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Brand Thinking
Bleeding edge thinking on branding and marketing

big idea

Rethinking the Relationship Event: A Breakfast Seminar Becomes an Institution

By Joe Walsh
June 4, 2007
Rethinking the Relationship Event: A Breakfast Seminar Becomes an Institution

You will learn:

1. Learn how one firm reinvented a marketing staple
2. Consider the difference detailed work can make

Here’s a sketch of the scene:

Nearly 300 senior executives attend four times per year. The featured C-suite speakers come from the ranks of attendees. The topics are picked from a survey of the region’s executive population at the beginning of each calendar year.

Every detail from the invitations to registration to signage has received white glove care. Networking begins at 7:00 AM. People come early. The program starts on time—8:00 AM sharp. It begins with a flourish in the fully firm-branded ballroom: hand-picked music gives way to hand-selected movie clips playing on a giant screen, all introducing the topic of the day in some clever way.

Speakers are coached in advance. They have 30 minutes each. 30 minutes are left for Q&A. Every program ends with a twist to make attendees smile. The program ends on time at 9:30 AM, every time. But people leave late.

Attendees are polled at the end of each event to measure satisfaction with the topic, the speaker, the little details. Those who couldn’t come have access to a videotape recap on the firm’s website—so they can see what they missed, when they want.

The executives in the community begin to refer to The Power Breakfast by its made up name. The word on the street is: “nobody does events like your firm.” Countless relationships are formed and strengthened at the quarterly event. And over the years, a couple of dozen A-list prospects are introduced to the way the firm does business as featured speakers at the event.

How it Came to Be

Several years in the making, this relationship event improved with age (and an inordinate investment of time and money in the little things). But it all started with a shift in philosophy. The table that follows breaks down the basics into before and after.

strategy and planning Most seminar activity is unplanned and reactive, covering rule or law changes, new service offerings or internal factors like slowed proposal activity. Top management decides to own an event and plan content and programs a year in advance; the aim is reputation and relationship building.
budget Significant investment in many smaller seminars - dozens of them - often delivered with several co-sponsors; typically with some other business, like an investment bank, on the marquee. Total semimar budget is capped, but 50% of the existing budget is earmarked for this quarterly series that delivers substantial content.
goals Smart goals like keeping existing clients informed, exposing clients and prospects to firm experts and new lead generation. Different smart goals like allowing senior peer groups to learn from and network with one another; positioning the firm as a business leader in the market.
audience

Invitation by mass mail; Invite the masses and hope that enough come to make a respectable showing. Often an out-of-date list is compiled from line contacts and third party purchases.

Outreach draws a mix of second-tier managers, job seekers and competitors (not the buyers of the service)

Attendees feel like targets, not guests. They often come late and leave early.

Guest list is generated from a database of the region's top ranking executives, including clients, alumni, and senior-level officers - the best from both emerging and established companies.

The list is compromised of A, B and C level priority targets of the firm, totaling 200 companies (and roughly 1,000 executives)

Attendees are treated like guests, not targets. They come early and stay late.

speakers
& content

PowerPoint-aided firm speakers present thinly-veiled new business pitches around developments in practice areas (i.e., selling from the podium). The business elite of the region, typically CEOs at winning companies - those with demonstratrable experience handling the hot issues of the day. Speakers are typically A-level targets of the firm.
invitations Postcards with bulk rate mailings and mailhouse-applied labels (not too far from junk mail).

Invitations are clutter busting direct mailers with laser-printed addresses on the envelopes and hand stamps.

Inside the envelope is the creative invite covered with a personally addresses mail-merge letter carrying the signature of the managing partner.

event production

Production of the event (the little details) - from signage to registration badges  is good, but now great.

Hall/function room is first class (good hotel) but it could be any seminar, anywhere.

Production of the event (the little details) - from signage to registration badges  is great.

Hall is decked in the brand of the firm with banner ads, posted boards, tabletop cards and novelties.

content delivery
Developed by line practitioner (56 slide PowerPoint presentations, averaging 15 bullets per slide - no exaggeration). Talented graphic design services available at firm, but often unused or underutilized. Developed by speaker in close consultation with the speaker's corporate communications staff to make the presentation sing (the advantage of dealing with a CEO). Top shelp graphic design services offered by firm for those who need it.
follow up
Calls and emails to leads and non-leads are left to those in the practice. Within one week of the event, the attendees receive a thank-you mailer that contains a feedback opportunity, a topic suggestion space, a save-the-date for the next program and an electronic link to the presented content.

What Does this Mean to You?

In sharing this story, we are not advocating the wholesale replacement of your current events—from the pure relationship programs, like golf tournaments, to subject-specific breakfast briefings. Rather, we’re suggesting that an opportunity lies in rethinking some of your relationship-driven efforts and realigning them with branding goals.

Below we’ve listed the maxims that sum up this approach. Surely you’ll recognize them as the common sense things you preach to your management—the trick is getting your line professionals to see things this way (after all, they often control the dollars).

1. Do less, better. If you have a one hundred dollar event budget, you’ll be better served if you spend it on fewer than one hundred events.

2. Plan the work, work the plan. This is self-evident advice but it has real meaning when your plan is blessed and enforced by leadership. Their endorsement gives you permission, when needed, to just say no to unplanned (and ill-advised) programs.

3. The difference is often in the details. Example: sometimes it pays as much—if not more—to put as much care into the personalization of an invitation as it does into finding the big draw speaker.