Failure Friday: Gablinger’s or Miller Lite?

Have you heard of Gablinger beer? No? Don’t worry. Neither has anyone else. My father, Jack Bailey, was a beer salesman for Rheingold Breweries, which distributed Gablinger’s Extra Light Beer in the 1960s. It was a major fail. Jack Bailey could sell beer – but couldn’t give Gablinger away. No one wanted diet beer in the 1960s. (Seriously. My teenage brothers wouldn’t even steal it from the car trunk to drink it.) As my Dad would remark, in hindsight, particularly after Miller Lite took off, “Gablinger’s. Great idea – ahead of its time.”

I failed last year. I came up with a terrific marketing initiative for our law firm. We partnered with a new venture media group whose target demographic was exactly that of our clients. Everything about the idea was fantastic. The principals are seasoned professionals. They offer a print magazine, radio show, TV show, social media outlets – every way to touch the market, they have it. We paid a substantial amount of money for the opportunity to spend an inordinate amount of otherwise-billable time writing fun, yet informative articles that used pop culture references to discuss estate planning, probate, and guardianship concepts. We spent another boatload of money on graphic designers making the articles look great. We even paid The Florida Bar for the privilege of reviewing the articles in advance to make sure we weren’t promising client outcomes while discussing legal issues at fictional Downton Abbey. (I kid you not.) Everything was in place for this marketing campaign to be a huge success for us.

And in twelve months, we gained zero new clients –that’s right, not one – as a result.

What went wrong? I think the two major problems were that the media group was targeting the right demographic for us, but was too new to reach them effectively yet, and our firm, which traditionally markets B2B, veered wide with this B2C marketing. The reach was simultaneously too broad and too shallow. Our boutique law firm drafts wills and trusts for people in anticipation of their (hopefully long in the future) death, and we guide grieving survivors with probate and trust administration after someone has died. Our clients come to us to discuss their most sensitive family issues. To do so, they must have the conviction that we will take their secrets to heart, know what to do, and never, ever breach their confidence. Trusted advisors, such as a wealth managers or CPAs, vouch for us when referring their clients to us one-on-one. Conversely, with this marketing initiative, we were paying handsomely to reach oodles of people on a very superficial level (pieces we wrote) through the conduit of a (very new) media group that has all the right ingredients, but does not yet hold a venerable position in the market. Remember the old tag line, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen?” If not click here. (E.F. Hutton was a financial services firm that positioned itself beautifully with that tag line as a trusted advisor.) The media group we were working through does not have sufficient credibility with its audience that people were listening. To paraphrase my Dad, “Great idea. Bad result.”

So, I failed. I lost money and time and opportunity, and I caused my law partners to do the same, and I hate that. Did I get fired? No. (Been there, done that, still here, topic for another blog.) Does my family and dog still love me? Yes. Did the earth stop spinning because I failed? No. And it won’t when you fail, so jump in. Sometimes, you’ll be Gablinger’s. But the next time, you just might be Miller Lite.

Mary Merrell Bailey, Esq. CPA MBA MSTax MSAccounting, is an alum of the College and the managing partner with Your Caring Law Firm, a boutique law firm in Maitland offering probate, wills, trusts and guardianship services, as well as business succession, asset protection and estate planning. Merrell and her law partner, Hallie Zobel, offer clients throughout the Central Florida region compassionate, sound legal counsel on very private family matters. Visit or call (407) 622-1900.

1 thought on “Failure Friday: Gablinger’s or Miller Lite?

  1. That’s what happens when you go creative and cool idea through an agency rather than hiring a direct marketer who knows how to drive them in. I would love to see what the messaging strategy and offer was. Was there an offer?

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