The first day of Hanukkah is upon us, so if you haven’t gotten your holiday cards out yet (like me), you’re too late. I’m just kidding.

But in all seriousness, while some firms and lawyers are still using paper cards, others have gone the electronic route, and still others (like the ILN, actually) have opted out of holiday cards entirely, you may be wondering what the point is, and how to stand out.

Some firms stand out by sending cards for alternate holidays or birthdays instead of traditional holiday cards, and others use the opportunity to pen a personalized note, thanking their clients and friends for their success and support throughout the year. But I’d like to share with you what one firm did, which was SO different, that it’s stuck with me for an entire year.

At the end of 2016, I had the pleasure of serving with some fellow Legal Marketing Association members as a judge for the Your Honor Awards, considered to be the Oscars of Legal Marketing. YHA is a competitive process, with a lot of smart, talented people and firms entering, so to stand out, you must have a compelling project. To stand out in a category with a holiday card, you must REALLY have something special. 

Levenfeld Pearlstein (LP) eschewed the paper and electronic card last year, and instead mailed hundreds of locked boxes to clients, friends and colleagues.

The note on the top of the box instructed each recipient to visit www.fourteenweeks.com, where they would watch a short (two and a half-minute) video that would provide them with the code they needed to unlock the box. The video itself showcased their community partner, Chicago’s Community Kitchen (CCK), which is run by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and helps unemployed and underemployed people find work in the food-service industry through a 14-week training program that includes two weeks of on-the-job training. Throughout the video, viewers are taken on a journey with the program participants, who finish by making the chocolate and caramel bark that turn out to be the contents of the locked box. The code (113) used to unlock the box was also the number of program graduates to date (do you have chills yet? Watch the video).

As judges, we were really floored for a few reasons. First, the firm itself was really a subtle footnote throughout the piece. Though its name was overlaid in the bottom corner of the video and Levenfeld’s managing partner is the person offering the closing message, the focus truly was the charity, which gave recipients a great feeling about the program – and, by extension, the firm itself. For all of us, we felt that this was evidence of marketing that illustrated a firm’s actual values, rather than paying lip service. Second, the results were astounding. In addition to obviously getting the attention of everyone who received a box, the firm got offers of assistance for CCK, including donations. One of Levenfeld’s clients even offered to serve as a venue for future CCK on-the-job training. The judges – myself included – agreed that more than any other piece of collateral, this was something that a client would remember, would be encouraged to send additional work to the firm to support projects like this, and would give them the confidence that this is the type of partner that they want to have. Ultimately, it was a unique way to showcase a firm’s values in a tangible way. All of that, just for a holiday card.

What lessons can we learn from this to apply to our own holiday card efforts to make them equally memorable?

  1. Drive curiosity: Who could resist the lure of getting a mysterious box in the mail that you need a code to open? (Yes, in this day and age, it can also be a wee bit risky, but it clearly states it’s from their law firm. Don’t just send mysterious blank boxes out). LP plays on our natural curiosity with this gift, but they don’t make it overly complicated. If they’d required recipients to watch even a five-minute video, it might have been too much work. But at the holidays, a fun surprise and a little drama and intrigue can go a long way.
  2. Make it about someone else: The entire video is about CCK. As I mentioned, LP’s managing partner makes an appearance at the end, but not to talk about the firm, or their work with CCK, but just to offer the code. The firm’s involvement in the video and the production is subtle at the most. Instead, CCK is the clear star of the show. While many firms today use their e-cards as an opportunity to highlight the charities that they’ve donated to, or are working with, those charities often end up more as the footnote to the card than the firm does. This was the first time I’d seen the firm take a true backseat to their community service partner. And it was more than just for the purpose of the card – CCK is an organization that LP works with throughout the year (more on that in a moment). Truly showcasing your community partners or even your clients at this time of year is refreshing and unique.
  3. Think outside the box (or with a box): Everyone in the industry gets hundreds of paper and e-cards this time of year, so to be memorable, they have to be really unique. But what if you threw out that standard all together? LP sent a box with chocolate in it – but it was more than a box. It was a message, and a community journey, and a lesson about their firm, and a way to feel invested in both the firm and their community partner. What if we thought entirely outside the box and re-imagined our holiday cards in a new way? Yes, it can be exhausting to consider the idea that we need to add yet another challenge to our list at the end of the year, but if we look at it as an opportunity to get really creative and inventive, it could be an exciting way to engage with the most valuable audiences that we have.
  4. Match messaging with values: The showcasing of CCK in this way wasn’t just lip service by LP – this is an organization that they work with, and that they’ve made the conscious effort to support throughout the year. Many firms also have similar partners in their communities. The message that such an initiative communicates is that LP is a firm that is invested in their community and they are passionate about the work that they do. They translate this into being about client service, which is reflected throughout all of their messaging – and you believe it, because you see it carried out in their community work. While every firm is different, and you don’t have to copy LP to be memorable, what you CAN do is look at what your firm’s values are, and how you can best communicate those – not just in your everyday messaging, but in your holiday messaging  as well. LP clearly lives their values, from their community work right through to their holiday cards. How can you do that?
  5. Use multiple channels: The firm doesn’t stop at just sending a box of chocolate – which, for some of us, can be pretty memorable. One of my friends sends me a box of cookies and brownies from a famous New York City bakery every holiday, and you can be sure that that’s pretty memorable for me, since I have a serious sweet tooth. But this holiday card is a campaign. It straddles the physical, with the actual box and chocolate, to the virtual, with the video and associated website, where the firm invites you to share about it on social media. Many firms already embrace using social media to extend the reach of their e-cards at the holidays, which is a great way to share their messages. But that’s also starting to feel standard. What’s a unique, innovative way to engage a multi-channel approach with your cards that almost acts like a treasure hunt, encouraging the recipients to engage with you and your firm in more than one place? Bring people to your website, your social media, your place of business, your clients, your community partners, etc. Again, this is a challenge to think outside the box, but it’s a way to stand out from the rest of the industry, and indeed, everyone else sharing their holiday greetings.

At this point, you may be wondering why this even matters? A fun, funny, or memorable holiday greeting sounds great, but what’s the big deal, especially if you’re a busy lawyer?

  • I first saw this holiday campaign about a year ago, and I still think about it on a semi-regular basis, and can recall the firm name easily. Before I experienced it, I’d never heard of Levenfeld Pearlstein. Can you be as confident that your holiday card inspires such name recognition and recall of your firm, even by your clients?
  • Not only can I easily recall the card and name, but the entire experience (though I didn’t receive a box myself), gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. I thought the idea was brilliant, so I respect it from a marketing perspective, but I also love the work they’re doing, and I want them to do more of it. If I was a client or potential client, that’s the type of firm I’d want to work more with – I would know that they were doing good in the community, and I’d want to support more of that.
  • We’ve said before that being good lawyers is table stakes these days, so the differentiator is always going to be something else. What makes you memorable? Is it the work that you do in the community as showcased and made memorable in your holiday card? Maybe. That may just tell clients, potential clients, and referral sources the type of lawyer you are.

While it’s too late to reinvent the holiday card wheel for 2017, start giving some serious consideration to how you can help your holiday cards stand out in 2018. Or you might just have enough time to come up with a brilliant campaign for Valentine’s Day.