No matter what your view is on the growing involvement of procurement in the provision of meetings and event services, there is no denying that as agencies, we are increasingly being asked to act more strategically. At Banks Sadler we are regularly asked to deliver creative event solutions or meeting management programmes for our clients that drive bottom-line results but what does this really mean?
Whilst it is true that confidence is returning to the industry, allowing organisations to invest more fully in their M&E campaigns, a lasting legacy has been the need to understand the impact these activities have. Phrases such as Return on Objectives (ROO) and Return on Investment (ROI) are becoming more commonplace, but is it a realistic expectation when considering live events?
“We create emotions and memorable moments,” an Event Manager told me recently, “you can’t measure ROI on emotions”.
Whilst this statement is relatively true, it is not the emotions themselves that have value, but what the employees or customers do differently as a result of them. Because the employees feel more appreciated, for example, they are likely to work harder, take less sick leave or not quit for another job. Because the customers think of the organisation as a socially responsible industry leader, they will probably buy more products.
So is it as simple as that?
Meetings and events can ultimately create value to stakeholders by influencing the behaviour of the participants. If the event doesn’t make participants do something they would otherwise not have done, there is no value. Thinking and feeling do not count; only physical behaviour.
When planning an event or programme, therefore, one must always start by analysing the business needs of the stakeholders and define the desired business impact, which in most cases will be either a cost saving or an increase in the gross profit from sales.
In the field of strategic meetings management programmes (SMMPs), calculating the ROI is often easier than a live event. If one is able to compare the year-on-year savings made as a result of driving compliance through a preferred supplier programme, then ROI can be calculated by subtracting the cost of implementation and management, from the cost savings. This is the core principle of any SMMP.
With live events, however, this calculation can be much harder, particularly given the wide range of events we may be asked to deliver. With sales focused event, for example, it can be argued that ROI can be easily calculated by subtracting the cost of the event from the increase in sales revenue as a result of that activity. For many other events, however, the output tends to be less tangible and instead are more focussed around operational efficiencies as a result of behavioural changes. These are much harder to measure. Consequently, clients are increasingly looking at measuring Return on Objectives (ROO) and ensuring that the target audience is meeting their learning and behavioural requirements.
Because it is harder to complete the final part of the equation and calculate the numerical value or ROI of an event, it does not mean that the approach is redundant. Quite the contrary, event planners can use it as a framework to design engaging events that still drive bottom-line results.
If we take the most common ROI methodology based on the work by Dr Jack Philips we can explore further the 6 key stages needed to build meaningful events.
Impact – Set business objectives
As previously highlighted, how does the event connect to the bottom line? Every event has to make a profit, or the ROI is negative. The profit formula is net sales revenue minus costs, so in the final analysis, the event must either lead to a sales increase or a cost reduction, or both.
It is often helpful to ask yourself, ‘What is the problem or what is the opportunity that your event is intended to address?’ Is an event the best solution? What other activities will support it, how does it fit in the marketing mix?
Behaviour – Decide what you want participants to do afterwards
The only way to generate value from an event is through the actions taken by participants. It is not enough that they feel or think; they actually have to DO something which creates value for the stakeholders. Events are all about changing or reinforcing people’s behaviour. They usually need to do something after the event, but sometimes what they should do happens during it, or even before, as in the case of an incentive event.
Learning – Know what the required learning experience is
How do you make participants do what you specified in step 2? Effective learning is experiential, most commonly learnt through gaining knowledge, skills, relationships or attitudinal shifts. What must they learn/experience at the event to change their behaviour? One can learn information, but equally getting to know other people, will build trust. Changing participants’ attitudes to your brand is a learning experience. Take the desired action for each category of attendees in step 2 and ask: ‘How do we make them do that?’ Do they need information, or to connect with your sales staff or other attendees, or do you need to change their attitude, how they think about the brand?
Event environment – Create an experiential learning environment
The learning experience can’t be separated from the environment in which it happens. We need to apply psychology, sociology, cognitive change, musicology and neurology, to name a few. Research shows how such elements as light, music, colour and food influence the learning experience. Many events include speakers who present a message in words and pictures, where the presentation format often has more impact than the content. Research shows that bullet point presentations make the audience learn and remember less, not more.
Measure satisfaction and planned actions
After the event, you are ready to evaluate. There are many ways to collect data, but it is worth considering a well thought out questionnaire. Begin with the learning environment. Did the event fulfil expectations? Can participants use what they learned? Suggest some planned actions, and ask what they’ll do, or do differently, as a result of attending the event. If they take no action, the event will not provide any value to stakeholders. You don’t know if people will do what they say, good intentions don’t always lead to actions; but if you don’t even have the intention, the event has not been successful.
Measure learning and application
What did participants learn? How did their behaviour change accordingly? You do not need complicated tests to measure learning. It is often good enough just to ask how well people remember the information, if they changed their attitude to the brands or if they were able to establish useful connections with other participants through networking. For practical purposes, we often ask the questions right after the event, but to measure changes in behaviour, it is necessary to wait two to four months. Check if they implemented their planned actions. It should be sufficient just to ask them to tell you.
Whilst it is often difficult to track the exact impact of this type of activity, it does not harm to build an event or SMMP that is designed to meet specific business objectives. Many agencies do not get the visibility of any post-event behavioural changes and so instead we look to form a collaborative relationship with our clients whereby we are able to support them on a deeper level than just simple delivery. Increasingly, with the emergence of even greater use of technology, gamification, personalised learning streams and an ever-present focus on delivering intelligent campaigns, today’s event managers will have to demonstrate real strategic awareness to bring increased value to their meetings and events solutions. By connecting emotions and memorable moments to the bottom line, you can too.
Mark Scales, Head of Event Solutions, Banks Sadler