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Sponsoring public events promotes branding

David Knopf//February 20, 2009

Sponsoring public events promotes branding

David Knopf//February 20, 2009

Sponsoring events may not bring new clients to their waiting rooms, but attorneys agree that the publicity can only help a firm’s name recognition or reputation.

And benefits accrue, whether it’s a 350-lawyer firm hosting a series of entrepreneurship conferences or a solo practitioner sponsoring a free-throw shooting contest at a basketball game.

Sponsorships remain popular, even though it’s nearly impossible to measure the benefits.

“Benefit is a nebulous thing,” said Keith Birkes, executive director of the Missouri Bar Association. “We have a lot of firms that help sponsor our annual meetings and conferences and we recognize them for helping reduce the cost of the events. I’m sure some of them view it as a marketing thing, which can have direct and indirect benefits.”

Putting a firm’s name on an event promotes visibility and branding of a firm’s name and specialties. In the short run, however, the investment isn’t likely to bring tangible results.

“To be honest with you, we can’t trace the bloodline of doing the seminars and having them bring us new business,” said Joseph Cordell, a partner whose St. Louis firm, Cordell & Cordell, sponsors legal seminars.

Still, Cordell involves himself and his firm in sponsorships, some law-related, some not. Cordell & Cordell annually organizes and underwrites DadsDivorce, a bi-state seminar that offers continuing legal education and current information on divorce issues. In 2008, the event attracted 134 Missouri and Illinois attorneys and, among other things, underscored the firm’s niche of representing fathers in divorce cases.

“If you do a good job and gather a lot of people and impress them, then that’s a good thing,” Cordell said.

But Cordell and fellow partner Scott Trout say the benefits are more about “planting seeds” for future business than bringing short-term results.

And other firms see similar benefits. Gray, Ritter & Graham, also of St. Louis, will host its 7th annual Advocacy Symposium in March. The conference focuses on litigation techniques, legal ethics and business and personal advice, while providing CLEs. Some speakers represent the host firm, but others are drawn from competing firms.

The event reinforces an image that Gray, Ritter & Graham partner Maurice Graham wants to nurture: developing a reputation for effective litigation, good client and attorney relations, involvement in community and legal organizations, legal writing and public speaking.

Attorneys attending the firm’s symposium receive litigation tips and network, Graham said, and they also may be more likely to refer cases to Gray Ritter.

“We’re constantly contacted by attorneys with cases that are outside their expertise,” Graham said.

While some attorney-sponsored events are held at hotels and conference centers, others bring attorneys, potential clients and influential community members to the firm’s offices.

That’s the case with the Entrepreneur Speakers Program, an annual Kansas City series co-hosted by Polsinelli Shughart, the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development, a bank, a technology company and the University of Missouri-Kansas City business school.

When attendees gather in March to listen to FishNet Security CEO Gary Fish, they’ll do so at Polsinelli Shughart offices. The program was created with the community in mind, but it can’t help but reinforce the law firm’s image and practice areas.

Sponsorships typically start for altruistic or charitable reasons, attorneys say, but there are added benefits. John Simon, of The Simon Law Firm in St. Louis, sponsors an annual seminar that benefits Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Proceeds go to Legal Services, Simon said, and the 200 or so attendees listen to Simon attorneys and others discuss trial practice, liens and legal ethics.

“It’s a great event, a great service, but what it does is give you great exposure,” said Simon. “One good thing that happens when you do that is that you get new business, but that’s not even the main reason you do it. You do it because it’s the thing to do.”

Simon and other attorneys also sponsor smaller events – golf tournaments, bar association gatherings – that can reflect positively on a firm. They open the door for attorneys from smaller firms to invest money in sponsorship marketing.

Gregory Harrison, a Liberty solo practitioner, sponsors a hole at a golf tournament that benefits the athletic alumni club of his alma mater. Harrison, a basketball referee, also sponsors a free-throw-shooting contest at halftime of college games. In return, his name is announced and he receives an ad in the game program.

“I’ve had people tell me they’ve seen my name,” he said.

Cordell and his wife help sponsor Teen Challenge, a St. Louis program that helps males with drug and alcohol problems.

“We like to invest our time and our money to help these men,” he said. “If you believe in what you’re doing, there are financial incentives to doing it.”

Many attorneys see sponsorships as a way to give back to the community. David Mayer, a Kansas City attorney, said his firm supports golf tournaments, continuing legal education and young lawyers’ activities.

“I doubt that there’s a bang for your buck for that, but we think it’s important,” Mayer said.

Trout, the Cordell & Cordell partner, sees value in marketing a firm, but cautions that legal reputation, as well as relations with clients and other attorneys, inevitably carry more weight.

“Marketing and sponsorships, you can’t rely on that forever,” Trout said. “If it’s just a marketing scheme, it will die and go away. We tell our young attorneys that you have to become a good attorney. I think that’s the best advice you can give a young attorney. Give back, invest in the community.”

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