Despite all of the technological systems available to advance business development efforts, lawyers and clients continue to report that face-to-face interaction is the best way to build relationships and better understand client needs. Firms invest considerable resources to host in-person gatherings, but many fall short when it comes to maximizing their strategic value. Increased demands on time, more restrictive client entertainment policies and a heightened emphasis on budget are raising the bar for measuring success, making it more important than ever for attorneys and organizers to develop a meaningful value proposition that ensures a beneficial experience for everyone.
What Are Your Goals?
Before you consider hosting an event, ask yourself what you hope to achieve. The answer may be to thank clients for their business or celebrate a favorable outcome. Other times the firm may want to connect with alumni or raise the profile of a practice area. Whatever the desired outcome, you cannot determine an appropriate budget or begin to organize without identifying the audience you aim to attract and thinking about your overall goals in relation to that audience.
Keep in mind, not all events are meant to have a large room full of people. In fact, some of the most meaningful exchanges happen in smaller groups. Identify the best format before you focus on the appropriate invitation list. From the outset, attorneys should be prepared to review invite lists to include key contacts and remove those who either may not be interested or may not be a target attendee. Repeatedly using one large, generic mailing list results in a false sense of success by inflating RSVP numbers with guests who may not be quality business development targets. It also drives up costs.
Consider Client Interests
More important than identifying goals for the firm is ensuring that the event is beneficial to the client. Your target audience likely receives invitations from a wide range of industry groups and organizations. What differentiates your event from the others? When everyone’s time is at a premium, why should your client prioritize this invitation over others?
Put yourself in the shoes of your client and create an opportunity that offers value and is a good use of their time. Consider educational benefits, networking opportunities and exposure to high-profile speakers, among other factors, as a means to enhance their experience.
A critical part of assessing value lies in understanding clients’ restrictions on accepting social invitations. Talk with contacts and carefully review client agreements in order to make good decisions about when and how to entertain (assuming you are permitted to do so at all).
Monitor the Competition
What may seem like a terrific idea becomes less appealing if you discover that your clients already have been invited to the same type of function by another law firm. Before investing time and money on a concept, work strategically with your marketing and business development teams to research competitor activities and recommend event ideas that are ahead of the curve.
Don’t Set It and Forget It
When hosting a small party, it is natural to scrutinize the invite list and seating chart and closely monitor cancellations and no-shows. Larger events with bigger invitation and RSVP lists often suffer from lack of attention. Regardless of the size of the event, be sure to request frequent RSVP updates and monitor client responses. Follow up personally with clients who have not yet replied—and be aware of who may have expressed interest but canceled. Even if a client is unable to attend, the invitation is an ideal opportunity to personally connect.
Closely monitor RSVPs and counts to establish the appropriate attorney-to-client ratio for the event. Limit firm attendance to key relationship holders to avoid overwhelming guests with a disproportionate number of attorneys from the firm. While it is difficult to have those internal conversations, remember the goals set for the event and prioritize the interests of the client.
Prior to arriving at the event, attorneys should prepare a mental list of a few people with whom they want to spend time. Also, think about peer-to-peer introductions you can make among attendees to help enhance their networking with other guests. Finally, be sure to identify VIP guests for the marketing or logistics team to assist with facilitating introductions as guests arrive.
With so much emphasis on strategy, it is easy for attorney hosts to assume that a defined process will zap all of the fun out of the event. To the contrary, a well-organized approach reduces the stress of hosting and helps ensure everyone will enjoy themselves. Clients appreciate the extra effort that goes into a high-caliber event that has been organized with their interests in mind.
Conduct a Post-Event Debrief
When it comes to events, it isn’t over when it’s over. Determine what, if any, client follow-up is appropriate, and then conduct a candid debrief with your marketing team to evaluate the success of the event. Were goals met? Did attorneys leverage the event to maximize time with clients? Did attorneys solicit feedback from clients? Did costs meet expectations? Examining this information ensures accountability from all stakeholders during the planning process and institutionalizes best practices for future events.
Brooke E. Loucks is a global marketing and communications administrator at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where she oversees the firm’s client educational programs and events. Contact her at email@example.com.