Caroline Kennedy stood demurely Wednesday evening in a short black-and-white cocktail dress, a smudge of gray still on her forehead from earlier Ash Wednesday observations. Surrounding her were about 50 clients and friends of planners Derek Holman and Brian Parker, co-founders of EP Wealth Advisors in Torrance, Calif.

“If you’d like to ask questions ... ” one of Kennedy’s handlers offered. The guests smiled awkwardly diving in.

“What advice do you give your daughters?” a woman wanted to know.

"What do you have on your iPhone?” another woman asked. (Everything from Mary Poppins to Jay-Z, Kennedy told her -- mostly downloaded by her daughters.)

The event, held in an upstairs ballroom at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, was the fifth major client appreciation event that EP Wealth has held. Past speakers who’ve gotten up close and personal with the firm’s guests -- mostly clients and strategic partners -- include Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Robert Redford and Suze Orman.

“They are providing a different service than what [clients] normally look to them for,” said Calvin Hedman, founder of a CPA firm that often partners with EP Wealth. At EP Wealth’s urging, Hedman had invited 15 people to the Kennedy event -- including bankers, attorneys, existing clients and three prospects.

Holman and Parker say the firm has found the gatherings to be so successful that they will continue holding them.


Holman, Parker and other planners offered several pieces of specific advice for advisors interested in holding effective client events.

1. Think about headcount

Many firms prefer relatively small events, for up to 50. But you also want to encourage clients to bring guests. Reston, Va., planner Miye Wire regularly invites clients and their friends and family to a cherry blossom viewing and picnic in nearby Washington D.C. The first time they went, the group took a chartered bus and everyone received Japanese bento boxes for lunch. “We had no idea if anyone was going to register for the event and were overwhelmed when almost 90 people tried to sign up,” Wire says. “We had to close off registration once the bus was full, and pledged to charter two buses for the next year.” Speaking of headcount: Send reminder emails beforehand to make sure your entire group turns up.

2. Target specific client groups

Seattle-based planning firm Brighton Jones held a sit-down dinner specifically for Microsoft alumni, pouring local wines and featuring food prepared by a famous Seattle chef. Los Angeles-based Aspiriant decided to host a reunion dinner for a group of clients who had all worked together at a single technology firm several years earlier -- and who had become the firm's best referral network. “The event was a huge success,” Aspiriant CEO Rob Francais says. “[I]t was an opportunity for the founder to say thanks to the management team.”

3. Provide interaction

A shared activity helps clients and guests get to know each other better. RegentAtlantic in Morristown, N.J., has taken groups of clients on community service outings. Other firms invite clients to spend an evening at a local cooking school, learning how to make homemade pasta or ethnic dishes.

4. Partner up

Brighton Jones partnered with the Microsoft Alumni Foundation for its dinner event. EP Wealth works with the Distinguished Speakers Series in Manhattan Beach, Calif. The series finds big-name speakers and secures sponsorships from multiple organizations, which take turns hosting the intimate gatherings before the main talk; after rubbing shoulders with EP Wealth’s guests, Kennedy headed downstairs to the auditorium’s main stage to speak before 2,000 people.

5. Have celebrity guests

Brighton Jones held a wine tasting event with Drew Bledsoe, a former NFL quarterback who now owns the Doubleback Winery in Walla Walla, Wash.

6. Consider gift bags

Give guests something to take home. While clients at the Bledsoe event could buy Doubleback wines, other firms have given away bottles of wine to guests.

7. Location, location

Hold the event somewhere upscale and/or comfortable. Brighton Jones held the Bledsoe event at the home of the planning firm’s founder, Charles Brighton. “We wanted to bring our clients and their guests together and provide them with a comfortable way to meet one another,” says the firm’s marketing manager, Christina Sylvester says.

8. Get feedback

Events can be pricey, so you want to make sure your guests enjoy them.Survey clients before organizing an event to find out what would interest them. Then send out surveys afterwards to gauge an event’s success.