The 10 tools listed below to measure an event's return on investment are ranked in order of their use by special event professionals. The rankings come from the 2011 "Corporate Event Marketplace" study from Special Events Magazine. Here, Jim Cavanaugh, founder of new live events and meetings agency Proscenium, evaluates the merits and shortcomings of each:
No. 1 Response from attendees Although this is the quickest, most immediate way to garner a response to your event, it is certainly one of the more unscientific methods as well. We find that although very important, attendee response can be inconsistent in that people are not always as honest in their feedback in this setting and, more importantly, they may be responding based on criteria that are not aligned with the program's objectives.
No. 2 New client leads Where a new client lead can be tied directly to an event, this is an extremely effective way of measuring ROI. The magic, of course, lies in the quality of the leads that are generated. The number of leads alone is not a true barometer, as simply securing names and contact information is not relevant if those leads are not true purchasing prospects.
No. 3 Client retention While client retention is a primary driver for all organizations, the goal for business partner events should be more than simply client retention—it should be client growth. By putting on an event that has relevant content and engagement for you business partners, you will enhance (and ideally grow) the client relationship and drive money to your bottom line. Commitment from your clients will drive performance—both theirs and yours.
No. 4 Total attendance Another indicator that you are doing something right! However, attendee numbers alone do not tell the whole story. For a national sales meeting for example, it is most likely required—or "strongly implied"—that you attend. So in that case—the numbers are not a true indicator. On the other hand, if you are conducting a business partner event, the attendee numbers are certainly significant.
No. 5 Revenue Where revenue-generating events are concerned, this is clearly an important ROI indicator. Assuming revenue is a primary objective—and why wouldn't it be! —then measuring your revenue against your target will go a long way in determining your event's success from an ROI perspective.
No. 6 Survey results We find that survey results can be a tremendous indicator of ROI—if done correctly. Ideally, the survey questions will be created after a clear list of program objectives has been established; the questions contained within the survey will then be created to determine whether or not those objectives were met. The other significant factor in creating a survey to measure ROO or ROI is that the survey must be conducted both pre and post event. The only true way to measure how much of an influence an event has had on the mindset of an audience is to compare their pre- and post-event responses to those same questions. It is also important that the response choices provide enough latitude to make them differentiated. While traditional rating responses are effective, we find that we are able to gain even further insight when we include "verbatims" (written responses that allow for specific and expanded feedback). This helps us and our clients form a road map for subsequent events.
No. 7 Quality of attendees Getting the right audience to the right event is the key to any event's success. More so than "quantity," the quality of the attendees at an event can lead to significant ROI/ROO. If you are conducting a meeting where business partners and/or prospects comprise the majority of the audience, then the quality of those customers and prospects can lead to organic growth within existing relationships and new business where prospects are concerned. The old adage of it being "just a numbers game" does not hold true today. It is more and more about a targeted audience that aligns with your program, brand and company objectives.
No. 8 Response from management Always important to get positive feedback from those who have a strong voice in your event's future—and oftentimes yours as well! Because it is becoming more and more important that events demonstrate discernible ROI/ROO, a strong endorsement from management can go a long way in helping sustain the internal momentum and buy-in for an event or series of programs.
No. 9 Sales growth If it were only that simple! Tying sales directly to an event has been the holy grail in our industry for years. Because there are so many touch-points in a given sales cycle, it is very difficult to tie sales to a single event. That being said, a positive experience at an event can go a long way in helping contribute to an eventual sale, either from a satisfied customer or engaged and motivated internal sales audience perspective. On the flip side, a poorly conceived and executed event can have a detrimental effect on sales.
No. 10 Press/media coverage Where consumer programs are concerned, positive press and media coverage is a primary objective, and for these events, this becomes a strong indicator of ROI/ROO. Again, positive press and media coverage is usually a primary objective because it results in increased awareness and performance.
And …. All of the above criteria have their place in determining the ROI/ROO of an event. However, the best programs utilize a combination of these methods, as each one has its own merits. Think of it as combination therapy in the pharmaceutical industry. It is oftentimes that several therapies—when used together—provide the best outcomes. Each has its strengths (efficacy) and weaknesses (side effects), but when combined, they drive optimal results. And just like a good course of treatment starts with a strong diagnosis, a good measurement approach starts with strong objectives. The end goal: Gain commitment and drive performance.
CONTACT: Proscenium, 247 W. 36th St., New York, NY 10018; 917/791-5700; www.prosceniumgoup.com