To "Seminar" or "Webinar" That is the Question

 

When law firms of any size discuss their marketing and business development tactics, the question invariably comes up: “Do we want to run a seminar?”

Most often, it is followed immediately by another: “Or how about a webinar?”

The two have become intrinsically linked and for good reason. Both allow law firms and attorneys to highlight their expertise on a particular topic and both offer the potential to interact with event attendees.

But they are not exactly the same in the potential benefits and drawbacks they bring to the challenge of business generation.

As long as there has been something to “teach,” people have given seminars and workshops. With the exception of an individual face-to-face interaction, seminars are probably the best means for allowing potentials client to get to know you. It gives them an opportunity to see how you look, think, speak and how you feel about particular issues. For better or for worse, attendees will leave a seminar with a sense as to the kind of person and the kind of attorney you are. This is important because it minimizes the perceived risk the prospect may have in retaining you.

There are other benefits as well. Seminar promotion provides further exposure for the firm and its knowledge of a particular topic – even amongst those individuals who elect not to attend. They also give firms an opportunity to disseminate tangible material in the form of print handouts. Such material can be invaluable in making sure the attendee keeps the firm top-of-mind well as a “pass along” piece for generating referrals. Finally, seminars invariably lift the status of the speaker. For that one hour, he or she is “the” expert in the room.

But seminars are not without their drawbacks. First, when one adds up the cost of facility rental, catering and promotion, the expense can be significantly larger than one might initially think. Second, they are not readily scalable. It is difficult to replicate even the best of seminars to a broad geographic area. And finally, logistics may dictate that prospects who might have an interest in your topic are nonetheless unable to attend your event.

Enter the “webinar” -- the information age’s contribution to making presentations to large groups of people. Webinars offer many of the benefits that seminars do not. First, they are not confined to a particular geography. You can use a webinar to speak with prospects in as small or as large an area as you deem important. Individuals can attend these online events from the comfort of their own desk… or bed. And they can be wearing a fancy suit or be lying in their pajamas. It doesn’t matter. No one can see them. Further, webinars are easily recorded and archived, meaning that even those who could not attend the event have an opportunity to make up for their egregious loss another time. Today, webinars also offer a variety of options for interaction between presenters and attendees in the forms of Q & A, polls, etc. Finally, unlike with seminars, if attendance for your webinar is poor, no one but you will know. You will never have a large room filled with empty chairs. In fact, I’ve witnessed webinars that were presented to an audience of … one!

But, (and there is always a “but” isn’t there?) …. Webinars can be boring. It can get tedious for attendees to stare at their monitor over an extended period of time. More important, webinars lack the personal touch that allows the prospect to get to know the presenter. And for the presenter himself, making presentations to an audience you cannot see presents an interesting challenge. Without visual feedback, it is difficult to know whether you are getting through to your audience. You won’t even know if your best one-liner is being met with a smile or a rolling of the eyes.

So how does a law practice determine which approach is best to pursue?

As one might guess, that answer lies on the kind of practice you are promoting, the inherent nature of the topic to be discussed, the makeup of your target prospects, and of course, one’s budget.

Allow me to take each of these up in kind.

Certain practice areas lend themselves to one form of presentation over another. For example, a law firm that focuses exclusively on family law probably draws its clients from a rather small geographical area. In contrast, a firm that is dedicated to business law probably targets an area that is much larger. Reaching this audience via a single seminar may be difficult. In general, the more locally your practice is focused, the more likely it will be that seminars represent a better option.

But not always…

What happens if our family law firm wishes to present a workshop on domestic violence or a bankruptcy firm wants to outline the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. This is because individuals may have serious reservations about exposing their vulnerabilities in front of others (e.g., “Oh, so you have been hit by your spouse too?”). Webinars offer anonymity and thus might make more sense for sensitive matters.

The make-up of your target market is the third variable to consider. If your firm is business-to-business focused and wishes to reach as many CEO’s as possible, webinars provide a means for doing so. If your goal is to get a smaller group of CEOs to get to know you personally, then seminars probably present a better option.

Finally, there’s the matter of cost. As mentioned, webinars offer a lower-costing alternative to seminars. Yet, while at first blush, this may appear to make your decision a no-brainer, this cost savings must be weighed against the acquisition costs of gaining new clients. It is quite possible that that expensive seminar may actually do better on a cost per new client basis.

In conclusion, as with all elements of marketing, there is “no one size fits all.” The key to success in utilizing either method lies in having a real appreciation of the merits and drawbacks of each and an appreciation for how prospects “consume” such media.

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