A Simple Way to Think About Event Return On Investment

Before I started Glisser I spent 12 years running marketing teams. And in that time I saw the perception of marketing change from colouring pencils and parties, to being digitised and data-driven. No longer sales-support, but a strategic function at the heart of the world’s best businesses.

Mike Piddock, October 25, 2016

It just so happens that events, conferences and hospitality still make up the largest part of a typical marketing budget. 25% of that hard won cash is spent bringing people together, creating opportunities to network, teach and sell.


We keep doing it because gut-feel says it’s working, but even with the tremendous acceleration of event technology, at many small and medium scale events data collection amounts to counting attendance, or a post-event survey that only a fraction of your audience will fill in (if you’re lucky).

So how do you improve your event return on investment measurement?

To solve this conundrum, the starting point must always be your event’s objectives – otherwise you’ve no idea what the ‘R’ in ‘Event ROI’ represents.


Are you getting face-to-face with prospective customers to ‘educate’ them about (let’s be honest – to ‘sell’) your product? Then the R is Revenue.

Are you bringing together teams of employees to get everyone on-message with the latest company strategy? Then your R is Recall.

Are you creating an experience where disparate and unconnected people are forming and improving their networks? Then your R is Relationships.

Your ‘R’ – your ‘Return’ – could be anything (and it might not begin with the letter ‘R’). But it should be strategic, and it should be related to the very reason you are bothering to hold the event in the first place.

The ‘I’s have it

Once you’ve determined your ‘R’ you need to make sure you’re also properly calculating the other side of the equation – the ‘Investment’.

Most event professionals are more than comfortable running a tight budget and are highly knowledgeable about their numbers, so tend to find this bit fairly straightforward.

Where extra effort should be focused, however, is around the cost of their time, and that of their teams. Don’t think of yourself as a free resource that can go the extra mile at no cost. Don’t ignore the hours of wasted time re-typing details about your event into documents, or chasing presenters for slides, or dealing with all the requests for presentations from attendees, or typing up paper feedback forms. All of this is time that needs to be included in your investment calculation, as it could be better spent elsewhere. In economic terms – your Opportunity Cost. And if there’s tech that does it better (and so saves you time and therefore money), use it.

Measuring your Return

This is the hard part. How do you measure whether you’ve met the strategic objective – the ‘Return’ of your event?

It’s hard because it’s different for every business and often for every event, and so it needs a bit of thinking and the measures need to be set up properly in the first place.

It’s also hard because once you’ve pinpointed the right metrics, you’ve then got to put in place the processes to gather the data and information to determine performance against those metrics. Often it’s a case of gathering the right data, rather than just more data – with so many tools and technologies out there at your disposal – you’re just as likely to drown in the numbers, as you are to starve.

The secret is to keep it simple. Ensure you have a very clear definition of ‘Return’, and a few very specific measurements that determine success. Then make it as easy as possible to collect the data, then collect it consistently and accurately. Again, technology makes this very easy these days – but remember people need a nudge in the right direction, and often a reward (like sharing your presentation content, for example) helps incentivise them to feed back the data you need.

How does this work in practice? A Case Study

Let’s take a real life example. A fund management company ran a series of 30 seminars across the UK targeting their clients – financial advisers. Each event saw about 50 attendees, and could be delivered at around £1000 per event (hotel meeting space, AV, breakfast, coffee and basic materials), plus the cost of an event planner – let’s say that added an extra £200 per event. Also factored in is the time cost of speakers (expensive fund managers), sales teams (to manage the events on the day) and travel – perhaps another £800 overall. The total was £2000 per event.


The objective was to improve the product knowledge of the audience, ultimately to give them greater confidence in describing the company’s products, and therefore lead to increased investment in their funds from the financial advisers’ consumer clients.

A real life ROI

‘Return’ therefore took two measures.

First, a comparison of business written on a quarterly basis post-event, compared to the equivalent quarter the year previously. This was measured over multiple years, to capture business that may have been influenced by the event but not written until some time later. This was also compared to a control group of customers who didn’t attend the events.

Secondly, an analysis of the improved understanding of the audience about the company’s products – with both quantitative and qualitative data – collected through feedback forms (paper back then – but now event tech makes this a much easier job). This company achieved 100% completion of feedback forms – but how that was done is another blog entirely…

In conclusion – the more the merrier

Now this approach certainly wasn’t flawless. Increased sales could have just as much been influenced by other forms of marketing, or the efforts of sales teams. However, across a broad set of data it can provide a helpful measure.

Ultimately, what it did show was that these events cost the company around £40 per attendee (£2000 / 50 attendees) – that was the ‘Investment’. If these attendees brought an additional £40 business to the company over and above that which they might have been expected to do anyway, then the events could be seen as delivering a positive ROI. If at the same time they delivered measurably improved knowledge and expertise, then longer term ROI (such as brand value) could be attributed to the events.

But to simplify this further, the view was that if an event covered its ‘Investment’ costs with measurable ‘Returns’ (i.e. the event made more than £2000 revenues), then it was worth doing. And, if more events could be added to the calendar and each one added greater revenue than the investment cost, it was worth adding. And it was worth it to keep on adding more and more events, until there weren’t enough attendees or the return dipped below the investment…


Which is how this financial services company ended up running 200 events per year, with over 10,000 delegates, and just one event planner. And it knew, without doubt, those events were worthwhile.

If you have these numbers at your fingertips for your events, then you’ve a powerful case for what you do. Which is always helpful the next time you meet the finance team to talk about pay rises.


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