As ROI – Return on Investment – becomes an ever larger discussion topic, clients as well as events managers have varying views on how precisely companies should quantify what they have achieved by hosting an event.
For meetings, seminars, conferences, internal functions and client events, the goals and metrics are all very different. The objective of the event could be a thank you to those who have supported the organisation, in which case return customers will tell a company exactly how successful it was. For events intended to boost morale or as an incentive trip for sales and marketing high achievers, the equation is more complex.
Some in the industry believe that ROI is overrated – that in many contexts, it does more to hinder a company’s ability to host successful events that are aimed at intangible objectives. On the other hand, there are those that claim that even human emotion can be broken down into fiscal terms, and thus, ROI can be defined in a way that makes sense both on the events side and the business side.
Elling Hamso, managing partner at European Event ROI Institute, argues that you can indeed measure this but it may not be as easy as it sounds. “The simple answer is yes, you can convert meeting and event results to money values and you can isolate the results from other influences. The not-so-simple answer is that it depends on how much money and time you have and what degree of accuracy you need for the answer. ROI measurement is a lot more than just returning a number,” he says.
To effectively evaluate a meeting or event, planning must go into identifying objectives, deciding how those will be assessed – on the scale, in comparison to previous years, based on sales, on feedback, etc – and ensuring that throughout the process, those goals remain the focus.
While it may seem like common sense to establish clear, concise objectives before planning an event, Abbie McCrisken, director, Off-site Connections in Macau, says that some clients don’t dig down deep enough and ask the fundamental questions, which makes assessing an event very difficult. “Sometimes getting to the bottom of what exactly a client wants to achieve can be challenging. You need to ask things like, ‘Why are we having this? Is it motivational? Are you launching a new product? Is it about brand awareness?’.”
Equally, if a company wants to hold a meeting and there are no specific objectives, then the potential to save money and hold the meeting internally – or redefine what type of measurable objectives might be needed – is rife with opportunity for improving ROI, both from a financial perspective and a business objective perspective.
This type of discovery process should involve key stakeholders who can give the events team an outline of the meeting or event content, speakers and invitees, as well as strategic objectives for the company and the attendees.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean relegating this group to senior executives. Says Debby Cheung, group managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide: “For a morale-boosting or internal event – a kind of town hall meeting, we typically survey employees who will be present and design a programme around their responses.” This enables the organisation to define the objectives they will track post-event and lays out a method for internal and external surveys at some point in the future.
Cheung adds that easily quantifiable metrics include participant numbers, the profile of the participants, sales over a certain period after the event, and new enquiries from potential clients. Several of these are clear dollar-denominated results, while others require identifying a way to quantify human emotion and behaviour. All of this should be thoroughly explored well before the event takes place. Time spent on choosing canapés that suit all tastes, the right amount of wine and the best cover band, unless one of these directly impacted the business objectives – food poisoning, running out of alcohol or a band that didn’t show – can be considered fluff where ROI is concerned.
While ROI for some event categories is a relatively new phenomenon, staff training is an area in which countless studies are done every year to ensure that the money invested in workshops, lectures and classes sees a positive result. Transposing that into a larger meetings and events context can shed some light on how to design an ROI barometer that works for the company in a consistent fashion.
As Hamso of European Event ROI Institute explains: “Calculating the ROI takes a lot more than just adding a few more questions to your meeting evaluation form. After all, you are going to convert meeting results into monetary values and you have to make sure that results you measure come from the meeting itself and not some other influences.”
He suggests committing “two to five percent of your meeting or event budget to do a proper ROI measurement. This means that you will not try to measure the ROI in every meeting or event, but instead focus on those which are high profile, high-spend or strategically important, where it is really important to know if your money is well spent.”
Ben Taylor, senior vice-president, managing director, APAC for Jack Morton Worldwide, gives some insights into the way that the firm approaches this complex issue. “Imagine there are five key objectives around holding an event. For each of those objectives, we can determine which ones are most important. By simply asking carefully crafted questions relating to the objectives to target attendees either before (through an online registration system) or at the beginning of an event (through paper surveys or digitally through the web), we gain an understanding of their current state of mind towards these.”
As a point of follow-up communication, a similar but carefully re-engineered survey cam be sent out, “so it doesn’t feel we are just asking them the same questions”. After that “we can gather enough data to measure a shift in perception relating to the objectives of the event – and presto, we have a metric of ROE (Return on Experience) success”.
“The impact of an event grows over time,” says Gordon Berg, a senior strategist at US-based research company Event Metrics. He adds that “when we follow up with attendees, we ask: ‘Have you talked to friends and family?’ And we are able to measure word of mouth that way. It is what we call BPT – buzz per thousand.”
Digital communication has also changed the way – and the accuracy with which – companies are able to gather feedback. Says Taylor of the digital revolution: “With digital communication, events are becoming a much more strategic platform, elevated in importance in the marketing mix. The ability to extend the timeframe and reach of an ‘event’ through pre-, during and post-event digital communications is revolutionary to our sector, and it also provides a great interactive channel for collating data with which to measure the effectiveness of an event campaign.”
Companies can now track how well an event is being anticipated or was received through social media by setting up groups on popular websites, or on internal discussion boards. Further, with the general public more open to email feedback, tracking all sorts of incidental information, profiles and opinions.
Less hi-tech but just as important is media tracking. If an event receives media coverage, published advertising rates for a particular magazine or newspaper can give a company the exact dollar amount of press an event received. Contrast that with the amount it would have taken to place the same number of advertisements, or fly in media to cover the event, and there could be ROI that had not previously been considered.
There are, of course, situations in which every aspect of an event may not be able to contribute on a quantifiable scale. But, says Toby Leung, MD, Auditoire/China: “If you take a calculated risk and do something that is spectacular, you can double your returns. The coverage, the perceived value, and the fact that your event will be unforgettable makes the experience stand out.”
ROI remains a hotly debated issue, particularly as not all meetings and events are directly correlated to a bottom line. It is, however, a starting point from which companies can see how effectively their business objectives have been met, which aspects of the event resonated with attendees, and which need to change in the future. It may not yet be a perfect system, but it is a reliable benchmark and should be – in some way, shape or form – a consistent business practice.
Ben Taylor of Jack Morton Worldwide, talks to Mix about why relying too heavily on strict ROI terms can be misleading and potentially miss the point.
Mix: You have a slightly controversial view of how important ROI is in evaluating meetings and events. Can you tell us about that?
BT: I really don’t believe that ROI is truly measurable against a single marketing activity or tactic. Events are just one touch-point among a plethora of stimuli that cause an individual to march in a trance-like state to a shop and dust off his wallet.
Mix: But the term ROI implies that by investing, you will get something out of it, which is ostensibly why some events are held in the
BT: I also take a personal umbrage to the term ROI because it assumes that the only thing people want to measure is increase in sales and money, which apart from being vulgar is not always the case. Of course relating to events, ROI (measurement of financial return in my language) is typically a key metric of success relating to consumer events and there are some activities employed there such as giving away discount coupons that can track communities spending patterns back to the event activity.
Mix: What should people be measuring in terms of success of an event then?
BT: Relating to B2B and internal events the objectives might not be directly associated with financial return, although I acknowledge that arguably everything is somehow linked to financial return. Typically, we see stakeholders wishing to have transparency on how they have elevated their brand perception, motivated their staff, build relationships, effectively communicated their strategy, and the list goes on…
Mix: How does Jack Morton evaluate events for clients?
BT: Well, there is much “secret recipe” stuff here that would see me unemployed (and unemployable) if I were to spill the beans, but one area that I can share is that typically we are not looking to measure ROI. Instead, we are measuring ROE – Return on Experience. What we are saying is that instead of trying to measure the effect an event has on driving incremental sales in isolation, the intention here is to measure the change in perception of the target participants as a consequence of attending the event or event-led campaign.
Of course in reality there is a lot more strategy and planning that needs to go in to the exercise but that recipe is more sacred than Colonel Sanders’ one for basting a chicken wing.
Broad categories to measure
Was it engaging?
Did it contribute to a theme?
Did it advocate a message?
Word of Mouth
Sales by Source
New Leads or Enquiries