Defining tactics: ROI is a measurement method, says
Planning House International’s Brooke Selby, CMP, but ROO is a
whole paradigm for putting on a meeting.
The event was supposed to be
relatively cut-and-dried. David Buck, CEO of Zweave, an
apparel industry software company based in Boston, was putting on a
client meeting to introduce his software to major uniform buyers.
He came across an e-mail from an old associate, Michelle Hartley
Jackson, CMP, with whom he had worked in the ’90s. She and Brooke
Selby, CMP, had recently left IDG World Expo in Framingham, Mass.,
and founded a new company, Cambridge, Mass.-based Planning House
International. It seemed they could advise him on marketing his
The final goal: Ultimately, an event should result in profits,
stresses Michelle Hartley Jackson, CMP, of Planning House
In their first meeting, Jackson and Selby asked him
questions that would change the event’s course and eventually make
it a success.
“They began the process by asking, ‘What do you want to get out
of this? Why are you doing this? What are your objectives?’”
recounts Buck. “They got me to take a step back and think about the
event a little differently.”
These kinds of questions make up the cornerstone of “return on
objective,” a relatively new way of assessing the value of a
meeting. Traditionally, meetings have fallen outside the scope of
measurement and therefore have represented a sort of black hole for
corporations, an arena most everybody knows is necessary but few
can prove precisely why. Recently, however, as procurement
departments have begun to dip their fingers into the meetings pot,
meetings professionals have been faced with convincing stakeholders
their conferences are worth the cost. The creators of PHI know how
to prove it.
“Most companies look at the meeting or event division as a cost
center,” says Jackson. “We believe that meetings and events should
be looked as a value center.”
For years, sales departments have measured return on investment by
tallying dollars received against dollars spent. The influence of
marketing, however, doesn’t necessarily translate dollar-for-dollar
into a company’s revenue.
Instead of calculating success based on revenues, marketers
typically measure returns based on whether their objectives, from
brand awareness to customer relationship-building, are met.
Completion of these objectives, rather than dollars earned,
ultimately determines the success of a given campaign.
A decade ago, the first mentions of return on objective were
heard in the trade show world, thanks in large part to Skip Cox,
president and COO of Exhibitor Surveys, a trade show consulting
firm in Red Bank, N.J. Cox saw that exhibitors could measure the
value from a show if they delineated clear objectives from the
get-go and took stock of their progress at multiple points before,
during and after. He called this ROO.
In the past few years, because of a pandemic of cost-cutting,
ROO as a trade show tool has taken off. Says Cox, “It’s in
everything, in every place you look. The mantra is ‘measure every
aspect of your business or lose it.’ And I don’t think that’s going
to go away.”
In addition, the headlining accounting scandals and the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act have brought such a scrutiny of expenses that
the procurement departments of many corporations are training a
critical eye toward meetings, that elusive bastion of soft returns.
Now, planners are using ROO to prove their meetings matter.
Some suppliers are supporting the effort, too. Barbara Talbott,
vice president of marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts,
based in Toronto, says a growing number of clients have expressed a
need for ROO measurements in the past 18 months. “They obviously
still have the responsibility to deliver a flawless event and
manage their budget,” she says. “But now, the planner is being
asked to develop a business case for the meeting.”