Marketing events manager Leanne Loome has quite literally seen it all over the past six months, from a small home office fire breaking out, unintentionally shared lavatory breaks, many family pets, and even occasional nudity.
Apart from a few and thankfully spared blushes, national law firm Mills & Reeve has quickly and successfully made the shift from in-person to online events, as The Professionals discovered. The journey has led her team to win acclaim for the webinars delivered across the firm.
Mills & Reeve with its six offices and 1,100 staff has always run a busy events programme – around 200 seminars, roundtables, conferences and client entertaining events a year – before COVID turned off one of the foundation stones of professional services marketing.
The firm was, says Leanne, quick to bounce back thanks in part to a year-long research project into adding an online element to its events offering.
“The first couple of weeks in March was spent both cancelling events and exploring alternative and online events,” Leanne says. “And within four weeks of the national lockdown we held our first webinar. The firm moved quickly, and the demand was there.”
Yet it was far from straightforward. The firm despite its ongoing research project had not yet identified a suitable technology platform or held an online event.
“We settled quickly on Zoom as it delivered what we needed to run online events, would sit alongside our other IT systems and enabled us to use helpful reporting tools,” explains Leanne. “But it needed significant input from across our finance, IT, marketing and Risk & Compliance teams before we were ready to go.”
Sensibly, Leanne and her five-strong events team used the new platform to host a series of internal BD meetings to better understand how it can be used before the firm’s first live webinar, working closely with the communications, BD, digital, and technology teams.
“We quickly discovered that a whole new training programme was needed to give partners and fee-earning colleagues the confidence needed to use Zoom, from starting a meeting, sharing screens, and running a poll.
“It was also apparent that rehearsing and changing the way presentations were made was also needed – it isn’t easy presenting to a camera on screen and where the interaction of a physical audience is missing.
“For example, we found that if a presenter were to take a pause that lasted just a little too long, delegates began to think there was a problem with the technology or internet connection. A new way of thinking was needed.”
The firm also found that its often star presenters, the extrovert lawyer, did not necessarily gravitate easily to online events and that its more introverted lawyers found a new confidence. All have needed the support of its marketing and events team more than ever.
Six months on, the number of events in the calendar has not slowed down, but the shape of events is changing.
“Zoom fatigue is definitely setting in,” says Leanne. “Recently, we’ve noticed audience numbers falling away at some of our longer webinars, usually around the 45 minute mark. So we advised our lawyers to adopt a winning approach we use for some of our webinar series – bite-sized sessions with 15 minutes of content and 15 minutes of questions. Smaller roundtable discussions have proved very successful too and help create a much more personal event.
“We are also encouraging lawyers to ditch the slide deck and present on what they know, making for a more human event.”
Mills & Reeve has yet to run its own virtual conference but some of its lawyers have attended large industry conferences held virtually and the jury remains out on their effectiveness.
“Online conferences in some instances haven’t appeared to be as successful,” says Leanne. “Keeping momentum over a full day means organisers are having to work hard to find ways to engage with their audience more than ever before. I believe there is definitely a case to split conference content into smaller, more digestible chunks across different days to allow optimum delegate concentration and for them to fit into people’s days more effectively.
“We are not ruling conferences out, but we are making sure that there is a strong business case and a clear return on that investment. In many ways, the shift to online events has reinforced good marketing behaviours.”
But with no in-person events on the horizon, the big question is will they ever return? Leanne is completely convinced they will.
“Events are engrained into the DNA of legal marketing. We are social beings and we want to meet and engage with colleagues, clients and referral networks.”
“They will return, but they will not replace online events – they are here to stay. With people likely to be working from home for part of the week for the foreseeable future, the traditional client seminar where learning is shared is likely to remain online for quite some time.
And that, says Leanne, will make in-person events more valued to both clients and law firms.