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Welcome to the twenty-first century, where thanks to a mix of rebranding and technology everything old is new again.  Thus, yesterday’s nomadic fly-by-night lawyers doing business out of the back seat of their car are now glamorously lean, pre-paid legal and Hyatt Legal Services –  once unflatteringly regarded as the McDonalds’ of legal services are now the darling of VCs and futurists alike when gussied up with a sleek website and rebranded with cool names like  Avvo  and Rocket Lawyer .  And now, it’s the homely little live marketing activities – from perfunctory law firm open houses to team sponsorships that are making a comeback in the form of experiential marketing – defined as the act of creating unique, face-to-face branded activities.

In contrast to yesterday’s tired work events and sponsorships, today’s experiential marketing isn’t just an afterthought. To the contrary, as Stacey Burke , a law firm business consultant (and the only one, from what I can tell has blogged about experiential marketing ), companies spent $452 million into experiential marketing in 2015.

So why is experiential marketing gaining hold in an era dominated by SEO, viral advertising and permission marketing take place online? Burke explains it best :

People are People. Events can make a huge impression very quickly. Emails and phone calls don’t generally inspire immediate action. Events tap into real-time, face-to-face communication with potential clients and potential referral sources. They also help you cultivate and maintain existing relationships with those who have helped grow your law firm so far.

Event Marketing. Events are newsworthy, and can be incorporated into a law firm’s public relations and media efforts. Events can even boost a law firm’s local SEO via online calendar entries and other digital citations to the event. Firms can also leverage social media to increase attendance, awareness, and brand recognition. Emails lead up to and serve as a follow up to the main event.

Burke offers a couple of law-firm appropriate experiential marketing events. For example, a firm could throw a party, perhaps teaming up with another firm to expand the invitation list and get more bang for the buck by sharing the cost of planning. Firms can also sponsor a charitable or community organization event that furthers a cause that the firm supports. Finally, firms can sponsor appreciation events for its most lucrative clients. Because experiential marketing depends largely on providing a flawless experience, Burke recommends that firms work with event planners to ensure the best possible results.

I know that Burke’s article was intended as a way to help acclimate lawyers to experiential marketing and for that reason, most of her suggested ideas were fairly mainstream so as not scare lawyers off, or trigger the typical knee-jerk “that’s ridiculous – lawyers can’t do that” reaction. But of course, they can.

Consider the example of Eric Turkewitz, an avid blogger and marathoner. Eight years ago, Eric helped to organize the Paine to Pain Half Trail Marathon, which is run on a 13-mile trail created, through Eric’s efforts out of previously separate trails administered by different government agencies.  The race has attracted a loyal following and no doubt, associates Eric’s firm as committed to the running and local community.

Even grander, Hubspot covers what it describes as “the seven best experiential marketing campaigns,” (non-law firm, of course!). For example, a recent Lean Cuisine event which curated scales in Grand Central Station and asked women to “weigh in” on what was important to them by writing down those factors that they wanted to be “weighed on.” As Hubspot describes, Lean Cuisine’s event sent a message that while it makes food that fits with healthy lifestyle, women shouldn’t forget about their own accomplishments which matter more than the numbers of the scale.”

Meanwhile, Google created a campaign, “Building a Better Bay Area” with large interactive posters at bus shelters and food trucks where members of the public could vote for how Google could distribute the $5.5 million dollars that it wanted to donate to charities. Granted, these events go far beyond the budget of a single firm, but a few firms – or even a bar association – could arguably band together and cooperate on a bigger matter.

Not surprisingly, one of the most significant objections to experiential marketing is the potential ROI (or lack thereof), particularly for law firms and other B-to-B businesses. Although 71 percent of consumers say that they’ve shared their participation in an experiential marketing event thus increasing exposure, visibility doesn’t translate into sales.  And visibility is no guarantee – this year’s How to Manage a Small Law Firm’s Law Firm 500, celebrating the 500 fastest growing law firms, appears to have been an attempt at “experiential marketing” – but the only reason I knew about the event was because I happened to attend  the HTM meeting where Law Firm 500 was announced. So certainly, that’s a risk.

Moreover, visibility doesn’t necessarily translate into ROI. In other words, customers won’t necessarily flock to your firm or make referrals simply because they attended an experiential marketing event or read about one of them in the news. On the other hand, in a world where we increasingly rely on the Internet and rarely keep contact with colleagues and clients, experiential marketing lets us step out into the world and celebrate, thank and give back to the people and broader community to whom we owe our success. And if that’s not enough of an excuse to experiment experiential marketing, I’m not sure what is.