Cheapness, Small Law Firms, Social Media, Social Networking Websites

The Practice: Creating A ‘Brand,’ While Others Create Your Reputation

Spirit Airlines is a cheap airline. They advertise a “$9 fare club.” They advertise a lot. Their goal appears to be to let everyone know, to create the reputation, that they are the low cost alternative to other airlines – just like you want everyone to know you are the “aggressive” alternative to all other “aggressive” lawyers out there that will “fight” for their clients (free consultations and payment plans available of course as well.). In fact, when you Google “Spirit Airlines,” you get this:

“Spirit Airlines – cheap tickets, cheap flights, discount airfare, cheap … ”

I’ve never flown Spirit, and I don’t know if anyone has actually flown anywhere for $9, but I do know that I’ve never heard anything good about this airline. They call themselves “cheap,” while others say they’re “bad.” They do make a ton of money, which should bring a smile to the growing number of cheap and bad lawyers out there….

Maybe there are people who have had great experiences on Spirit, but I haven’t heard from them. Those voices seem to be quieter. Recently I heard, and I think you did too, that they wouldn’t give a $197 refund to a dying Veteran who was too sick to use his ticket because it would have violated their refund policy. Policies are great, until they piss off the wrong person or segment of society. After several weeks of bad publicity, including this lone man protesting outside Tampa International Airport, and a bunch of angry Veterans and others typing away on Facebook, they refunded the fare, plus committed to making a $5,000.00 donation to his charity of choice – Wounded Warriors.

You may think Spirit really screwed this one up, but you’d be wrong. They won’t miss the extra $5,000.00, and don’t bet that all those threatening to “never fly Spirit again” won’t be settling in for a half-can of Diet Coke on a Spirit flight near you soon. People are happy to protest and join the crowd on social media, until that terrible, unfair, mean, company can save them a dollar next time they need something.

So Spirit will be fine. As long as they are cheaper than the others, the angry crowds will still be pointing and clicking for airline tickets. I’m not sure, though, that you and your “hire us, we’re cheap,’ small firm could take a hit like Spirit and not feel the effects.

So I bring you the bad news that while you and your small firm are buying a reputation, trying to create earn a reputation, sorry, “personal brand,” (back in the old days of the early 2000s we used to call them reputations, but I know, I’m out of touch), things happen that prevent you from continuing the charade. As a young hungry lawyer you make crap up that no one can ever verify or leave things out that make you look inexperienced try so hard to control the message, but you can’t control what others say. All that money on “reputation management” and pay-per-click advertising, while some lone, old, dying guy is managing your reputation just fine for free. Damn.

Reputations aren’t created or bought, they are earned. “Personal branding” is nothing more than a new way for people to create form over substance. You have nothing to offer, so let’s make you look good, even if it’s all garbage. The intelligent clients, those looking for more than “cheap,” will go beyond your online and offline fake reputation and learn the truth. They will ask people in your community about your real reputation, they will go beyond what you’ve tried to project.

Spirit’s problem was a failure to understand the broader consequences of their policy. But they are bigger and cheaper than you (and you can’t fly anyone anywhere on a big jet), and their market is those people only looking for the cheapest way to get from point A to point B. Apparently though, no one in the inner circle at Spirit thought to mention or if they did, failed to initially convince anyone that adhering to the refund policy could have negative affects on their reputation – or Spirit didn’t care. I don’t know.

Spirit had created a reputation for themselves as cheap, and that’s exactly the message they projected to the public. If your only goal is to create a reputation that you are cheaper than the rest, then maybe you don’t care what your real reputation is either.


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at bt@tannebaumweiss.com.

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