For 30 years, Norton Frickey spilled his blood in the courtroom, as he likes to say. He was a small-time Denver lawyer, specializing in personal injury and criminal law. Then he went on television to advertise his services. Now he is a big-time Denver adman -- and unabashedly shaken by his success.
"I'm 58, and l've had to undergo a radical change," he says. "It was like being hit by a bolt of lightning. For someone to have to adjust to something like this [at my age] is traumatic. It's a terrible responsibility. Life was much simpler before all this happened."
What happened was that Frickey came up with the concept of generic television ads for lawyers. The ads feature actors depicting "slice-of-life" scenes -- for example, a couple of mechanics talking about a fellow worker who got hurt on the job. One says, "Hey, Jim, do you know a lawyer guys like us can go to for help?" As it turns out, the other mechanic knows just the right guy. The lawyer's name and telephone number are flashed on the screen along with a message pointing out that a consultation is free and that the lawyer works on a percentage basis. Then the second mechanic reappears, saying, "He's in your corner."
Ads such as this could obviously work for just about any personal-injury lawyer. As it happens, lawyers from all over the country are clamoring for the right to use them. Frickey has set up a company called Network Affiliates Inc. to produce the ads and process the requests. Each customer pays $10,000 a year for the exclusive use of the ads in his or her area. So far, 95 have signed up.
As part of the deal, Network provides three new ads every six weeks, after first testing them in the Denver area. "We make good ads, and we make bad ones," says Frickey. "If the phone doesn't ring, it's a bad ad. It's not very scientific research. We call it 'simple and stupid.' "
Nevertheless, he says he has learned some lessons along the way. "My first ad was a mistake. I put my face on the screen. TV is a love-hate relationship. People who like your face will call. People who don't like your face will also call -- just to tell you they don't like your face. There are a lot of nuts out there."
For the moment, at least, Frickey has decided to let other people take those calls. He has hired 20 lawyers and legal assistants to handle his booming law business, while he devotes himself to advertising. As for the future, he thinks he might try putting his own ads on network television, using a toll-free number. "I just hope we have enough lawyers working for us to handle all the calls that will come in," he says.