Efforts to gauge value fail when event strategy is unclear or undefined
The meetings and events industry has enjoyed numerous advances over the past two decades. Yet a sobering reality persists; for many, the ability to consistently demonstrate, even express, event value - aka event ROI - has remained elusive. In that same timeframe, digital channels went mainstream and fundamentally altered expectations around marketing transparency. At the intersection lies a simple truth: resources and budgets migrate to areas that perform. Thankfully, live meetings and events do perform, and can achieve comparable levels of transparency. Skilled staff, best practices and integrated technology are essential. Yet to really nail event ROI, there’s a broad need for something more fundamental, and it’s an activity event executives are uniquely positioned to lead.
Clarity creates opportunity
Specifically, event executives have much to gain by engaging their leadership team colleagues to define the strategic intent of their organization’s events program. By taking charge, event executives inject essential clarity on the role live meetings and events play in achieving their organization’s business strategies. The added benefits: this explicit linkage raises the internal profile of events' strategic role, as well as the contributions of your events team. To bring this about event execs must make the first move with their leadership team, while simultaneously equipping their event team members with new skills and techniques.
EVENT EXECUTION IS TABLESTAKES
We have moved beyond our industry’s decades-old definition of success – executing a flawless event. In its place are heightened expectations around event value and impact, fueled in part by the merger of strategic marketing and event delivery. Managing this transition requires us to shift the mindset of peers and team members alike, from an operational bias to one that acknowledges and appreciates the role events play in advancing the organization’s strategies.
SUCCESS REQUIRES NEW SKILLS
The path to event ROI runs directly through your organization’s event strategy. But crafting, interpreting and applying ‘strategy’ are not yet commonplace activities within events teams. Attaining those capabilities will often require injecting new skills.
STANDALONE EVENT PROGRAMS MUST EVOLVE OR FACE EXTINCTION
Stakeholders often have a high emotional connection to their events and the related sponsors, customers, and colleagues. Those emotions enable certain events to continue regardless of the value received. When you find it difficult to state an event’s strategic purpose, a conversation on the event’s future is warranted.
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT DRIVING SALES
With marketing funnels and sales pipelines increasingly always-on and multi-touch, direct attribution of revenue to events is as cumbersome as it is open to debate. It also misses the point. Instead, start by defining how meetings and events drive your organization’s strategies forward. Brand consideration, advancing customer relationships, generating favorable press coverage, rewarding and recognizing employees, providing education and training – and, yes, capturing quality leads – are all potential outcomes. And each likely links back to a strategic goal. Clarifying those linkages early and often throughout your organization will advance your colleagues’ perception of the value of events, your team and yourself.
EVENT ROI IS A FRONT-LOADED EXERCISE
Having operationalized event ROI at a wide variety of organizations a couple observations no longer surprise me. The first is a reluctance to embrace even define ‘event ROI’. For those organizations who do try, the second observation is the near-universal approach to wait until after the event to consider its ROI. Instead, event ROI begins with understanding the reason(s) for holding the event. To do that effectively and with high impact requires first defining the strategic intent of your organization’s events program i.e., the ‘why’ in ‘why we do events’.
Take these seven steps to link your events program to your organization’s strategy. Doing so will clarify your event ROI, and raise the profile of events and your team within the organization.
1. List and prioritize your organization’s strategic goals. Discuss with your team members and highlight the goals where events can have/are having a significant impact.
2. Engage the leadership team to clarify the strategic role of the events program and its team. Iterate your draft until an agreed version emerges that links the business strategies to events. Ideally, identify tangible measures and target outcomes. For example:
The business strategic goal, “expand business in our top 50 target accounts by X”, infers success metrics based on audience composition and engagement. For the former, that could be the number and caliber of participants from targeted accounts along with ratios of staff, customers and prospects; for the later, the nature and frequency of interactions among the participants.
Provide your fellow executives an overview of the events program; they will appreciate the context of # events, budget, # customer touchpoints generated, etc.
Consider socializing a draft and incorporating feedback ahead of the meeting.
Take steps to avoid any perception that this effort is about increasing your budget or influence. Those will come in due course.
3. Communicate the above throughout the organization. To focus efforts and generate positive internal buzz, recruit amenable stakeholders to participate in the roll-out.
4. Review the event portfolio considering the newly-clarified strategic intent and target outcomes. This initial pass with your event team will identify gaps and over-concentrations. In the months ahead, this will help you re-balance resources against strategic priorities.
5. Expand the review to include event stakeholders. Work with them to confirm the reason(s) for the event and identify the outcome(s) that will indicate "success."
Tip: Based on your team’s composition and skillsets you may be able to divide and conquer this effort. Else, consider options to upskill your team.
6. Assign a team member to work with the event stakeholder(s) to achieve and track the target outcomes. Provide your leadership team periodic updates on contributions made in advancing your organization’s business strategies.
7. Invest in system integrations to liberate your staff, and enable your event data to flow and mix effectively with your organization’s other data assets. What emerges are much clearer views of critical interactions such as the customer journey. Plus, stakeholders highly value data when expressed in the context of event value.
With the above, you can help your leadership team and event team connect the dots between the organization’s strategy and its events program. I’ll close with a powerful excerpt from Tony Jeary’s book, Leverage: A Leader’s Answer to Extraordinary Results:
“From a leadership perspective, clarity means having an unfettered view of your vision, which is what you want and why you want it, fed by an understanding of its purpose and value. In the old days, executives didn’t see any need to explain the why. They simply expected people to fall in line and do what they were told. But when people understand the why of things (the purpose and value), the combination produces a level of clarity that has enough influence or pull to actually become motivational. It becomes the fuel of voluntary change that enables you to be pulled toward your vision, rather than pushed.”