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Summer is gone, the kids are back at school, morning traffic has returned to normal (it is worse) and that can mean only one thing: Time to start planning your cards for the 2011 holiday season. Seems too early, right? It’s not. To help you out, here is a 13-step guide to making the critical decisions and a timeline for getting it all done. Open up your calendar and note these deadlines!
In recent years, some lawyers have decided to beat the holiday card rush and send “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Happy New Year” greetings. Most, however, send their cards to arrive in early December, to take the traditional “season’s greetings” approach to cover the many holidays happening at the end of the year. Many holidays? Yes. Al-Kijra, Chanuka, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Chinese New Year to name a few.
It’s wise and thoughtful to remember that many clients and colleagues come from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. Some observe their significant holidays at other times of the year entirely. Whatever the holiday and however you express your message, it is a good idea to start the project in September. So if you are reading this now, you are off to a good start!
Do you want to sign your cards by hand, or merely hit “send” to distribute? Perhaps you want to do both or maybe you don’t want to send a card at all? Although many firms have turned to e-cards, the signed printed card is still a favorite. Whatever your decision, make your selection soon and get started right away on design concepts and updating mailing lists.
Some law firms select three, four or more charitable organizations to contribute to at the holidays, others one or none. Here, from Woods Oviatt Gilman, is a good example of a holiday card incorporating charitable contributions. Some firms even make a contribution in the name of their clients and skip the greeting card.
What do you want the card to say? “Wishing you the best in the New Year?” “Warm holiday wishes to you and yours?” “Season’s greetings?” Or … perhaps you want to go down the humorous message path? The options are endless, of course. Just make sure your message accepts celebration of various holiday traditions and that it is about the recipient instead of all about you. The best approach is to keep your content simple and concise.
Having selected the holiday message you wish to express, you have to consider the “creative.” What images will you use? What words will you choose? Do you want to include animation or music in your electronic card? If you incorporate music, what will it be? Holiday cards traditionally use many different images, including wintery landscape scenes, bright holiday lights, gifts being wrapped or unwrapped, wreaths and photos of cities in which the firms reside. Just make sure that the tone and spirit of the card reflects your firm’s brand. If that means something more unusual, creative or quirky, plan on production taking a bit more time then a traditional card, since the more creative elements that are added the longer it may take to get the concept through internal approval and production.
Maybe you’ve decided to send both electronic and print holiday cards. How do you decide who receives them and which lawyer or lawyers will sign and send them? Do you create one central list that is approved by firm management (just typing that phrase makes me cringe), or do practice groups develop their own lists and assign lawyers to send and therefore organize the signature process? For larger firms, this becomes one of the most difficult portions of the holiday card project. Another option is to have each individual lawyer responsible for their own holiday card distribution. The main concern here is that one recipient may receive multiple cards from your firm. Some firms believe this reinforces the importance of the recipient, others think it makes the firm look uncoordinated and wasteful.
As for the actual mailing list, you should include clients, prospects, friends of the firm, real or potential referral sources and firm alumni. Staff managers may wish to send the greetings to vendors and professional association colleagues. In some firms, the relationship between firm and client is broadened by including paralegals, assistants and secretaries in the signing groups, or encouraging them to send their own greetings to their contacts in the client organization.
For a solo lawyer, this is a perfect time of year for a sincere handwritten note on each card. Lawyers in larger firms who can make this work while coordinating with others find it to be the best approach for them as well. Many different strategies have been developed for the actual signings, one being to set up large conference rooms for signing sessions to ensure that everyone who touches a client signs their card.
The best approach may be a combination of organized signing and individual attorneys sending their own cards, working with the relationship partner to make the decision. I am not sure taking only one approach is manageable, given all the variables. Clearly, for some clients you want to show a unified message. For others, that approach may not make sense because the contact your firm has with the client includes numerous people from completely different departments or offices. Your employment attorneys may be dealing with the HR professionals, where your litigation attorneys may be working only with one lawyer in the compliance department. So, your employment attorneys can sign one card for all the HR professionals and the litigation attorney can send one card to the compliance contact.
It goes without saying that this is all an organizational nightmare. (See why you need to start early?) Make sure now that you know who will have overall responsibility for this signing and mailing project. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry later on.
There are many places where you can just purchase the standard “cookie-cutter” holiday card, imprinted with your firm name or not. Simply type “corporate holiday cards” into the search engine of your choice. For a more unique holiday card, something that only your firm will have, reach out to a graphic designer or a company that creates electronic greetings. There are several companies geared toward law firm holiday e-greetings.
It’s easy to get so focused on the card that you forget to plan the envelope. If you have multiple offices and lawyers sending cards, you will need to create envelopes with return addresses from each office. Nothing says “I did not put any thought into my holiday greeting” like a holiday card from a Boston lawyer sent in an envelope with the firm’s New York return address. Also, lawyers in smaller offices have been known to feel marginalized by the implication that they aren’t in the “home (important) office.” In respect to an electronic card, on the front side you’ll need to figure out whether the “From” field of your email should be filled with the “Law Firm Name LLP” or each individual attorney’s name.
The trend toward electronic holiday cards continues. If you decide this approach better represents your firm or saves you money and time, make sure you let your designer know up front because it could take more time to develop something that is unique. HansonBridgett’s 2010 holiday card was incredibly creative, incorporating all of the attorneys and staff expressing their holiday greeting.
Of course, how much you spend will depend on different aspects of production. Print cards are expensive and, like anything a firm prints, the higher the quantity the more expensive the project. You also have to anticipate that the cost of print cards goes up with each one you send because of postage. The e-card makes the stamp and printing costs of the card and the envelope disappear. Yet, electronic cards are not necessarily the less expensive alternative. Do you want a static card, simple repetitive motions, complex repetitive motion or one that tells a story? The more creative elements, animation and story, the more expensive the e-card. I have seen quotes for e-cards in the following ranges:
That said, I have also seen prices from smaller design companies and freelancers at much lower prices. If this is a direction you choose, you will need to shop around and ask for samples and references. (And actually call the references!) My firm’s 2010 holiday e-card was based on the image and content used in our print card (we do both), and had simple motion incorporated. It was reasonably priced and received lots of positive feedback.
Take a look at this timeline for planning and delivering your firm holiday card. It becomes pretty obvious that time is already tight (assuming everyone is continuing to practice law during this period).
Okay, so perhaps you didn’t read this article until mid-November. There is still time! It is acceptable to send cards out throughout the end of December. You will have a difficult time finding a vendor to create a custom card for your firm—they are busy working for others! —but nothing’s impossible. However, you’ll want to gear your message more toward “Happy New Year” if it goes out toward the end of December. You’ll also have to eliminate any intention to send the card out with multiple signatures.
Good luck and happy holidays!
Elizabeth A. Butcher is Director of Client Development at WilmerHale and former Director of Business Development and Marketing for Wiggin and Dana LLP. Before her experience with law firms, Elizabeth worked for Madison Square Garden in various marketing and public relations capacities.
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