lawyers can help a would-be client and somehow differentiating the firm in a crowded legal marketplace.
“It’s one thing if you’re the first one in and you’ve got the frequency [of ads]. But if there’s six other personal-injury attorneys in that same category, screaming a number, you can get lost in the clutter,” said Robert Travers, a principal with Travers Collins, an advertising and public relations firm.
This use of phone numbers that repeat the same numeral seven times seems unique to the field of personal-injury law here.
Bakeries, doctors and college admissions offices aren’t snatching up any of these mnemonic numbers and, in fact, the William Mattar firm has claimed three of the numbers available in the 716 area code: 444-4444, 333-3333 and 777-7777.
“We want to make it easy for our clients to remember our number,” Mattar said in an interview.
It’s hard to drive down a highway, flip on your car radio or turn on a local TV newscast without seeing an ad for one of the area’s major personal-injury law firms.
These firms want to get their name out to the widest possible audience, and repetitive phone numbers, bouncy jingles and catchy slogans all help.
“I don’t know if other Upstate New York communities are bombarded with attorney advertising in the same way we are, but it’s here to stay,” said Kathleen M. Sweet, president of the Erie County Bar Association and a partner and litigator with Gibson,
McAskill & Crosby.
Many lawyers don’t like advertising, but “it’s a legitimate marketing tool,” Sweet added.
But the more people who use the easy-to-remember numbers, the less effective they may be, Travers said.
“In the whole personal-injury field, in the marketing, for the most part it’s copycat marketing. It’s two heads on a billboard with ‘Injured’ and a question mark. Every market you go, you see that,” Travers said.
Arun K. Jain, a professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo said he believes people call a law firm because they remember the name of the firm, not its phone number, which can easily be found online or in the phone book.
“I’m not sure what the benefit is,” Jain said, adding that Cellino & Barnes has strong name recognition anyway.
While a phone number may get someone to make the initial phone call, even the firms that use these numbers say consumers should consider a firm’s reputation and experience and should meet with a potential attorney before deciding which firm to retain.
Travers Collins has represented Paul William Beltz, a personal-injury firm that does not use a repeating number but does advertise and employs a consistent slogan, “Your power of attorney.”
Brown Chiari also advertises, with the firm’s partners feeling it was a necessity if they wanted to compete with other personal-injury firms, but the firm doesn’t use a foolproof phone number.
In fact, the firm’s ads that have run during the Summer Olympics mention the Brown Chiari website but not the firm’s phone number, partner Donald P. Chiari said.
Mattar started the phone-number trend locally about seven years ago, when the firm switched from (800) 7MATTAR to 444-4444. Mattar said he obtained this number directly from his telecommunications provider and he didn’t have to buy the rights from someone else.
He wanted a number that was easier to remember but he can’t recall precisely why he chose all 4s.
Mattar’s easy-to-remember number, which is repeated frequently throughout some of his TV ads, combines with his firm’s rhyming slogan – something about being “hurt in a car” – to burrow into a listener’s brain. He said he’s not worried about the competition from Cellino & Barnes or O’Brien Boyd.
“I believe that most people recognize that imitation does not work, and when they see it, they think of the original, and in this case the original is William Mattar,” Mattar said.
For O’Brien Boyd, the decision to switch to 222-2222 was prompted in part by a conversation Steve Boyd had a few years ago with his daughter, GiGi, who was about 6 at the time.
“I asked her, ‘What is William Mattar’s number?’ and she said it. I asked, ‘What is Cellino & Barnes’ number?’ She sang it. Then I asked, ‘What is daddy’s number?’ And she didn’t know it,” Boyd recalled.
The firm acquired its new phone number, which replaced 839-7777, in a roundabout way.
A guy in Texas emailed partner Christopher J. O’Brien to say he had the rights to 222-2222 in the 716 area code and was willing to sell it to the firm.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien & Boyd paid “five figures, not six” for the right to the number, Boyd said, and the firm has seen a small uptick in business since putting in place 222-2222 about 2½ years ago.
Since 1994, Cellino & Barnes had used 854-2020, a number set to a song in the firm’s ubiquitous TV commercials.
Sweet, the bar association president, said with a laugh, “I personally am going to have a hard time deleting 854-2020 from my brain.”
After obtaining the rights to the number, the firm tested out about one dozen different jingles with the new number before opting to keep the same jingle from its commercials and simply replacing 8-5-4-20-20 with 8-8-8-8-8-8-8 and a new slogan, “Don’t wait, call 8.”
Billboards with the new number went up last week, radio ads started last Friday and TV ads began airing Monday.
Cellino & Barnes still is using “Injured?” or some variation in its ads, and is keeping the faces of those two partners on its billboards.
“Those two are staying up there,” Ciambella said. “With just the two faces, we don’t even need the names up there.”