Client-Facing Events—Beyond the Party

Everyone’s likely done event planning at one time or another.  However, there’s planning a family gathering or surprise 50th birthday party, and then there’s planning a client-facing event. The two differ in nearly everything; from pre- and post-event strategy to execution and guest lists.  Which begs the question: Why leave the planning to marketers?

While we understand that attorneys are smart enough to identify the key ingredients that make an event successful, marketers are afforded the time and training to look at an event from every angle freeing up attorneys to focus on their practice, their business development initiatives and “working the room.” A marketer’s job in event planning includes:

  • Vetting venue selection and cost proposals
  • Developing targeted lists
  • Designing invitations and managing registrations
  • Defining measurable business development goals
  • Advising on follow up

ABA TECHSHOW 2014

Each of these pieces can make or break a client event.  The ultimate goal with any law firm event is to forge new connections to expand one’s network and bring in new business.  So it’s important that an attorney leverage an event as a business development tool without having to “sweat the small stuff.”

Key Ingredients

Vetting venue selection and cost proposals
Once the decision has been made to host the event, elevating your idea to marketing as early as possible will be key to locking down your ideal venue, ensuring ample time to obtain necessary firm approvals, and getting on your clients’ and contacts’ calendars before others do.

Marketers are there to assist with venue selection, and often have relationships with third-party event planners and will have a keen understanding of the details to consider when selecting a location that will mesh with your vision.  Marketers will evaluate not only the location of possible venues, but whether the space is ideal for a panel vs. a cocktail hour, as well as the appropriate look and feel.  They know from experience what types of events work best with the audience, geography and event format.  For example, after-hour networking events in New York and Los Angeles typically start later, while seminars often work better as a breakfast rather than lunch, as it’s harder to get people to leave the office midday.

Let’s not forget the food! A great selection can keep people talking for days, while a bland assortment can end a party early.  Attorneys need not worry about the menu selection—event planners are more than willing—and should!— provide a list of options with associated cost proposals and breakdowns. Don’t sweat the ice cubes here; the big picture should be the focus for attorneys, not what kind of yogurt will be on the buffet.  Marketers will tailor a spread that may be specific to the region, the guests or even follow a fun theme.

Developing targeted lists
True or false:  200 people attending your event is the ultimate test of a successful event. Trick question—it’s both true and false.  Yes, you want a great turnout, but what truly makes an event successful is not just quantity but quality. Developing a targeted invitee list is one of the most important parts of the event planning process.  Remember—the event should serve as a means for getting you in front of the right people, not the most people. You only have about a limited time to talk with your guests—and want to make sure you’re spending that time with the right people.

Work with the events team and electronic marketers to create a list that meets your business development goals.  Marketers have tools at their disposal to slice and dice firm lists by geography, title, company, industry and more.  They can also work with you to update and proof your personal list as well—so take the time to review past contacts and ensure they are current.  Your diligence in collecting business cards and new contact information at previous functions and meetings will be crucial at this point in the process.

Designing invitations and managing registrations
There are plenty of free, design programs and distribution systems at your disposal. More than likely though, your marketing department has a centralized system for both that is not only proven, but managed by them; allowing you to allocate your time more appropriately.  You have a vision for the invitation? By all means share!  The events team will work with you to achieve a design that matches the tone of the event.  However, voice your opinion early before the design work begins.

And although the RSVP list may not change daily, rest assured the events team has a plan in place to update you, at a minimum, on a weekly basis of current registrants, and then more frequently as the event nears.  Then they will turn to you to review the list and provide updates.

This pre-event list will afford you the opportunity to prepare more effectively:  is that company president attending who you’ve been pitching for years? Or how about that new in-house counsel who is an up-and-comer in the company?  Sending a personalized note with a show of thanks or excitement that they are attending will go a long way to developing the relationship. Even making a list of “must talk to” guests will help you focus your networking efforts the day of the event. Perhaps someone hasn’t RSVP’d yet who is on your list of “must haves.”  Reach out and confirm if they will be attending or not. You may jog their memory to RSVP YES.

Defining measurable business development goals
Once you’ve learned to let go of the planning logistics, you’ll find you have more time to focus on your business development goals as it pertains to the event. You first must define those goal(s).  Do you hope the event will:

  • Establish a presence for you in an industry?
  • Serve as a connector to your clients/contacts?
  • Introduce you to a prospective client?
  • Further develop a relationship by co-hosting?
  • Provide a forum for your most important clients and prospective clients to meet, eat, drink and learn more about the firm?
  • Impart your knowledge on a particular subject?

Perhaps it’s a combination of these.  Either way, determine these goals prior to the event and you’ll find the more measurable you make them and more lead time you allow yourself, the easier it’ll be to tailor your strategy for achieving them.  Talk to your business developer and event planner—they will be happy to help you flesh them out!

It’s particularly important to use this preparation time to establish a way to track those contacts you meet.  By tracking your connections, you can more easily pinpoint concrete business development successes and make the justification to host another similar function.

Let’s not forget about the preparation that comes with attending the actual event.  While these may sound simple, here are a few quick tips to remember when working the room:

  • Bring your business cards.
    • Leave them everywhere! (car, office, wallet, home, etc)
  • Small talk first
    • You will turn people off if you delve into business right away
    • When you do talk shop, have an elevator speech prepared
  • Include others in your conversations—avoid being a wallflower
    • Remember what it feels like to be on the sidelines
  • Give rather than get
    • Networking is not just about what you want
      • Ask what others want and how you can help them
    • Identify collaborative efforts
      • Suggest possibly co-hosting a seminar—“This event is going really well, maybe we could piggy-back and do something in the spring?”
  • Lose the crutch
    • Don’t drink or eat too much
    • Avoid cell phone use

 Advising on follow up
At this point, the lights have been turned off, the guests have all gone home, and you are breathing a sigh of relief.  Your work here is done, right? Wrong.  The follow up you engage in will be essential to you marking this down as a successful venture.  The marketing department will more than likely have a “Thank You” email geared up to send guests, but your personal follow up will make the difference as to whether you’ve developed a new relationship or strengthened an old one.  You will receive a list of attendees and contact information—don’t let it go to waste!

Make a list of action items and check them off right away.  Some tasks to consider:

  • Promises made—make good on them!
    • Did you say you’d send them an article? Make an introduction? Plan another meeting?
  • Adding to firm CRM mailing lists and communications
    • Check out the lists of attendees and add to relevant firm distribution lists as appropriate
    • Send them an option to subscribe to a blog, or invite them to an upcoming event
  • Calendar outreach for 60-90 days
    • Don’t let the connection go cold
  • Tracking connections made
    • Here’s where that pre-event planning/goal setting will come in handy
    • Look at your list of targets and track your connection at the event and subsequent follow up.  If it leads to a new client/matter, notify your marketers!

Event planning still sound as glamorous as you thought? Hopefully yes!  Only now, the headaches you’ve experienced in the past can be avoided by leaning on and trusting your marketing department and you can truly enjoy the process.  Cheers!

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