Law firm marketers can learn a lot from Clark W. Griswold.

As a fictional character portrayed by Chevy Chase in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," Griswold teaches executives a lesson in professional development when he thanks his boss for remembering him during the holiday season. Frank Shirley, the CEO of Griswold's company, appears confused and turns to an assistant for help.

"Corporate cards, sir," the aide explains.

The season of giving begins in less than a month, which means that professional services such as law firms are deciding who -– if anyone -– should remain on the holiday greeting card list. Viewed as a necessary nuisance by some, the card game has become a type of communication chaos, one that can end up demanding significant time, money, and resources from lawyers who care enough to send the very best.

Choosing a card fitting for all is difficult in that several choices have to be made: Will the card be mass produced by a paper products distributor, or designed by a different artist each year? Should the verse be neutral in tone as to not offend clients who celebrate in non-traditional ways, or should firms call holidays by their given names? Which clients are most deserving of a firm greeting, or should every contact in the marketing database receive one?

Legal consultant, Larry Bodine believes only one question needs to be asked. Will the card be signed?

"To put it simply, holiday cards to some lawyers are no more than an obligation, another form of advertising, or an annoyance during this busy time of year," Bodine wrote on his Web site. "Of course, I know lawyers who truly get into the spirit of the seasons, and mean it when they send a card extending best wishes for the holidays. I can tell because they include a note and personally sign the card," he blogged.

Bodine went on to explain how not signing one's name (in one's own handwriting) sends potentially insulting messages to clients and friends of the firm. Either the client isn't important for the lawyer to personalize the card, or the relationship isn't profitable enough. Perhaps an administrative assistant managed the project, or the firm ordered cards and hired a mailing agency to take care of the work. In the midst of wondering who sent what and why, one piece of evidence presents itself: There was no effort in the sending of this card.

If a firm decides to send greetings the old-fashioned way, then rainmakers need to be prepared to make a financial commitment to the detailed process. Baudville Greetings promotes free personalization, one-day turnaround, unique designs, and over 20 verses to choose from through an online catalog. Still, if a large firm chooses to send a top-quality card to its entire database, which may contain as many as 20,000 complete addresses, the total cost could be $25,000 (before postage fees). For boutique firms on a budget, complimentary e-cards may be more appropriate. The majority of firms, though, have elected to toss the entire issue in the trash.

Creative alternatives to the traditional greeting card include making a donation to a local charity in honor of all firm clients, or sponsoring a special event at a regional gallery or museum and opening the doors to the public. Some firms purchase full-page advertising space in statewide business magazines to display gratitude, while other lawyers produce public service announcements to wish clients and friends a safe and happy new year.

However, firms everywhere could steal an idea from Clark Griswold's boss, Mr. Shirley. He enrolled his senior-level managers in the Jelly-of-the-Month Club.

As Clark's infamous Cousin Eddie exclaimed, "That's the gift that keeps on giving the whole year!"

Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, LLC, a writing and editing agency based in Charleston.

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