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Hosting and attending marketing events is a great way to increase your firm’s visibility and reach audiences that your more passive marketing methods may be missing. The scope of event marketing may be smaller than most forms of advertising, but the impression is much stronger. It puts a face and a voice on your firm’s identity in a way that sticks in prospective clients’ minds.

Hosting an Event

If your event will be small and you have contact information for everyone you intend to invite, you can effectively plan the event using direct communication with prospective attendees.

If, on the other hand, you want to cast a wider net and attract attendees with whom you have no prior contact, you will need to either hire an event planning agency or use an online service.

Online event planning websites bring sophisticated planning tools to the masses and allow smaller firms to plan events that previously would have required the resources of a larger firm or event planning specialists. The scope of the services available may surprise you. Event websites make it easy to promote your event to your contact list and/or to the public, accept payments, track responses, and communicate with attendees before and after the event.

The following steps apply to your event in different ways and degrees depending on which planning method you choose. Keep them all in mind to help decide how best to implement them.

1. Create a website. This will most likely be a page dedicated to your event on either an event hosting and planning website or on your firm’s existing website. The page should prominently feature your firm’s name, logo and, if possible, should also use your existing website’s color palette.

2. Check out Meetup.com. The site is widely used to organize meetings for individuals sharing any of a huge range of interests. Search the site for groups that your prospective clients would attend. If you practice family law, for example, search groups in your area for the keyword “divorce.” You may very well find divorce support groups created by your direct competition. View their past events to see what types of events they are hosting and their attendance rates.

Meetup events can range from the very large, such as a presentation with webcasting and an entry fee, to the very small, such as an informal chat with a few prospective clients. If you decide to create your own group (free of charge), you will need to promote both the group itself and your early events outside the site, providing links either to your Meetup.com event page or your firm’s website. As your group membership grows, so does the site’s ability to provide a complete solution for event promotion, planning and communication.

3. Promote your event. Use all available and appropriate marketing avenues to promote your event. Post it to the front page of your firm website, email your contact list, post links to your social media profiles, and make at least one entry to your blog promoting the event. Make an announcement via press release. Print eye-catching flyers and post them to bulletin boards in local businesses and community centers. Consider inviting your best prospects by mail and/or a phone call - both are much more powerful and likely to result in a response than an invite sent by email. In all cases, provide a link to your event website.

Post to local event listing websites. Do a web search of your city’s name and a phrase such as “submit event,” “add event,” or “submit your conference,” and look for pages belonging to local media outlets. Keep an eye out for curated lists of the event submission pages you are looking for.

4. Track responses. Keep a count of confirmed attendees. Try to find out from respondents which of your promotion efforts reached them.

5. Document the event. Recordings are essential for seminars and are usually a built-in part of the process. Other event types may call for photography, audio/video recordings, or both.

6. Promote your next event. If you already have a date set for your next event, do not miss the opportunity to promote it at your current event. Current attendees are your very best prospects for future events.

7. Follow up. Send attendees a thank-you email and solicit feedback about the event. Tell them about any future events you are planning. If applicable, select and edit the best photos and video and post them to your website and social media profiles.

Types of Events

Hosting Seminars. A seminar is one of the most powerful tools available for law firms to market to a select audience. After physically attending a seminar and listening to an expert presentation, attendees will permanently associate your practice area with your firm. This cements the idea of your firm into their minds like nothing else can.

Conducting a seminar can be a significant undertaking, and can be intimidating the first few times you do it. Start small and invite friends who will not be shy about giving constructive criticism. Once you are confident in your content and presentation, plan for larger audiences and use all of the promotion strategies at your disposal to fill seats.

Your presentation should focus on practice areas with the greatest marketability and in which your firm’s experience is strongest. It should be an oral presentation augmented with printed materials, a slideshow, or both. Remember, materials are there to back up the oral presentation, not recreate or replace it. Keep the focus on you, the presenter.

Presenting webcasts, webinars, and audio conferences

These three options give you the ability to bring your presentation to anyone in the world at any time. Vendors of these services span the spectrum of price and quality. Carefully research the products and services available and search online for third-party reviews.

“Webcast” refers to an online video stream of a live seminar. Webcasts usually can be viewed either via live streaming video or on demand via recorded video. They offer little to no opportunity for online viewers to interact with presenters, but nevertheless can broaden your outreach significantly.

“Webinar” usually refers to a seminar that is conducted entirely online using sophisticated software to replicate all of the functions of a live seminar. Video and audio are broadcast live, audience members can participate in question and answer sessions and polls, and slideshows or other digital media are easily shared without the need for hard copies. Webinars can be very appealing to tech-savvy audiences and provide broad outreach. Webinar presenters must rehearse their presentations carefully to make sure the technology enhances the information rather than distracting from it or slowing it down.

Audio conferences are usually conducted by phone and have no visual element at all. Obviously, this requires a different presentation than any of the above options. They are uniquely appealing for law firms whose client base may not be tech-savvy, but who still wish to reach an audience beyond their local community.

Vendors of each of these services will make it simple to give or sell access to the recorded presentation indefinitely, creating an excellent opportunity for future outreach and/or revenue.

The disadvantage inherent in each of these services is that no matter the ability of the speaker, they will not hold the audience’s attention quite like being there in the flesh. Also, you may find that the flexibility of being able to access a recording on demand may lead even local attendees to elect that option rather than attend in person. Your most powerful impression is always made in person, so be aware of this possible trade-off.

Attending networking events

When attending networking events, avoid the mindset that your goal is to shake as many hands and hand out as many business cards as possible. It is better to make just a few genuine connections than to briefly interact with dozens of people who will not remember you. If a list of attendees is available, look it over before the event and identify people that you would like to meet. At the event, ask the organizers to introduce you.

1. Ask your clients how they network with others in their field. Perhaps they attend trade association meetings and can invite you to one or get you in touch with the organizers. Such meetings are very target-rich environments, and clients to whom you have provided excellent service will not be shy about introducing you to their colleagues.

2. Attend local bar association meetings, particularly those specific to your area of practice. This is a great way to build your referral network.

3. Attend legal seminars. The host of a seminar, of course, gets the lion’s share of marketability, but seminars are excellent networking opportunities for attendees as well.

4. Search for existing, regular networking meetings in your community. These are often open to professionals from all fields, who are free to speak for a few minutes to outline their services and give contact information. This can be an easy way to brush up on your public speaking skills.

Hosting community and charity events

These events probably will not relate directly to your practice, but will nevertheless serve to raise awareness of your firm’s name and help give the public a positive impression of it.

Promotional and organizational requirements for these events are handled primarily by the charitable organizations you will partner with. They will probably advertise the event on their website; find the page and link to it from your own site. Post it to your social media profiles and ask friends to help spread the message; when the focus of the event is community and charity support, it is appropriate to ask others to help get the word out.

1. Blood drives. Blood banks are always seeking to expand their outreach by bringing their facilities to donors. Some have mobile blood collection buses with built-in donation facilities; others can set up in your break room or conference room if you have enough space.

2. Food/Clothing/Toy donation drives. Contact a local shelter, Goodwill, or Toys for Tots to ask how to participate in their collection efforts.

Event marketing is all about making direct connections and giving your firm a personal identity. You will find that the extra effort that event marketing requires over more passive avenues of marketing will pay off in the lasting impression that you make on your prospective client base and your community.

About Author

Ryan Conley is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and a legal content strategist for U.S. based law firms.

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