Law firms are bombarded by sponsorship requests. Zealous event organizers and persuasive development directors approach lawyers and legal marketers every day with the next great opportunity to get their firms’ names out there.
We’ve all heard the pitch: “You’ll get your logo on the PowerPoint presentation! And a quarter-page ad in the program. We may even have a banner – you can be on that, too, for just $1000 more! And we’ll throw in a ‘free’ table for ten!”
The avalanche of requests can be overwhelming and tempting. Nagging somewhere near the attorney’s or marketer’s central cortex is FOMO – fear of missing out. “What if we miss out on THE opportunity that will generate hundreds of new contacts, leads, engagements? Or worse – what if a competitor is the sponsor and wins all the marbles! This could be the one thing that puts the firm top-of-mind and ensures everyone will see our logo!”
Sponsorships Without a Plan Can Go Wrong. Really Wrong.
Sponsorships without a strategy, proper vetting, and realistic expectations can be a waste of valuable marketing dollars and a drag on the business development budget. In fairness, that’s not to say all sponsorships lack merit, but the question becomes, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
Let’s first look at the “benefits” in those sponsorship packages.
- “Your logo will be everywhere!” A logo, without context, will not be memorable. Few attendees will see it, remember it, or associate it with the value you offer. It won’t raise awareness of your brand or firm, and it certainly won’t make the phone ring or the cash register sing.
- “Your ad will be prominently displayed in the program!” The next time you’re at an event, on your way out the door, look around. The room will be littered with leftover, lost, and forlorn programs filled with advertisements and calls to action. It’s not surprising because the real purpose of a conference or workshop is (or at least should be) to meet people entertain clients, engage with business partners, and support the organization. People don’t treat event programs as keepsakes for future reference. It just doesn’t happen.
- “And a ’free‘ table for you and your guests!” Even if you have ties to the organization, filling the seats at your table is tough. And if you choose to sponsor an organization with which you or the firm has no connection, you may still have a last-minute fire drill to find warm bodies. Logo and advertisement aside, the lasting memory of your firm will be an empty table, with the firm’s name prominently displayed on a tent card or stand right in the center.
You don’t have to be a mathlete to calculate the low ROI with a random act of sponsorship.
Done Right, Sponsorships Can Be Great. Really Great.
Don’t get me wrong. There are good reasons to sponsor events, especially if you take a strategic approach and vet each opportunity systematically system. As in in-house legal marketer, I established a multi-point checklist for evaluating worthy sponsorships, including an assessing of how much to spend and our attorneys’ willingness to do the necessary pre-event outreach and post-event follow-up.
- Is a client making the request? Good client development involves supporting clients’ interests and causes, and by sponsoring events at their invitation, attorneys at the firm get the priceless opportunity to engage face-to-face in a different context and environment. Those conversations offer the means to ask questions, discover personal details, and deepen relationships.
- Is an attorney actively engaged in the organization? When an attorney serves in a leadership role or other visible position with an organization and requests sponsorship of an event, a firm should celebrate his or her participation and encourage solid business development and marketing efforts. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch; the attorney is the event’s champion and assumes the burden of filling the table, preferably with a mix of clients and prospects, not just firm colleagues. If the requesting attorney is only marginally involved in the organization, the firm might ask him or her to cover a portion of the sponsorship cost, which quickly gauges the level of importance and also opens the door to a discussion regarding what the attorney wants to accomplish through the organization.
- Does the sponsorship have business development value? If a sponsorship could be a business development opportunity to invite clients and prospects to the event, that increases approval. Similarly, if the firm is actively targeting a top prospect who is active in this organization, a sponsorship might boost the firm’s credibility with that person. And if the organization is a charity, you should ensure that the cause fits with the firm’s giving mission or reflects the interests of its attorneys and staff. Consider, for example, a breast cancer awareness walk where participants from across a firm wear t-shirts with its logo on them. The motivation may be more of a firm culture-driven initiative to support colleagues touched by the disease, as opposed to a firm branding opportunity.
- Will the sponsorship generate leads? Sponsoring – and attending (which must be mandatory) – is only as good as the follow-up from an event. The next day, those who attended must do a next-day debrief to gather and share the names of individuals they met and set the plan for following up. Also, create a form to evaluate every sponsorship request so there is a written record of how sponsorship approvals or rejections are made. For each approved sponsorship, the form should also data on what happened after the event. If no follow-up occurred or nothing of value emerged, it’s time to cut that sponsorship out of your budget.
- Is there a less expensive alternative? If you don’t feel investment in a sponsorship will yield the desired return right now, another option is to buy a few tickets and send representatives from the firm to scope out the event and the organization. Do some reconnaissance to determine if the sponsorship, increased participation, and other support could be a part of the firm’s strategic marketing efforts going forward. Better to be out of pocket a few hundred bucks now rather than thousands later.
To sponsor or not to sponsor isn’t always an easy question for a law firm. But establishing a formal vetting process to evaluate those types of decisions and track the outcomes from the sponsorship can go a long way to improving the process. It’s also a useful means for eliminating sacred cows – sponsorships and other marketing one-offs that have been in the budget forever yet deliver no discernible value. A great marketing plan is flexible, allowing you to discard non-performing activities for new opportunities that will provide your firm and your practice a business development and public relations edge.