Generating a better return from client events – Part one

Client events don’t come cheap and running them only makes sense if you plan to make tangible returns from hosting them. In the first of two articles on the subject of client events, Michelle Gahagan and Shelley Hill suggest some tactics for ensuring that your clients attend and value your firm’s event.

Events have long been a stalwart of law firms’ marketing efforts. Their popularity is not, however, limited to the legal profession and every day many professional services firms and other commercial organisations lay on events to build and protect client relationships (and hopefully secure further fee income). Clients get bombarded regularly with multiple invitations and requests for their time and, as a result, your invitation is only going to be accepted if the event is relevant to their particular needs or interests.

So what should you be doing to make your events “unmissable” and generate a better return in terms of:
 

  • The quality of people attending.
  • The new and/or repeat instructions they lead to.
  • The greater client loyalty they instill, etc.

Consider your purpose


The first step is to consider your primary aim in trying to attract your guests. The more your aim focuses on you (e.g. trying to sell a particular service) the more difficult it will be to stand out from the crowd of other law firms and motivate people to attend. If, however, your purpose is to tackle an opportunity or challenge pertinent to a group of clients or contacts, your event is probably going to be better received. Those who are more successful here, have a quality over quantity mentality. The themes that form their event programme come from front-of-mind issues in the clients, and are often identified by those in the firm working with them.

Consider your guests


The more successful law firms target their audience very carefully, aiming not to have lots of people attend, but to have the right people attend. These firms definitely view the audience as having a very active part to play in the overall experience of the event. Often firms will be open about their selection criteria as this will help convey a feeling of exclusivity and attach a greater value to the event.

Build their motivation to attend


Just like you, clients are very busy. Even with the latest time management devices, it is so easy for events to take second place to everything else in a person’s day. 
If your event is really relevant to the client’s situation, the more personalised you can make the invitation, the more they are likely to respond positively to it. Sending interim reading material (or similar) to whet their appetites is also a good idea. This material should be of value and be brief. The aim is to build interest in your guests, not add to their workloads. And just as people expect from a good restaurant booking, ensure guests are called no more than a couple of days before the event reminding them of their place at the event, its time and location.

Consider your people


No matter what its format or content, each event is a showcase for your firm. So use this time wisely. Use your best people for the event-the one s that will engage and add positively to the overall experience. If your people are less confident, then train or help them to build experience in this area.

Don’t leave things to chance-stage manage everything


The more you can plan, rehearse and stage-manage the event, the more it is likely to be a great experience for all involved. The best firms seem to have an “event director” or “producer” in charge of the whole thing. Whoever they are, they should be clear of the overall aims of the event and set plans in place to ensure these are met. Their (and for large events, their team’s) role is to ensure the organisation of the event runs to schedule and fee-earners are fully prepared. But they also must be given the authority to do so.

In the case of seminars or workshops, they should be empowered to ensure there are full “dress rehearsals” in advance and tweaks made to the content to ensure it is captivating and stimulating. They should be given responsibility for ensuring there will be plenty of the firm’s professionals on hand who best understand the subject and the target audience-not those people whom have nothing better to do. (A rough guide is one firm representative to every four participants). And they should brief each fee-earner on which guests they are playing host to, what intelligence the law firm has about those guests, and possibly the questions that he or she should use as discussion openers with the people they will be meeting. If it is likely that most guests will be “roaming” around the room then each of the lawyers should have two or three questions that they “own”. This prevents guests being continually bombarded with the same question every time they speak to someone from the firm.

Summary


The more planning and preparation that goes into an event, the better the return it tends to generate. In the second part of this series we will look at the event itself and give ideas on how best to manage the follow up to ensure all the investment in time, energy and money does indeed lead to the right people attending, new and/or repeat instructions and over time greater client loyalty.