It’s that time of year again – when you begin asking yourself whether you should hold a client-appreciation event for the holidays. And if you do decide to organize a holiday function, how can you make it special and memorable for your clients?
There’s no single answer. Many financial advisors opt to host a little get-together as the sleigh bells ring. Other advisors donate to charities on behalf of clients. And still other advisors choose to spread the joy at another time of year.
But whatever you choose to do for your clients this holiday season, there’s a foundation on which any show of thanks – an event or a gift – must be built.
“Client appreciation should be integral to your marketing plan all year long, not just [during] the holidays,” says Nancy Dorey*, senior partner and communications specialist with Quantum Communications in Halifax. “There’s a lot of hubbub around December, and those ‘best intentioned’ gifts and events may get lost in the noise.”
Thanking clients consistently throughout the year, and in various ways, is a good way to build relationships, Dorey says. “Barbecue tongs and hot sauce in June, followed by an autumn apple-picking event, lets you connect over time, use a mix of in-person and brand-placement techniques, and is a smart way to stretch your marketing budget.”
If you decide to show your appreciation during the holiday season, a thank-you gesture, no matter how small, will not go unnoticed, says Jim Telfer, president of Grafica Event Planners in London, Ont.: “It’s good for business to offer a celebratory gesture. People do want it.”
Timing is important. Although the festivity of the season is conducive to coming together, the busyness of the season can be overwhelming for many clients. “Everybody seems to be bombarded at this time of year,” Telfer says. Because December is such a busy month, you may choose to host an event in late autumn or after Christmas, when clients have more breathing room and your event is likely to stand out more in their minds.
– Choosing your event
Once you’ve decided that you will celebrate, the next decision is the type of festivities to hold. Your event must resonate with clients, be manageable for staff and not break the budget. Some advisors choose to repeat an occasion that has been successful in the past.
“We have an event that we call the ‘very important meeting’,” says Wendy Brookhouse, founder and chief strategist with Black Star Wealth in Halifax. “It’s a holiday meet-and-greet. We invite some clients and other community people for networking and fun. This year is the 10th annual such event.”
Brookhouse notes that her company also has hosted intimate dinners to which clients bring colleagues. These get-togethers have been successful as well, she says.
“We don’t talk a lot about work,” Brookhouse says. “And the clients give us a testimonial.”
Not everything Brookhouse and her team have tried has gone as well, though. “We did a ‘wine and chocolate’ for dental students,” she says. “And that was not a hit.” She’s not sure whether the timing or the location were the cause of the low turnout. But if one event doesn’t go well, don’t be discouraged. Try something else.
Emily Rae, senior financial advisor with Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Halifax, has struck a chord with her clients. Every year, Rae’s team reserves a local cinema and invites clients and their families to a special screening of a current movie. (This year’s movie is The Grinch.)
“It’s a kids’ movie,” Rae says, “and parents and grandparents love the event. It’s very well attended.” Guests receive complimentary popcorn and a soft drink. They are asked to bring an unwrapped gift to donate to a children’s charity. “This [donation] also is very well received,” Rae says, “and clients are so generous!”
Whatever you do, your event must be appropriate to your client base, and it should stand out.
“Know your audience and tailor the experience accordingly,” Dorey says. “What appeals to investors with mortgages and tuition bills won’t appeal to single people, empty nesters and retirees.”
The days of speech-filled cocktail parties have given way to experiential events such as private concerts and outdoor adventures, says Dorey: “The tired, logoed golf shirt is being replaced with gift certificates for your client’s favourite restaurant or spa, accompanied by a handwritten note.”
You also should assess any hidden message you may be sending when you host an event. If the event or gift looks expensive or extravagant, it may raise questions, often unasked, about how you and your team respect and handle money. If you are uncertain, ask clients what they would like you to do as a thank you.
– The invitation
The key to a great event is great attendance. It all begins with the invitation, says Lynn Buckley, owner of Agenda Managers Inc., an event-planning firm in Halifax. Your invitations should send a “very clear message that the person receiving it is integral to your business and that the invitation in itself is a thank-you note in case they don’t attend.”
You can have fun with the invitation, an inducement to get clients to turn out. For example, for one company, Buckley and her team sent invitees a small wooden spinning top with the message: “You have helped take us to the top. We want to thank you for your business.”
Your invitation also will inform guests about what to expect on the day of the event, Telfer says. A fancy invitation, for example, indicates a more formal event. A hand-drawn invitation may be appropriate for a hoedown at the local Legion.
Rae’s invitation to this year’s movie, for example, playfully reflects the theme of the film, with its humorous rhymes and graphics.
– Keep it fresh
Creativity counts. If you’re repeating an event, change it up, Telfer advises. There’s efficiency in doing what you’ve done before; there also can be boredom. Small changes can make a big difference. For example, if you traditionally have a skating party for clients and their families, this year include a winter picnic as part of the event.
Authenticity also is essential. Your event is a client-appreciation initiative, and not the place for selling your services.
“Don’t mix your intent,” Dorey says. “Don’t use a ‘thank you’ gift or event as a sales-pitch opportunity. The bait-and-switch turns clients off. Follow up in the days and weeks afterward with a marketing piece, if desired.”
– Keep it real
For many advisors, the question this time of year is not what to do, but what to give. Glen Rankin, president of Rankin Financial Planning Ltd. in Truro, N.S., likes to keep things simple and practical. Clients are given a pocket calendar, notepad and a pen with an integrated stylus.
“I deliver as many in person as possible during [portfolio] reviews,” Rankin says.
The value of the personal touch cannot be overestimated. “Regardless of the event or gift, what clients remember is how you’ve made them feel,” Dorey says. “So-called ‘practical items’ like mugs kick around clients’ homes and offices for a while, but don’t create a real connection. A skating party or handmade strawberry jam evoke far more emotion and memory.”
In an era of automation and robo- advisors, personalization takes on new meaning and carries with it a greater impact.
“Money decisions are second only to health decisions, and [the former] are driven by emotion and trust,” Dorey says. “When you demonstrate in tangible, sincere ways that you’re thinking about your clients, they’ll notice and respond.”
That’s the message advisors send when they hold a holiday event for clients or present them with a thoughtful gift. Says Rankin: “Being there for [clients] when they need you is the biggest thing.”
AN EVENT CHECKLIST
A festive get-together should resonate with your clients without overwhelming your staff. To help you plan the perfect soiree, Lynn Buckley, owner of Agenda Managers Inc. in Halifax, offers the following tips:
– Keep it simple.
– Most guests prefer Wednesday or Thursday night.
– For a daytime event, a nice luncheon-style function can stretch your budget.
– Consider a location people may not ordinarily have access to, such as a private club, a science centre or a museum. Creating curiosity encourages people to attend your event.
– “Small” can be better than “big.” Three events for just a few clients each may mean more to your clients than one large event.
– A memorable entertainment feature – a short set by a unique performer, for example – can have clients talking all year.
– A small takeaway gift always is appreciated.
MEMO TO STAFF
The annual holiday party for staff members appears to be a popular event across the country.
According to new research from OfficeTeam, a staffing firm based in Toronto, 93% of senior managers of companies that have 50 or more employees say their company will be hosting yearend festivities. Most of those holiday parties (58%) will take place away from the office.
Gift-giving, however, appears not to be a festive favourite for 2018. Almost three-quarters of workers surveyed said they will forgo giving presents in the office at yearend. Twenty-seven per cent do give a little something; 21% give to colleagues and 14% give to their bosses.
*Disclosure: Nancy Dorey and the author both work for Quantum Communications.