We’ve always measured event performance in terms of “butts and bucks” — the number of people who attend and the amount of money brought in. However, in this new world where business travel is predicted to be down by 20 percent compared to pre-COVID times and our audiences have so many alternatives to our events to access content, can we still use the same attendance and revenue numbers to determine an event’s success? It is more important than ever to take a hard look at our events and determine if our previous success metrics still hold true. When we look back at the end of 2023, how will we know if our events were worth the time, effort, and energy?
It begins, as always, by understanding the outcomes an organization seeks for its events and setting key performance indicators around them. Most associations have goals around increasing membership or reach. For an event, that could look like the following:
- How many non-members participate? Are you bringing in people who haven’t interacted with you before?
- How many attendees convert to membership, or subscribe to programs, during the event?
- What is the number of mid-career professionals participating? Are you capturing this important constituent of your next group of leaders?
- What is the number of early-career professionals participating? Are you building the pipeline for the future?
Most organizations also have goals around revenue, and the new environment we find ourselves in requires us consider other ways events generate short- and long-term revenue. For example, a trade show can measure the quality of the buying audience over quantity. Overall trade-show attendance numbers were down in 2022, but organizers have anecdotally shared that their exhibitors were happy nonetheless because the people who were in the exhibit hall were at a higher level of decision-making power. Happy exhibitors lead to increased show-floor revenue. If you know now that your attendance numbers for an upcoming event may not reach 2019 levels, you can take control of the story and attract more sponsors and exhibitors by communicating such details as registrants’ job titles, decision-making authority, and projected budgets. If you haven’t collected this information in the past, consider building them into your registration process.
Events can also be an opportunity for rapid cycle product development. It’s a good time to gather feedback from focus groups or interview attendees to understand potential gaps in your organization’s offerings. A measure of success could be the number of viable product ideas generated by these conversations and from on-site sessions.
Events should be a channel that furthers the strategic goals of the organization. Intentionally connecting the strategic plan to the outcomes of the event automatically elevates its importance. This could look like creating space to highlight programs around your organization’s key initiatives, collecting input on structural challenges, or even using sessions to source solutions to issues that the industry is facing.
There are dozens of other ways to determine if an event is successful. It could be the number of new formats tried, the sunsetting of an awards dinner that has diminished in value, or keeping the majority of the audience engaged on the final day. Regardless of what you decide your priorities are, it is vital to take this opportunity to give your event a performance review and understand if it continues to live up to your organization’s — and your audience’s — expectations.
A great way to get started is to use our free Score My Event tool (a three-minute quiz here) to gauge the current performance of your event and identify areas for improvement. Used by hundreds of organizations, the tool is based on 360 Live Media’s measure of success, the 6 Rs:
- Reach — are you attracting the type of people you need and want; in the numbers you want?
- Retention — are you re-engaging with your audience year-over-year?
- Relevance — what percentage of your community is engaging in your event?
- Reputation — how does your audience rate the importance of your event?
- Revenue – does your event bring in the amount of money that it should?
- ROI — is your event worth the time, money, and effort that you invest in it?
An event has the potential to be the most powerful tool an organization has — the real-time representation of all the features, benefits, and rewards that an association or corporation offers. Those who see their events as an opportunity to advance strategic initiatives make the event a platform that connects customers to solutions and members to programs, all while elevating the brand.
2022 showed us how audiences — and therefore our events — have changed. We cannot use the same measuring sticks we did before. Doing so prevents us from understanding the true impact of our events and from fully leveraging the power we hold.
Beth Surmont, CMP, FASAE, CAE, is vice president of event strategy and design for marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.