Investing in events – is it really worth it?
It is hard to disagree that events are an integral part of every organization; they only vary in topic and scale. Managers send their employees to conferences and trade shows and they themselves participate in events. Bigger companies organize their own events for their employees and clients. It all comes down to the fact that they play a crucial role in a company’s life, but investing in events usually ends up being just a hunch or intuition.
Currently, the marketing and advertising industry reflects the one from the 90’s, when companies first invested in creative billboards, later in online ads, but their effectiveness was the great unknown because it wasn’t measured. Everything changed when effectiveness and the client’s behavior started to be analyzed and the event’s budget began to be used more skillfully. The event’s market is driven by similar mechanisms – we want to measure the effectiveness of all event activities. Experienced marketing managers are already doing this because they don’t want to waste their budget and potential. In the following article, I will explain how to wisely invest in events.
The events market in Poland
For a couple of years now, the event’s market has been developing very dynamically. New conferences, trade shows, and trade meetings are organized within every industry. In Poland only in 2016, 39 566 events were organized, which hosted over 6 million attendees (data taken from the Polish Tourist Organization’s report “Przemysł spotkań i wydarzeń w Polsce”). It is worth underlining that this is an analysis of only a part of the market because the report is based on venues in which events are organized and it doesn’t include all premises (especially nonstandard ones or company headquarters, when it comes to internal events). This amount of events proves that organizers, exhibitors, and attendees willingly invest and believe that events can bring a lot of benefits.
Why do we participate in events?
The decision about participating in a given event is usually driven by the desire of acquiring new business contacts, generating new leads, as well as finding inspiration, new trends, new ways of thinking or creative problem-solving techniques.
Conferences are also a good occasion to meet experts, influencers and representatives from companies belonging to the same industry. We seek for this contact to exchange knowledge, take cooperation to a new level and help our relations evolve. The same thing goes with trade shows, which give us the opportunity of presenting our services to targeted groups, meeting potential clients and developing our business.
Events are a place, where we build RELATIONS, and relations generate sales. Ultimately, the main reason for going to an event is accelerating sales generation. This could be done by gaining new leads, expanding existing competencies and at the same time developing your own business. The organizer is compelled by similar reasons – he wants to earn money (by selling tickets and/or from stands, partners, ads) make new valuable contacts and raise brand awareness.
Current event organizing challenges
The main problem that the organizer, exhibitor and attendee face is the lack of possibility to rate the event’s profitability. Most of the decisions are made on the basis of a hunch or some scarce pieces of information, there is a deficiency in practical data that allows to carry out a factual analysis.
For example, John works in a company, which organizes a couple of events a year for his current and potential clients. 2 million złoty from the company’s budget was spent on these events. It’s the end of the year and John is planning next year’s budget and trying to decide whether he should host events again next year or not, but on what grounds should he make the decision? He is not able to measure the event’s ROI, doesn’t know if he met the attendees’ expectations and doesn’t know which of the elements were favored by his guests. He did collect paper feedback surveys, but didn’t yet get round to analyzing them and anyways, some of them got lost. Also, he did have an exhibition area at his event and he was thinking about raising the price for having a stand. In fact, he does know from speaking to the exhibitors that the investment paid for itself, but he doesn’t have any data to back this up. He is lacking in a tool that would confirm these assumptions with actual numbers.
As a sales rep, Joanna very often takes part in trade shows because that is where she has an opportunity of speaking to her targeted group in real life. This year, the company she works for spent 300 thousand złoty on stands at different events. Joanna now faces a big task to analyze whether this was wisely spent money because she only has scarce information about the effectiveness of her event attendance.
Preparing for the event itself is really troublesome because Joanna cannot arrange meetings prior to the event. She has to put in a lot effort into persuading attendees to visit her stand and getting to know her company’s offer. In effect, she speaks with random people, who very frequently turn out not to be interested in the company’s services at all. She returns from the event with a bunch of business cards and filled out surveys. When the time comes for generating a report, when deciding whether her event participation was not a waste of money, Joanna stumbles upon a problem. Namely, she has difficulties in drawing a conclusion and consolidating data from different sources.
Last but not least, let’s take a look at Paul, who works in the sales department and very often participates in events in order to acquire new leads. This year’s analysis shows that he took part in 10 events, what cost the company 30,000 zł and provided the company with contracts worth 20,000 zł. Paul expected the ROI to be much higher and doesn’t know what went wrong in this situation. He is currently planning the budget for next year and he would like to participate only in the events that bring him, new clients. Although he doesn’t know how to determine, which events are valuable to him and plan his work in a way no to overlook any important business opportunities. He is lacking in information as for where to meet his potential clients and how many relations the rest of his team made. Once again, Paul has to make a decision with scarce information and just a hunch.
Could we do it in a better way?
Of course it can, what is more- it should! Coming to terms with this state of being is not the right way to go because it will only generate loss. Tools that help in effective event planning, management and how to make the most out of it, do exist on the market. However, one of the first and most important steps is noticing the importance of measuring and the significant value of introducing innovation to your organizing techniques. The situation is similar to the establishment of websites, which first served as a company ad but no one measured their effectiveness. Nowadays, it is unimaginable for a site to exist without analytical tools that collect and deliver priceless data needed for making a fully informed business decision. Exactly this kind of change needs to occur in the events industry.
It is crucial for the organizer to know, which elements of the event met his attendees’ expectation, on what level did the attendees actively participate and in what way did they interact with other participants. All of these factors will help in accustoming the event to the targeted group’s needs, choosing the right topics and speakers and in the result, making better business decisions.
Collecting feedback may be a problem – it is difficult to convince the attendees to fill out paper surveys, which often get lost anyway. Online surveys should come in handy, which the attendees can easily access and make their opinion count. It is also important to collect feedback from individual lectures and workshops, so during the next edition of the event, you can invite the speakers who interest the attendees the most.
Until now, it seemed impossible to measure the activity level during the event but now thanks to Beacons and QR codes, we are able to precisely measure what areas the attendees visited and what interested them the most. Beacons collect data about the flow of people or for e.g. the interest in specific stands and at the same time, they help to communicate with the attendees. QR codes, on the other hand, serve as a way of measuring the number of contacts and verifying the attendee’s profile, what later on helps in matching events to the targeted group.
Having a lot of sources of data and implemented solutions, you need to remember to integrate this collected information and use complex tools, which will protect this event organization and management process.
Proper preparation for an event is a key factor. Trade shows are a perfect occasion for an exhibitor to get a hold of new clients. When seeking for events to attend, it is best to make use of sources that provide us with potential clients and suggest events that host our targeted group. After making the decision of actually attending a certain event, the exhibitors should have the opportunity of pre-arranging meetings with clients interested in their offer, so they can prepare for the discussion (e.g. take needed samples of the product with them or polish up client case studies). Thanks to this, they will be able to more effectively use their time at the event.
The already previously mentioned QR codes can be used to convince attendees to visit the exhibitors’ stands by communicating some kind of discount or contest when scanned. Most of all, QR codes can serve as virtual business cards because this way all the collected contacts will be stored in one place. This will make the exhibitor’s life easier because he can easily prepare a report from the event, which will contain the number of contacts made. Collecting data at one event will speed up the analysis process and will help in making smarter decisions in the future.
Just like the exhibitor, the attendee needs sources, which will help him estimate the events’ value and choose those that will actually help gain new clients. It’s important to be able to check who will participate in a given event, make initial contact with other attendees, pre-arrange meetings, so you don’t deprive yourself of the chance of getting to know an interesting person.
The decision of taking part in an event is usually made way earlier than the preparation and initial participation process itself. Before you know it, all the “early bird” or “first minute” tickets are gone because you overlooked the deadline date. Keep track of when cheaper tickets are sold or use platforms that will automatically inform you about new prices. Everyone likes a good bargain.
Gathered data on multiple Excel spreadsheets makes analysis and drawing conclusions more difficult than it should actually be in the first place. A tool that not only collects information about the event, but about the whole team’s participation, comes in handy at this stage. Thanks to this you will get a clearer view of the situation and won’t lose any data, even if any of your team members resign.
Not being able to determine the profitability of event participation, carrying out a profound analysis instead of a quantitative one, it’s not worth investing in events. It’s like playing the roulette, the only difference is that at the end you don’t even know if you won. The event industry has been stuck in the analog era for a long time. There was no tool on the market that helped collect data and properly analyze it. Different marketing branches evolved and digitized, but event marketing stayed behind. This could change! Currently, we have multiple tools at our disposal, which measure the effectiveness of events, introduce new ways of interaction with the attendees, boost event satisfaction and allow for a thorough analysis to be carried out. Nothing is standing in your way to start making use of them. The faster we change our mindset and introduce new mechanisms, the better the event’s organization and participation will become. Isn’t this what it’s all about?