The technology trends for strategically tracking spending, improving processes and spurring cost savings for meetings and events. By Susan Radojevic, M&ITexecutive, Spring 2008
Depending on how you look at it, the headlines splashed across the financial pages spell either doom and gloom or opportunity for corporate Canada. A robust Canadian loonie and an anemic U.S. greenback are just the tip of the economic iceberg. The golden age of the fledgling 21st Century is giving rise to a global economic rebalancing.
In today’s precarious marketplace, it’s not unusual to find businesses circling the wagons – tightening budgets, maximizing head counts and improving efficiencies. Business leaders are burning the midnight oil figuring out how to hedge their bets against lower margins and higher risk. Darwinians will find innovative ways to stretch their corporate budgets and increase profits. There’s no single solution to these challenges, but a good place to start looking is in the corporate-marketing strategy.
Marketing budgets typically account for a sizeable portion of company funds. A properly executed marketing strategy, however, pays its own way and more. The problem is, while processes and measurement tools are typically in place for advertising and promotion, meetings and events, somehow, fall into a great abyss. Businesses commonly devote as much as 23 per cent of their marketing budget to events. That can add up to millions of unmanaged dollars. If you don’t know how much your company spends on events and meetings, then you can’t be sure if you’re getting value out of those meetings, and you certainly can’t measure Return on Investment (ROI) against them. And if you don’t know who is planning those events, or why they’re being held, you probably can’t measure Return on Objectives (ROO), either. That ultimately limits the impact of your overall marketing plan.
Event consolidation (also known as strategic event marketing consolidation and strategic meetings management programme) is gaining favour in the executive boardroom as an effective solution to this quandary. Consolidation should result in achieving three key business objectives: risk management, improved processes and cost savings. These are crucial strategic goals if events are taking a chunk out of your marketing budget. And key to successful consolidation is the technology used to track, measure and evaluate events.
In the meetings and events universe, there are two kinds of technology – the logistics kind that supports the meeting planner’s day-to-day job (registration, name badges, floorplans and the like) and the strategic kind that supports the business by enabling tracking and evaluation of event spend as well as measurement of ROI and ROO.
Corbin Ball, president of Bellingham, Wash.-based meetings-technology consulting firm Corbin Ball Associates, points out that although the concept of event consolidation started in the late 1980s, it didn’t have the strategic technological support it required to make much headway in the corporate marketplace. Ball explains, “Only in the past three years have enterprise-wide systems been sufficiently in place to accommodate consolidation’s comprehensive requirements.” There are a handful of viable technology options that support consolidation, and each offers its own distinct benefit.
Philadelphia, Pa.-based StarCite is an on-demand global meetings-management company that brings together buyers and suppliers of meeting-related services. Newport Beach, Ca.-based Ambassadors, LLC manufactures GEM, a web-based application that facilitates the strategic alignment of events through events-process management, events-business intelligence and global events-purchasing capabilities. Toronto-based company Arcaneo shares Ambassadors’ strategic focus; its Metron technology encompasses event-planning, execution and measurement.
The selection of a technology provider is an important element in an event-consolidation initiative – but not the only element. The technology should support event alignment based on business requirements, the goals and objectives of consolidation and its compatibility with existing applications. Choosing the technology first and building consolidation around it is like the tail wagging the dog. Worse, implementing a technology alone without the other components essential to consolidation will inevitably doom the initiative. Dale Beckles, president and CEO of Arcaneo, likens the many facets of consolidation, such as financial benchmarking, policies and communication, to parts of a house in which technology is just the ‘plumbing.’ As Microsoft’s Bill Gates once aptly explained, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Aligning event-marketing effectively means businesses need to apply the same criteria for managing events as they do for other disciplines. Ambassadors president Jerry McGee believes that to achieve a strategic consolidation, C-level executives need to change their perception that events fall simply within the realm of travel. McGee asserts that, in many cases, “an event is a marketing initiative, the same way an advertisement or promotion is, and travel is just the means to attend the event.” He points out that most businesses wouldn’t arbitrarily assign the management of producing an advertising campaign to an administrative assistant. There are corporate goals and objectives to consider, ROI and ROO measurements to establish and track, and requisite skills in ad production. The same can be said for event management, and yet the task of event planning is often added to the ‘to do’ lists of admin assistants. The Achilles’ heel in many Fortune 1000 companies is their failure to adequately manage event spend and measure results.
Spearheading event consolidation doesn’t fall under the sole jurisdiction of the C-level executive. It’s imperative that meeting professionals step up to the plate as strategists, rather than logistics experts. Rodney Dangerfield’s famous lament – ‘I don’t get no respect’ – is often echoed by meeting planners. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are looked upon as order takers, not valued contributors to the business. Meeting professionals can move from the order desk to a seat in the executive boardroom if they earn it by adopting a strategic role.
Beckles observes that many event planners are focused more on logistic-success metrics rather than strategic analysis. “To earn a seat at the table, meeting professionals need to prove event success beyond ‘a good time was had by all,’” he states. Top-ranking execs don’t care if the gala dinner was a hit or the name badges looked nice. They care about the bottom line: is customer awareness increasing?; have this year’s events cost less than last year?; is there a discernible return on investment? Taking the lead in initiating consolidation and its associated technology is a significant step in elevating event management from a logistics exercise to a key component of the marketing strategy.
There’s a gap between the meeting professional and the business owner, and this is partly because event management is often missing from sales and marketing discussions. Events are marketing-driven and every event, regardless of audience, includes all the esse
ial marketing ingredients: messaging, branding and visibility. The event professional should be aligned with marketing, not disconnected from it. As Ball points out, “Meetings are the face of the corporation.” The right consolidation technology enables analysis and measurement of ROO, which, in turn, boosts event management out of the abyss and into its rightful place in the marketing spectrum.
Aligning your event marketing with the business of marketing is a complex and time-consuming task. It’s likely that the design and implementation of a comprehensive consolidation will require the specialized strategic and technology services of experienced professional consultants. They collaborate with key executives and event management to co-create an effective consolidation that will meet the specific business needs of today – and tomorrow.
– Susan Radojevic is president of meeting consolidation strategists The Peregrine Agency Ltd.