Clash of the workers' comp titans, and the adman behind it

Kurt Shore, President of D4 advertising, holding up a poster of an ad created for the law firm of George Martin at D4 Creative Group.

It didn't take 30 minutes for Kurt Shore to pick up the phone after his Manayunk advertising agency lost the account for Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano, a workers' compensation law firm.

Whom did Shore call?

Samuel Pond's chief rival: his former partner in the business of workers' comp law, George Martin.

"That's the advertising business," Shore said. "If you end one relationship, why not go with the competitor?"

Now, it's all-out war, with Shore in the interesting position of having to develop advertising for Martin Law that tops the prizewinning work his agency created for Pond Lehocky from 2011 to Feb. 2, 2015, when Pond's chief marketing officer called to can Shore.

"Fired, that's such a harsh word," Shore said. "I like to call it ending the relationship."

Nowhere is the evidence of the battle more obvious than on the region's roadways, where billboards advertising the two firms line up like soldiers, each board promising a strong fight for workers injured on the job.

The fight comes at a time when spending for law advertising is on the rise, said an area ad-industry source, citing proprietary information on media buying - television spots, billboards, print, and internet.

Of an estimated $8 million to $10 million spent on local media for legal services, nearly half can be attributed to the Pond-vs.-Martin rivalry, the advertising executive said.

"It's interesting with workers' compensation," Shore said. "It's need-based. It's not like ice cream or soda, so you have to be very sensitive.

"We try to have a halo effect. As a percentage of the population, there aren't many people who are getting hurt on the job," he said. "What you are doing is talking to all the families and friends."

How common is it for a fired agency to call the client's competitor for work?

"Trust me. I've done it. It's a good business strategy," said Marc Brownstein, chief executive of the Brownstein Group advertising agency. Landing the competitor as a client allows the agency to avoid layoffs and retain talent, as well as expertise.

"You get that [expertise] if the agency is working in an industry for a period of time. It can be really valuable because there's no learning curve," he said. "No client wants to pay for an agency to get up to speed on their business."

Traditionally, law marketing doesn't occur in the public domain, said Stacy West Clark, who runs Stacy Clark Marketing L.L.C. of Devon, a firm specializing in legal marketing.

On the corporate side, partners market via one-on-one schmoozing with other law firms or with businesses' general counsels for referrals, she said.

By contrast, workers' comp lawyers' "target audience is the noneducated, blue-collar worker," she said. The law firms have to figure out where they are to reach them."

"I guess they've decided they are driving along I-95," Clark said.

The Pond-vs.-Martin ad war began July 1, 2010, when Pond, Jerry Lehocky, and other lawyers left the well-known workers' compensation law firm started by George Martin.

It wasn't a pretty battle, but what both men agreed on is the importance of respecting the injured workers while showing a combination of strength, passion, compassion, and professionalism in the work and in the advertising.

After the split, the two firms battled for custody of referral sources, such as doctors and law firms.

Pond also needed to introduce his firm to the public. He hired D4 Creative, a 28-employee agency founded by Suzanne Hatfield, the chief executive and Shore's wife.

"If you told me 10 years ago that I would be on a billboard, I would have said the chance for that was zero," Pond said.

To create Pond's branding campaign, D4 began by developing an understanding of the business. When workers are injured, Shore said, they can lose their jobs, with a ripple effect that can lead to depression, foreclosures, and marital woes.

The resulting campaign, "Torn Apart," featured collages made from torn-up medical and insurance documents. They formed portraits of actual injured workers, the firm's clients.

Television spots, internet marketing, and print advertising told the story.

D4 also came up with Pond's tagline: THE Workers' Compensation Firm.

"We wanted to avoid the yell-and-sell" approach, Shore said. Also off-limits was the suited lawyer posed in the law library.

With branding established, Pond decided to do what many clients do - bring the advertising work in-house, crediting D4 with helping to shape the public's perception of the firm.

Martin said he hired D4 because "I've been doing this 37 years now and it is an increasingly competitive environment."

"We knew we needed to increase our marketing," he said and, frankly, he admired D4's work for Pond.

D4's campaign for Martin includes somber photographs of actual workers and a new tagline for the firm: "We Are The Law Firm For Workers."

Pond wasn't surprised Martin hired D4. "They've followed everything we've done," he said.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com 215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen www.philly.com/jobbing