Happy Returns — Increase the ROI for Your Event

As much fun as it is to plan events, there’s a reason we hold that gala or plan that corporate gathering. We want it to produce results — a return on investment, if you will. But is ROI strictly measured by the money your function generates? Doesn’t it also include brand building, increased awareness, improved market share, and more? Festivities CEO, Jennifer Braun, answers those questions and reveals the broad parameters of ROI, best practices for increasing it, and other important insights.

Q. Tell me about your organization and what you do there.

A. I am the CEO at Festivities, a Twin Cities-based event design and décor company offering event rental, floral, and décor for everything from weddings to corporate gatherings and events. We provide the physical elements and the creative installation to execute our clients’ event visions.

Q. How would you define return on investment for those in the meeting & event planning industry?
A. Factoring ROI involves evaluating the hard cost of the event versus the benefit. Sometimes that’s a return in dollars; oftentimes it’s about intangible benefits. Determining that involves measuring fees for such things as location, food and décor against the benefits measured from the standpoint of what and why your organization is holding this event.

For a non-profit organization, their main gala may be the source for their entire year’s funding, so the event impacts outreach and the health of the organization in terms of funding. For a corporation, the event may impact the health and growth of the company in terms of customers and sales, as well as increased market share. For both non- and for-profit organizations, there are benefits to marketing and brand awareness. These aren’t simply hard dollar returns, but exposure in the marketplace for their brand. This is an intangible benefit as it impacts how their brand is perceived by customers, and in turn, how that will impact customers and sales or donations.  This is not to say that the event itself cannot be a profit maker. Instituting a table fee or registration fee can generate added revenue.

Finally, it’s important to consider ROI to the secondary stakeholder — the attendee himself. How are they going to feel they got their money’s worth? Are you providing a “wow” factor? Educational content? What are you offering that they will see as valuable? Ideas? Inspiration? Networking opportunities?

Q. What do you consider best practices for increasing ROI?

A. First, making sure your organization is goal centric. Decide what metrics your organization is going to use to evaluate goals and objectives.  For example, the number of customers in the sales pipeline, the amount of donations or pledges, or an increase in customer engagement.  For non-profits, there is a quantifiable element in increased awareness of their cause. A perfect example is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that was ubiquitous on social media a few years ago. It’s a goal centric marketing effort in that it greatly increased awareness of ALS.

Secondly, either an indirect or direct revenue generated focus on developing and maintaining a strong attendee experience. For example, if networking is one of the goals, you’d want to design the experience to offer the attendee ample opportunity to have face-to-face connections between each other and your staff. In that way, they’ll see a direct benefit coming out of the event.

Q. Do you have specific examples of ways in which your organization has increased return on investment?

A. With a strategy-focused client base, we continue to track attendee demand and registration numbers for customer-targeted events. During event development, we brainstorm with our clients to help them think like their customers, e.g., “What is it they are seeking?” “What gives this event enough value that managers are willing to send their employees?” Using this approach, we’ve developed unique event experiences for attendees, such as opportunities to connect one-on-one with engineers and executives, hands-on time with products, and tailored, applicable education sessions. The returns we’ve seen from this speak for themselves -- a growing attendee demand for events year after year, indicating that our clients’ attendees are seeing a return on investment from these events. In addition, we ensure that our clients are leveraging the tracking tools that can help them pinpoint qualified leads coming from the event and follow them through the sales’ pipeline. That shows us direct ROI, creating a very quantifiable way to see event return.

ROI is also important in internal events, and we’ve helped our clients build incentive programs that continue to show strong returns. The attendee experience is truly key with these events; if the event or trip does not meet expectations, it loses its motivational power, and word will travel fast throughout the organization. We think through every detail, crafting “the experience of a lifetime,” and we’ve seen it pay off handsomely for many of our clients. They’ve watched their sales numbers increase consistently as employees strive to earn these rewards.

Q. Any other tips or insights?

A. It’s important to leverage the history you have with your customers. Reach out to past attendees and find out why they attended your event. Ask what they felt about it. Leverage that information and apply it to your next event. This sets you up for success in the future. It’s also important to really track all the expenses related to your event, and then review them for value. Also, make sure you’re helping your stakeholder understand the full breadth of benefits related to the event – increased brand awareness, increased knowledge of your cause – even if it comes at a cost.

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Jennifer Braun, CMP, CSEP | Type A Events | jennifer@typeaevents.com

Jennifer Braun is an event planner, designer, and entrepreneur. She is a professional event planner with a focus on designing unique events with a strategic focus. She has managed events of all types-from social events to city-wide conventions in cities all over the world. She specializes in bringing trend-forward elements to events and in keeping clients' brand experience on the pulse of new technology. Jennifer has spoken at conferences throughout the nation and has been the recipient of numerous industry awards.

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