Target ROIMay 6, 2024

Getting the Most Return Out of Today’s Events By
May 6, 2024

Target ROI

Getting the Most Return Out of Today’s Events
Grace Hopper Celebration elevates its brand by crafting a great social media moment. Courtesy of Brent Turner

Grace Hopper Celebration elevates its brand by crafting a great social media moment. Courtesy of Brent Turner

In today’s economic climate, planning and evaluating meetings and events for bottom line value is more important than ever. Given the economy, price certainly is a critical deciding factor for planners, but other meaningful outcomes include event satisfaction rates, attendance rates and metrics related to the net revenue.

In today’s corporate businesses, all capital expenditures must be connected to some kind of target ROI. Additionally, when service providers, such as meeting planners prioritize ROI, they’re able to focus on ideas that both deliver on those targets and maximize the client’s budget accordingly.

“Ultimately, our goal is to generate a positive business impact for them through our experiences, whether that translates to deal flow, talent retention, recruiting, etc.,” says PJ Loughran, CEO and founder of EMÁJYN, an executive experience agency reimagining corporate and business retreats, events and experiences. The biggest measures of ROI really depends on the event. For corporate retreats, ROI is typically talent retention and positive sentiment or experience reviews.

“For referral or client trips, deal flow multiples against the cost of the experience. For executive retreats, typically the CEO’s positive reviews and hopefully repeat business the next year,” Loughran says.

AJ Williams, founder and executive producer of AJ Events, says focusing on ROI is important because it identifies the event’s strength and weaknesses, plus the planner’s performance, as well as the performance of vendors. It determines what you can build on and modify. ROI also allows planners to communicate the impact and the event’s value. With this, planners can justify event components implemented, and the meeting and event planning budget now and in the future. One of the biggest measures of event ROI is increase in registrations, tickets sales and attendance. “This means that your marketing reach has grown and what you are promoting has value,” says Williams. “If sponsorships and partnerships have increased, that means you are not only offsetting your expenses but allowing for more activations and experiences for your attendees while increasing or showing your value.”

Another important measure of ROI is press coverage and social media impressions and engagement. If attendees are creating exposure by posting and sharing stories, this further drives exposure for the event, cause or company brand.

Williams recommends planners look for what attendees are saying on social so planners can track engagement and what works. Learn how they heard of the event, make changes if need be, and use any and all information planners can gather by listening online.

“I suggest using influencers to track engagement and reach. In regard to revenue tracking, use gross revenue versus net based on your goals,” Williams recommends planners. “Determine your objectives and align them with your event marketing and budget goals. Then use an event specific ROI formula.”

AJ Events uses as a platform to determine ROI. This tool has helped Williams and his team increase ROI for registration, ticketing, donations, sponsorships, marketing and reporting. There are apps that can also help with gamification, polling, networking, surveys and more. All of these can help measure ROI.

AJ Events recently worked with WinnCompanies, which was celebrating their 50th anniversary and the primary goal was to nurture the employee relationships with leadership.

“The key indicator for ROI was a high RSVP rate, attendance and high positive responses from the employees during and after the event,” Williams says.

To measure the ROI of a corporate event, Loughran generally recommends surveys, recap meetings or in-person catch ups, depending on the company. He says utilizing surveys allows for quantitative feedback on attendee satisfaction and experience, whereas recap meetings or in-person catch-ups provide more in-depth, qualitative insights that surveys cannot capture.

EMÁJYN recently created an experience in Nashville for a client looking to share his passion for music with his most valued referral relationships. It was designed to break up the monotony of the traditional annual golf trips previously held with an experience designed to leave a truly lasting impression on attendees.

Guests had the opportunity to write and record original songs with some of the music industry’s most renowned writers and producers in arguably the best and most famous studio in the city.

“The experience included some of the best dining Nashville has to offer, a private cognac tasting with Louis VIII and some incredible samplings of local spirits. It’s worth noting that almost none of the attendees had any prior music ability or experience in a recording studio,” Loughran says.

After the event, the client closed a $2 million-plus contract with one of the attendees; exactly the result they were aiming for.

“The experience cost roughly $150,000, so we were thrilled with this kind of return for the company, who has since activated EMÁJYN for an event almost every year of the last six,” Loughran says.

It’s important to remember that when businesses invest in events, there are three primary stakeholders who are looking for return on their investment — and they are looking for different types of returns.

“Take a corporate event as an example, a business executive is looking for revenue-driving returns, like audience generation, pipeline acceleration and sales closed,” says Brent Turner, executive vice president, strategy and solutions at Opus Agency, a planner company that helps orchestrate conferences, meetings, retreats, product launches and industry events.

“While a marketing executive will look for movement on brand affinity, preference, promotion and loyalty, the event executive is looking at their objectives — like their financial model, attendee satisfaction and other event-specific goals such as certifications delivered,” Turner says.

Too often, event professionals will have a single “soup” of measurements and KPIs — and in that soup, they will lose the clarity of marked return on their investments. But Turner points out that by isolating on their business, marketing and event-specific metrics, the events gain focus on the actions required to drive success throughout.

Measurement Steps to Take

Most meeting planners see capital spent on meetings, events and experiences as any other investment a business might make – targeting a return of some kind. As Loughran explains, when planners can put themselves into the shoes of the client, it generally steers planning toward their desired outcomes versus just sending people on a great vacation with colleagues and throwing an epic party.

“Sending post-event surveys is always recommended, but following up with a cadence of meaningful communications and relationship building opportunities will always lead to a better understanding,” Loughran says. “It allows planners to learn what’s most important to a client in terms of returns.”

Williams often sees planners fail when adding an event component that does not stimulate the attendees. Perhaps it’s an experience that’s overdone or too avant-garde, or not appealing with the demographic or something that simply falls flat. “Do your research to effectively capture the value of the experience,” Williams says. The core ROI measurement tool that Opus Agency uses is their Impact Measurement Framework; it provides the structure for building actionable measurement plans, data specifications and reporting dashboards.

The framework includes the three “I’s” of measurement:

  • Indicators, the core types of metrics which track progress toward goals.
  • Initiators, the places where we capture data required for measurement, like the event itself, social media and other extensions.
  • Inputs, the ways we generate and capture data within each initiator like sales systems, web analytics, RFID badges, social listening, or just asking attendees via surveys and focus groups.

Turner also says that too often the mistakes are connected to unclear objectives — unclear definitions of success. From there, it is about focus. If the event exists to close deals, if that is the core driver of ROI, then map the strategies, audience acquisition, experience design, sessions and more to that goal. “Setting an objective at the ‘center of the bullseye’ is hard. Events can do so much for a business, but with great focus comes greater results,” he says.

Phoenix Porcelli, CMP, head of sales at Convene, says to accurately measure event ROI, planners need to first identify clear event objectives — what is the purpose of the event and what do you want attendees to take away from the program? From there, outline the best delivery of this information and develop an agenda that helps accomplish this; ROI is then measured by how successful you were in achieving the objective, whether via a survey or other feedback mechanism.

“Having a venue that can unlock maximum potential for attendees is a key element in generating event ROI,” Porcelli says.

When measuring event ROI, the process should be seamless. It’s also important to think about capturing feedback in real-time to get the most accurate results. A good way to do this is having QR codes available to scan at the end of each session or iPads available upon exit of the event with short surveys for attendees to answer.

“Planners should be on-site to observe attendee behavior to extrapolate how elements of the event are being received. For example, instead of a survey question about the food, walk through the food service area; if a catering dish is empty, you know guests enjoyed it,” Porcelli says.

ROI is not just a return on investment, it’s a return on interaction — it’s about driving engagement.

“Try altering between sitting sessions, standing sessions, and interactive sessions to keep guests immersed in the content,” Porcelli says. “Offering ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ breakout sessions and/or sessions that cater to varying levels of expertise can also help attendees have a custom experience that generates goodwill towards the event and makes them feel special and heard.”

Post-pandemic, people value their time more than ever before. When planning an event, ruthlessly prioritize what can be virtual versus what is most impactful for in-person experiences. “It’s also important not to get distracted with filling the largest room possible. Setting clear event objectives will help you focus in on your core audience and maximize ROI,” Porcelli says. “And while programming should level up to the objectives, attendees’ motivation for participating may not be in direct alignment with those. Agendas need to be strategically structured for maximum appeal, but with the ability to accommodate different skill sets to ensure various attendees perceive value from being there.”

Continuous Momentum

As Loughran points out, we’re in the middle of a true paradigm shift in business culture at the moment, arguably the biggest change in the last century. With the post-move to largely hybrid office schedules, the in-office environment is becoming less and less of a central factor in fostering culture and positive employee sentiment. However, the importance of a great corporate culture has not changed; people still very much want to connect together in-person, particularly with the increased isolation that working from home naturally results in.

“We predict this will inevitably create a shift in spending from impressive office spaces in expensive neighborhoods to investments in corporate events and destination experiences,” Loughran says. “Similar to the importance of providing employees with a positive work environment in years past, event investments are going to become increasingly essential for businesses in the immediate future.”

And with AI-powered tools making it easier than ever to connect disparate data sources and then turn these connected corpuses of information into insights, businesses will have a greater expectation for data-based insights, intelligence and action.

“This means that the expectations for measuring events will increase, all while the technologies and methodologies will become easier, faster and more standardized,” Turner says. Porcelli also points out that in today’s hybrid-first world, measuring event ROI is an important factor in determining if and how events should happen.

“Organizations are recognizing that this is having a material impact on talent attraction and retention — and so the declining ROI in virtual onboardings and trainings is driving a shift back to in-person to maximize outcomes,” Turner concludes. “The consecutive feedback loop, however it happens, will always affect how planners think about programming.” C&IT

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