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Client Development

Two Essential Elements of a Successful Law Firm Event

Spare your clients another evening of cheese squares and chardonnay.

By Heather Harrington

Hosting networking, educational and social events is one of the best tactics to strengthen relationships with existing clients and establish connections with new ones. Events offer opportunities to engage on a deeper, more personal level, which is key to forming trust and laying the foundation for business development.

Since these benefits are relatively obvious, almost every law firm invests in some form of event planning. This means current and prospective clients get bombarded with invitations to law firm events that sound pretty similar. Despite making significant investments, many firms don’t get the ROI they’re hoping for because clients simply can’t stomach another evening of cheese squares and chardonnay.

What’s the Secret to an Unforgettable Event?

So how do you plan a law firm event that clients can’t wait to attend, and actually results in new business opportunities?

In today’s hectic world, in which clients’ attention spans are stretched thin, there are two essential elements of successful law firm events:

  • Creating memorable moments that leave a lasting impact.
  • Following up, before and after the event.

Entice Guests with Opportunities for “First Moments”

In their book “The Power of Moments,” authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss the importance of creating memorable moments that surprise and delight customers and clients. One concept in the book is that all moments are not created equal; most are forgettable, and just a few are truly memorable. In particular, there are some, called “first moments,” that create a lasting impact.

Think back on the most memorable moments in your own life — a wedding, a vacation overseas, learning to drive, running a race you trained hard for, attending your first rock concert. These are moments that “break the script” on the monotony of life and create lasting, positive memories as a result. The Heath brothers explain that such moments involve “elevation,” which lifts us above the every day and inspires emotions such as joy and delight.

Moments that leave a lasting impact can happen spontaneously — but they don’t have to. Law firms can create these moments through every aspect of client experience and marketing, including firm events.

Cast Aside the Mundane

Start by considering the types of events that most professional services firms typically host, then cast these ideas aside. There’s little interest in another high-top-table cocktail hour paired with a presentation. Think creatively about what types of events would be interesting, valuable and fun for your clients, in light of the many other choices they have available.

In fact, many of the most successful law firm events that we’ve worked on with clients had nothing to do with the law itself. They offered the opportunity to try something new, from wine tastings and cooking demonstrations, to more adventurous activities like an outdoor hike or paintball battle. One client hosted a fashion-oriented event for women where each guest went home with a custom-fit garment.

Other effective events are geared toward a higher purpose, such as inviting clients to participate in a community cleanup, or a mentorship session with underprivileged youth. The Heath brothers call these “moments of connection” that deepen our ties to other people by virtue of working together toward a common goal. Sounds like a perfect way to deepen ties with clients, yes?

Granted, not every law firm event is going to lead to lasting memories for clients. There’s simply not budget or bandwidth for that. But with creative thinking, and strategic planning, more law firms can create moments that matter at their most important events.

Art and Science: Follow-Up Before and After Events

While creating memorable moments at law firm events involves a heavy dose of “art,” the second step in planning an impactful event requires more “science.”

Your first goal, obviously, is to get people to attend. Your second goal is to inspire action afterward, from generating new business to building brand awareness within the community.

To accomplish both objectives, you must do more to engage invitees before the event, and guests after the event. In other words, an event is not a single moment in time; it’s a strategic process that involves multiple touch points over time.

Every great event begins with a great invitation. It’s cliche, but true: You only have one chance to make a great first impression. A great invitation creates excitement and sets the stage for the event.

An “invitation” actually consists of a sequence of communication, including a save-the-date, an invitation, and a follow-up reminder shortly before the event. The “Rule of 7” suggests that a consumer must see an advertisement seven times before taking action. The same principle (let’s call it the “Rule of 3” in this context) applies to event planning. You need to get in front of your invitees more than once if you want them to RSVP “yes” to your event.

Mastering the post-event follow-up. As important as it is to communicate before an event, it’s as important, if not more so, to follow-up after an event. After all, you’re making a big investment in your event, and the payoff often lies in continuing the conversations long after the last wine glass is clinked.

So what does post-event follow-up look like? For a small VIP-client gathering, it might involve lawyers sending handwritten thank-you notes to guests. For larger client events with an educational focus, consider sending a pre-written email sequence that builds on the topic discussed at the event. By sharing additional insights and resources over time, you can draw your guests deeper into your firm’s ecosystem.

For events that include a large number of guests who are not currently within your firm’s ecosystem, create a valuable resource — a guide, ebook or video, for example — that guests can access on your website in return for their email address. Promote it at the event. When these guests download the resource, it should trigger the same email sequence that went to existing clients. If you want guests to turn into leads for new business, you need to offer them a reason to further engage with you. (Tip: You can use this same tactic when speaking at conferences.)

Think Differently to Make an Impact with Your Firm Events

Event planning is an important priority for most law firms. It’s a great way to add value to existing client relationships and develop a rapport with those who may become clients. With a few simple and inexpensive steps, law firms can significantly increase the ROI of their events through a more creative and strategic approach.

Heather Harrington is the founder of RSVP, an online invitation design platform that offers beautiful template and custom invitations for law firm events. Download RSVP’s free guide: “Invitee, to Guest, to Lead — How to Generate More ROI from Law Firm Events.” Heather is also co-founder and Creative Director at Harrington, one of the leading marketing and creative services agencies serving law firms nationwide.

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Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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