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Maximize Your Return on Event Participation

A client called me the other day to ask for help with an event he’s planning to attend. He wanted something to hand out to attendees and could I whip up something about the firm?

Whenever I get such a request, it takes me back to the earliest days of legal marketing and our “brochure bunny” days. Lawyers leaned heavily on brochures to win business or resolve a wide variety of marketing needs. Marketers then were tacticians and the production of materials was the gerbil wheel of the day. There was little, if any, discussion about strategy or planning.

One-off activities are those that don’t relate to a current marketing plan or strategy. They have no home, so I refer to them as orphans and they float around without a chaperone. Orphan marketing activities will rarely result in anything meaningful. Yet, sometimes, it’s worth building a framework around them because of their potential.

Strategically planned marketing activities ensure we always know why we are engaging in a particular activity. It maps back to a goal or objective – it addresses a higher purpose, than simply “it sounded like a good idea and other firms will be there.”

There’s no shortage of great ideas, but consider this two-pronged test: (1) will it help achieve a current goal? and (2) can you support it with other activities that reach the same audience?

If not, park it in your “good ideas for consideration next year” trunk of tricks. But if it does meet the first test, then implement this activity thoughtfully so that your return on investment is maximized.

Take a few minutes to consider:

  1. What are the costs associated with participating in this event? Who else in the firm will attend with me? How many people are expected and are they prospective clients?
  2. How can I reach this audience before the event to create some anticipation and establish a profile?
  3. Is there a list of sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and delegates that I would be permitted to use to invite this group to a pre or post conference reception?
  4. What does this audience want from a lawyer at this time and in this setting?
  5. If you’re exhibiting at a tradeshow, how can you stand out from the other exhibitors and attract delegates? One hint: cool giveaways!
  6. How can I get people to prequalify for specific areas of law? (sign up for newsletters, some free time in your practice area, sharing of a white paper, invitation to an upcoming industry event or educational seminar)
  7. How can I best engage with individuals at this event for future discussion and follow-up (and with the best prospects)?
  8. How can I create a sense of urgency? (Act now!)
  9. What’s my follow-up plan? Could I hold a specialized seminar or host a roundtable for further discussion at my firm? This could be an effective talking point and an easy follow-up plan.
  10. Can I add my new contacts, and their industry or area of law, to the firm’s client database for long-term marketing strategies?

Marketing at events can be very effective under certain circumstances. Before you commit sponsorship dollars, accept a speaking engagement, book your tradeshow table or plan to attend a networking event, spend at least 20 minutes considering your business case for participating.

Take the perspective that the event itself is not a singular activity. If you do, you’re creating an orphan marketing activity that stands alone and with no support. The event itself is not the entire activity.

Instead, think of it like a sandwich, with the event in the middle. Yes, a sandwich. The bread is your planning and follow-up strategy, and the filling is the event. You’d never have the filling on its own — that would be strange. Spend most of your time on the bread, because that’s what will deliver the ROI.

And please, don’t just attend an event – participate. One is passive and almost certainly a waste of resources and the other drives business and builds profile. Send participants to events, not attendees. Participants will engage with others at their table, make introductions and facilitate dialogue. Attendees will cling to the wall and stare at their BlackBerry or their watch.

My client will get his impactful handout, but, in the meantime, he’ll also get a whole sandwich. The few hours he’ll spend at this event circulating around prospective clients will be part of a plan and he will have a clear purpose. It won’t be an orphan activity, it’ll be part of a sandwich and an investment towards future billings.

Bon appetit!

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