Playing the game

Anyone in business knows that there certainly is such a thing as a free lunch. But the marketing boss at one major City law firm says that free lunches, champagne balloon rides, boozy dinners or days at the races are not to everyone's tastes.

While many clients are keen to meet and mingle, others are more sceptical or downright resentful of an invitation which turns into an obligation.

According to one law firm marketing executive, one client said: “If I'm not working, I'm with my family. I sometimes feel obliged to go to these things, which keeps me away from home. I resent it.”

Another American client at a US bank expressed surprise at the quaint UK custom, stating: “New Yorkers don't mix booze and business”. Lunch in New York, even a free lunch, is for wimps after all.

But there are plenty of good reasons to justify corporate entertainment.

So, to avoid a few obvious pitfalls and make your event go swimmingly, here are some do's and don'ts culled from experts in the field:

Do use events to keep in touch with previous as well as current clients when appropriate; new business recommendations can come from either, and lapsed but satisfied business partners can be brought back into the fold.

Do cherry pick clients who are in the best place to provide more of the work which the firm is looking for.

Do consider whether a client may feel more comfortable attending an event if they are able to bring a spouse or colleague.

Do consider the client's ability or willingness to take time out of work, evenings or weekends to attend the event.

Do ensure that, whatever entertainment is planned, the programme allows conversational time between firm members and the client. This demonstrates the sociability of the staff, which may play a key part for clients in deciding between closely-matched legal practices.

Do try to enjoy yourself – it's the best way to put guests at their ease.

Do use the sort of care in arranging events with outside organisers which you would expect to do for any other service. Check out entertainment operators to ensure credit worthiness, and ensure it is clear what the price for the event includes. Check adequate staff are booked to ensure the smooth flow of an event.

Do remember that preparation is the key to success. Make guests aware of travel arrangements, and additional costs which they may incur at events. Make sure any special dietary requirements are taken care of.

Do use events as a low key opportunity to cross sell. If the firm has hired a new team member who adds another skill to the services offered by the firm, put him or her on show.

But don't make the event a hard sell event for the firm – any up-front demonstration of the firm's range of legal skills, charging structure and so on should be kept where it belongs – in the office.

Don't make the event a chore for the client. If the client believes best practice involves keeping his or her distance, then do not pressurise them into a false exercise in bonhomie.

Don't leave it too late to make arrangements. Popular options may not be readily available at certain times of year.

Don't plan events at unseasonable times of year. And outdoor summer events should make some provision for inclement weather.

And finally do drink if you want, but don't get drunk.