CHARLESTON -- Jacqueline Whitmore considers herself an expert on business etiquette and corporate protocol.
Her Web site, etiquetteexpert.com, summarizes the rules of proper behavior, which includes a topic called "The Power of Positive Thanking."
Her viewpoint is simple: Entertain important guests in an intimate setting to advance professional objectives. Pay special attention to the guest list, separate cliques and couples, and offer a diverse menu with an assortment of beverages.
The Dallas division of law firm giant Baker Botts chose a different approach for its annual client appreciation event. Firm management reserved The Frontiers of Flight Museum to showcase a live concert by the flamboyant rock band, The B-52's. An informal, relaxed setting served as the backdrop for the theme of the night -– "Love Shack".
The attorney responsible for planning Baker Botts' bash explained that quiet and reserved events no longer entertain clients as they did two decades ago. By increasing the tempo of firm functions, more than 1,300 guests attended the concert, which was held in February. According to various ticket sale vendors, a front row seat at a B-52's performance can cost as much as $275.00 per person. Although Baker Botts' event coordinators refused to disclose the amount of money spent on this particular gala, insiders admitted that the expense was worth every dollar.
Marketers struggle to find unique, exciting, and creative ways to thank clients, especially if budgets prevent them from booking Top 40 musicians. Similarly, special event coordinators feel pressured to think of new ways to entertain people who have everything, or have the resources to do anything they please.
Corporate party planners suggest "over-the-top events", which include scuba diving and snorkeling excursions, archaeology digs, safari trips, exotic cruises, and private fireworks displays. Some professional etiquette gurus feel that while large parties with highly energetic entertainment can be fun and memorable, the ole' traditional, handwritten note can be as impressive.
For the larger-than-life law firm with deep pockets, spending a lot of money to impress clients poses a great risk. What happens when "thank you" becomes more of a solicitation than a display of gratitude?
Consultant Wendy Werner explained in an article published by Law Practice Today, that the right mix of marketing and gift-giving takes careful thought.
"This is not the time to be self-serving," Werner said. "If the gift is truly about the recipient, giving brand-oriented materials may not show your true appreciation. Sometimes people give their clients gifts that include gift certificates for restaurants. Although your client may enjoy your time, it may be more of a gift to let them have a great meal with their spouse or friend without an attached business component," she stated. "On the other hand, time with their attorney without an accompanying bill can be perceived as a gift. The key is to know your client and what will make them feel appreciated."
Werner went on to describe how spontaneity plays a role in client appreciation, avoiding typical times of the year such as holidays to show clients how important they are to the firm.
"Of course, the best way that you can show your appreciation of a client is through doing good work. And the best way to tend the relationship is through good communication," Werner continued. "From the highest grossing partner to the front line receptionist, everyone in your organization needs to understand the importance of all of your clients. Returning phone calls, responding to e-mail, checking in, and treating all client matters with the seriousness they deserve is the best acknowledgement of all."
However, if a firm wants to throw a party that will keep people talking for months and years to come, it may be best to have Baker Botts' book of business to help pay the tab. Halliburton, Texas Instruments, and Reliant Energy were listed as clients.
Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, LLC, a professional writing and editing agency based in Charleston.