Holiday Cards: Bah Humbug!

mail pile11 Holiday Cards: Bah Humbug!It is now that time of the year when lawyers put together their list of who to send holiday greetings to. From a marketing standpoint, I have always thought that they were a waste of time and money.

When I was an in-house attorney, I usually received about fifty. I simply tossed most and rarely read them. Occasionally, they were even insulting. Some sent cards with their names already pre-printed  on the card. Couldn’t they spend a minute or two and write a few personal words or at least sign their name?

Get Noticed

If you insist on sending cards, do it at a time of the year when it will not be received with ten other cards on the same day. More importantly, make it memorable. Every year I receive a card from a lawyer I know who practices in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a huge Elvis Presley fan. Around the time of Elvis’ birthday (January 8th), I always receive a New Year’s card which has an Elvis theme photo and a short greeting. One year it was a picture of President Bush and the Prime Minister of Japan (a big Elvis fan himself) during a visit to Graceland. It certainly was memorable; I’m blogging about it five years later.

The purpose of the holiday card, as well as every marketing activity attorneys do, is to remind your clients that you are still around to perform legal services. You want to stay top of mind. Traditional holiday cards simply do not do it.

(photo: fortinbras)

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  • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

    I am noticing that the newest trend is for large firms to send e-cards.

    Worse than that, all the big firm e-cards I’ve received come from the firm, not the attorney(s) I know there. This is the least personalized form of personal greeting I can imagine.

    If you’re only going to bother sending generic, unpersonalized emails as your holiday greeting (really amounting to SPAM), why not just stop the charade all together?

  • http://www.buninlaw.com Jennifer Frantz

    I call B.S. I like receiving holiday cards and I put them up for everyone to see! They’re a nice year-end thank you. It’s always nice to be remembered, especially at other than billing time. I hope my clients feel the same. It makes me feel good to send holiday cards, and that has value of it’s own.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    Although I also like holiday cards—real ones, not depersonalized e-mails—I agree it is better to send them when yours will not be lost in the crowd. I think this is the reason I got so many Thanksgiving cards this year. Maybe I will try for the Summer Solstice, instead. I think mine would be the only card anyone receives.

  • http://strikerbusinesslaw.com/ Bob Striker

    Not anymore. Sam!

    As a new solo, I’m making sure that I send out cards to lots of folks. It’s another impression of my new firm and new identity to folks – and it’s something that they can hold in their hands. I’ve put my new contact info on the back of the card and will be jotting a personal note on each one.

    To me, it makes sense to do this even if it’s not the most distinctive thing in the world.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    A personal note is definitely a distinguishing thing. I always glance inside cards to see if there is some handwriting. I ignore the printed messages.

    They all go up on display, though. I suppose if your goal is to be on display on my office, make sure to have your name in really big letters on the front of the card.

  • Jan M. McCray Flemmons

    Decisions! I decided to send out Christmas cards this year (16 months into my solo practice). I’ve sent out alot of cards to business contacts, clients, etc., but each and every one had a handwritten (short) personal note in it. I can’t lift my head (apparently I’m not used to looking down–and my neck is killing me), but I believe it matters and will make a difference down the road. Plus, I know the other attorneys in my small town don’t do it!

  • http://www.knappmarketing.com Amy Knapp

    It is 8:15 on a Friday night, and I’m goofing around on the internet for a few minutes to take a break from writing out personalized holiday notes. Each one is a three or four sentence note, and doing this really stretches my patience. But it also causes me to think about the recipient for 10 minutes or so and to formulate my year-end thoughts to them. I only manage to send out between 50 and 80 a year because it is such an effort.
    Why do I do this? Because it is what I tell my attorney clients to do and it is the right thing. If someone has paid me money this year, or referred me business, or has in some other way been a supportive colleague, they deserve 10 minutes of my focused time to tell them how and why I appreciate them. Is this the only way to accomplish this goal? No, but it is a good one. I get an email from almost every note.
    [BTW -- the cards go along with a gift if the recipient is a client or referrer, but I wonder if they don't appreciate the handwritten note more...]

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

      Amy,

      I don’t think Roy or any of us are arguing that it isn’t valuable to take the time to do something personal in thanks to your clients and colleagues; I think the argument is that your efforts would stand out better (and therefore be more valuable as a business development effort) if you weren’t sending them at the same time everyone else is.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    Case in (Aaron’s) point, an e-mail “card” I just received:

    To view the Faegre & Benson 2009 holiday card, please click here.

    (There was a quaint “sending you our best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday” graphic to go with the above text.)

    If Faegre’s goal was to replace one forgettable card with another, they succeeded.

  • Nena Street

    Amy –

    Last year I did that. I sent about 500 hundred cards out with a three to four sentence personalized note in each. That was a TON of work (a T-O-N of work), but billable work was light and the firm was footing the bill, so it was feasible. I found it to be a great (albeit exhausting) effort.

    First I had to do quite a bit of research to track down everyone who had moved jobs. I spent a fair amount of time googling my friends and learning about their practices, businesses, and accomplishments (not to mention recent marriages, new babies, and other important personal milestones touted on facebook). It was a great experience and allowed me to craft genuine, personalized content for the cards. The cards were therefore fun to write.

    Not including reciprocal holiday cards, I received about 50 follow-up emails, letters, or calls as a result–some of which came a several months later. I took this to be a very good sign indicating that people read my card, appreciated it and that some even put it in their “to-reply to” pile.

    This year? I am not sending a single holiday card. Why? My firm will no longer foot the bill for paper cards and has instead offered an e-card that I cannot personalize . . . much like the one Sam mentions. I refuse to participate in that. So, no holiday cards this year. Perhaps something else. Something that I can afford on my own, something meaningful. Maybe I could find everyone’s birthday and send birthday cards? Or maybe I could just plan to give everyone a call in the coming months to say hi.

  • http://ethicsmaven.com/ Eric Cooperstein

    @sam: I don’t know which prospect I find more alarming: that a single person was vested with the responsibility for sending that e-card (and that’s what they chose) or that a committee of lawyers spent hours choosing amongst different e-cards (to save money), and that’s what they came up with.

    I’ve been on some law firms’ generic card lists for years. Doesn’t make me think to refer cases to them six month later. The folks on the small firm listserv I belong to and on my MN twitter feed — I see their names all the time. A generic holiday card can hardly compete with that.

    It’s also fascinating that large firms would decide to abandon, in one fell swoop, a marketing practice that for years they thought was important enough to spend thousands of dollars a year on (with probably no data to support that) and replace it with a practice that is far cheaper but could produce negative results (although again, probably no data to support that). How did they conclude that it wasn’t worth the money they were spending? I wonder if any firms have ever thought to survey the recipients of their marketing efforts to find out what effect, if any, these holiday greetings have.

    Last thought for now: any change that gets people to send less useless paper that will just be thrown away, I’m in favor of.

  • Gerry Oginski

    Roy- I agree with you 100%.
    Most holiday cards are a waste; preprinted garbage with no personal note attached. They’re better off simply not sending anything. I don’t need to clutter my office with holiday cards to liven things up. My clients don’t care if I have one card or 50 up on the wall and neither does my secretary.

    If the purpose of the card is to be remembered, then take the time to write an actual personalized note and skip the pre-printed nonsense. Better yet, write a personalized letter.

    Gerry

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    The most memorable thing I received so far this year was a lovely Harry & David gift box pyramid from Terri Running as a thank-you for a referral. Chocolate is better than cards, hands down.

    I have never done holiday cards; instead, I send thank-you notes and make thank-you phone calls throughout the year.

  • Jan M. McCray Flemmons

    All interesting thoughts. I’d like to find a better way to do it and avoid the “waste” of paper, costs involved, etc. I am a solo in a very small conservative, traditional town. I considered an open house, but with everyone’s holiday schedules, that seemed impossible. Next idea was an anniversary open house every year to thank my clients (for keeping the doors open) and invite others in the community to come on in. I should add I always send handwritten thank you notes for everything, small gifts as appropriate, and those kind of things throughout the year.

  • http://www.doug-stern.com Doug Stern

    An old friend of mine, a PR pro named John Meehan, used to mail funny, patriotic postcards on the Fourth of July. I prefer a Derby Day scenario (since I live in Louisville) for some of my I’m-thinking-about-you mailings, but I still remember John’s cards.

    Gifts? For my best clients, I send a personalized Louisville Slugger bat.

    Nevertheless, I still send “holiday” cards. They’re table stakes. To get the most for the effort, I send Louisville-themed postcards with memorable photography.

    DOUG

  • Rob Corwin

    I thought you might be interested in this holiday campaign I produced for the law firm Hanson Bridgett.

    Our goal was to do something authentic that would communicate the firm’s unique personality in a memorable way. The solution was a video featuring the firm’s attorneys and staff offering a series of holiday wishes. We delivered the video via a customizable email template.

    The electronic greeting fits nicely with the firm’s commitment to sustainability, and we think it offers an excellent opportunity to enhance the firm’s reputation and mindshare among key contacts as we move into 2010. We’ve received an overwhelmingly enthusisatic response from clients and colleagues.

    View a sample of the email greeting:
    http://www.hansonbridgett.com/holiday/email.html

    -Rob (@RobCorwin on Twitter)