When it comes to planning and executing event logistics, meeting and event planners typically know their event processes cold. At the same time, most organizations are now recognizing the value of building relationships with their key constituents through a variety of events. That’s a good thing to the profession.

Some event planners feel a sense of relief at this stage, finally being recognized or promoted into more executive roles for their contributions. But in many cases it’s not enough to simply plan and execute a great business event. Business events are most frequently viewed as an investment for a given purpose, and event planners should understand how to measure the value of their programs.

Event measurement for return on investment (ROI) or return on objectives (ROO) may be new territory for some planners, but it’s the type of effort that will help expand their involvement and overall contribution to an organization, explains Tony Lorenz, CMM, president of Chicago-based ProActive, Inc., a Freeman Company. ProActive is a strategic and events agency that focuses on experiential marketing services.

Event Measurement Basics

Most business event planners recognize that measurement of their programs will vary from organization to organization. One reason for this is that the business models are widely different between corporations, associations, nonprofits and others. So what are some ways that event planners are expected to measurement their events?

If an event professional works on the financial side of an organization, he or she may be expected to measure the event based on financial savings. For example, what is the total negotiated savings for hotel rooms, meeting space, catering, etc.

If an event professional works on the business side of an organization, he or she may be expected to measure the event based on the program’s contribution to the overall business plan. For example, organizing a seminar as part of an overall product launch that involves multiple business units.

And nearly all event planners will take a critical look at what went well and what could be improved in the future. Did the event come within budget? Was the client pleased with the outcome?

And while each approach is certainly a valid form of measurement, they tend to focus only on measurements at the most tactical levels. Event professionals today should be looking to establish ways to make their event contributions much more strategic.

Strategic Event Measurement

Chicago-based ProActive, Inc., a Freeman Company approaches meeting ROI as being viewed in two different dimensions: at the organization and participant levels:

  1. The organization may view ROI by aggregating all costs and comparing this to a value that is estimated by the organization. And then determines the financial measurement of the event.
  2. ROI at the participant level may be measured at the individual level and estimates the value on a per participant basis.

ProActive advises clients to follow a strategic creative process to impact events, and Lorenz recommends focusing on measuring attitudes. This is particularly effective for large scale events:

  • Discovery. Discovery should occur early in the process so that planners may involve key stakeholders to ultimately define meeting content, speakers, etc. Planners should involve key stakeholders who can define strategic objectives for both the organization hosting the event and the meeting attendees. This can be achieved by asking them to complete a brief, six to eight open ended questions.
  • Pre-Event Survey. This is the time when the meeting or event planner may define some quantifiable measures for ROI and ROO. Survey a broad sample of invitees to identify their issues, concerns and needs on multiple levels. This will help the planner to define measurement benchmarks for meeting attendees.
  • Pre-Meeting Core-7 Baseline. This step give measure to the meeting attendee’s psychological and behavioral perceptions about the items identified during discovery.
    1. Knowledge/understanding (“I know”)
    2. Opinions/perceptions/beliefs (“I agree”)
    3. Feelings/attitudes (“I want to”)
    4. Abilities/skills (“I can”)
    5. Intentions/commitment (“I will”)
    6. Behaviors (“I am doing”)
    7. Business results/impacts – ROI (“I am delivering value”)
  • Meeting Design. With an understanding of stakeholder objectives and attendee perceptions, planners may now define key objectives for the meeting itself and how those messages will be presented.What kind of presentations? Should the program include interactive workshops? Will a tradeshow floor be useful in educating attendees? What tools will you use to convey and reinforce your message? Who should serve as speakers?
  • Hold the Meeting or Event.
  • Post-Event Survey/Benchmarks. After the event, it is important to measure how well the program delivered on those benchmarks that were defined based on the results of the discovery and pre-event survey. Did the program result in changes in attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, etc? Will attendees act on those changes?
  • Follow-Up Business Impact Strategic measurement requires a focus on the long term impact on meeting attendee behaviors. This is also a good time to determine the financial and non-financial impact of the program.

Suggestions to Optimize the Meeting Measurement Process

Lorenz offers guidelines to help meeting planners to enhance their return on events:

  1. Apply pre-meeting/pre-meeting process.
  2. Measure psychological, behavioral and financial dimensions.
  3. Use ROI measurement for large, important meetings

Suggestions for Measuring Smaller Sized Events

To be sure, a formal measurement program for an individual program will be useful for large, expensive events. But what about the rest of the business events that are scheduled throughout the year – is it possible to apply event measurements to the hundreds of smaller events that are planned throughout the year?

Of course.

Lorenz suggests that organizations identify five or six benchmark questions that are critical to the organization. Then, measure the various events to determine whether the series of events made a psychological, behavioral or financial impact.

Aggregate the results. For example, if an organization is holding 30 similar events throughout the year in different markets with similar benchmarks, this can certainly provide qualitative and quantitative measures.

“Isolate the success and build measures from there,” Lorenz advises.

Key stakeholders in the organization will have the final say in how effectively those involved in an event or series of events will determine how much credit should be given to those who helped plan the events.

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