by Jonathan Vatner | June 01, 2005

Brooke Selby, CMPDefining 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 event.

Michelle Hartley Jackson, CMP

The final goal: Ultimately, an event should result in profits, stresses Michelle Hartley Jackson, CMP, of Planning House International.

    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.”

ROO’s emergence
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.”