A common sequence surrounding a discussion of ROI in the meetings industry:

  1. Jim AlkonSpeaker says measuring ROI is essential for validating and continuing to have events, as well as helping in many cases to validate jobs.
  2. Others nod in agreement.
  3. Speaker points to statistics indicating most companies do little or nothing to measure ROI.
  4. Others nod in agreement, some staring down at their notepads.
  5. Speaker encourages and energizes others to go back to the office, work to penetrate the layers of executive decision-making, and make ROI a priority.
  6. Others stand and applaud.
  7. Others return to their offices and do nothing.

So why was this night different from all other nights?

It was different because, courtesy of the Event Leadership Institute, I was in a room full of meetings professionals who are taking the conversation to the next level, not by asking how they can measure ROI but by sharing how they do measure ROI. As part of the process:

  • Haley Carlson of The Tribune Group sits down with stakeholders and gets a clear understanding of objectives for each of the 300 meetings she facilitates a year.
  • Rachel Gross of Univision focuses as much on the quality of attendee as the quantity.
  • Jeff Kaplan of Discovery Networks, while also seeking the “right” audience, often is concerned with measuring the “buzz” and coverage generated by his events.
  • Margaret Savoia of Ernst & Young establishes metrics and provides management with detailed reporting on touch points, activity and results.
  • For some, it’s as simple as doing something that plays into their bosses’ personal passions.

The gathering was the first in a series of Executive Roundtables to be conducted by the Event Leadership Institute, which provides high-quality online, on-demand education on every essential meeting and event category, as well as live events with top thought leaders and influencers.

It was exhilarating to learn about a world beyond “ROI Anonymous” where professionals have actually initiated lift-off with top executives and entered the hallowed heavens of goals and strategy. It probably doesn’t hurt that their companies’ household names, products and personalities necessitate careful and collaborative thinking in order to get it right in the delicate discipline of event marketing.

Hearing some of the planner anecdotes, David Adler, CEO and Founder of BizBash and, along with Howard Givner, a principal in the Event Leadership Institute, asked whether the profession had finally overcome Corporate America’s longtime skepticism that dumps meetings in a bucket to be unceremoniously emptied at the first hint of hard times or budgetary concerns.

The answer: Not quite. While many in the industry still struggle with getting their foot in the doors of the glamour offices, it’s nice to know there’s hope, and it was expressed in the processes, ideas and comments that came forth. One participant even referred to events as “the new luxury brand.” Interesting.

In the case of entertainment and media companies, ROI could be measured with “fuzzy” goals like supporting an artist, creating buzz around a new release, exciting the press, or delivering a “feeling” that something is good….timely….relevant….hot.

As The Tribune Group’s Carlson noted, “It’s great to get to the point where you are bringing new ideas to the table and being rewarded for those ideas.”

What’s even more impressive is when you as a meeting planner are in a position to, as Carlson added, “push back and disagree” with the initial inclinations of management when you as a planner feel you know better and are not threatened by saying so.

Kaplan of Discovery insightfully described the necessity – and joy – of being part of the strategic decision-making when it comes to recognizing planner value. “For many people in our industry, if you fail you’re done — simple as that. But at a certain level, if you fail, you have the opportunity to keep failing,” as long as ideas and creativity are what’s valued.

If I had a penny for every time someone has told me to slow down my golf swing and I refused to act, I’d have enough money for a new set of clubs. Similarly, as much as it is beaten over their heads, many meeting professionals are in irrational denial when it comes to ROI. But ROI is not a dangerous drug to be avoided. As proven by the encouraging progress and results of the roundtable participants, it stands to improve your life if you’ll make the commitment to simply say yes. Go on, I know you can do it.

Jim Alkon is Director of Meetings and Media, a marketing, branding and strategy company in the meetings industry, and also serves as Vice President of Education for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter. Visit www.meetingsandmedia.com or contact Jim directly at jim@meetingsandmedia.com.

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R.O.I.: Measuring Value to Validate Your Event – And You

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