by Louise M. Felsher | April 01, 2005

Somewhere along the line, no matter the type of meeting you are working on, an executive is going to ask you a return-on- investment question. Will you be able to demonstrate whether the cost of putting on the event can be justified?
    If not, the time and effort you have spent meticulously detailing goals and objectives are virtually wasted, because you have no methodology in place to measure if those goals were met.
    Too frequently in event management, the very definition of ROI mistakenly is narrowed down to a financial uptick or profit resulting from the meeting. On the contrary, measuring ROI particularly of live events or experiential marketing projects is a complex, organic process that includes many nonfinancial gains.

From Day One
ROI is not just about evaluating a meeting after it is over. Before it takes place, before you even present the event’s goals and objectives to your client, association board or executive team, think through how you will measure and analyze the event’s results.
    Be sure to get consensus on the results your key stakeholders want to see. For example, extraordinary attendance won’t impress them if very few members of your target audience showed up.

Benchmark Analysis
Some well-meaning planners set up well-crafted measurement tools but fail to use them until the conclusion of the event. You need to evaluate your progress all along the way. Whether you do this weekly, monthly or quarterly depends on the size and complexity of the event.
    Keep in mind that accrual budgets are not measurement tools. For example, saving $1,000 on your anticipated online registration fees might not be cause for celebration if you cannot measure the value of the online experience. Perhaps you saved the money because not many people registered online, and they resorted to phoning or faxing in their information because the registration process was difficult to use. Running an ROI analysis throughout the registration period could have detected and prevented potential problems and attendee frustrations.

Beyond the Dollars
After the event, consider written tests, case studies, follow-up surveys and on-the-job observations to evaluate the effectiveness of the meeting beyond a direct cost analysis.
    For example, trade shows might analyze the number of qualified leads captured; educational programs look at test results; user conferences measure customer satisfaction; product launches might turn to focus groups to see how familiar random groups are  with new products. Internal events, such as motivational meetings or incentive trips, can be measured after the fact with a survey on morale or an evaluation of overall efficiency improvements.
    Some methods rely on long-term results for true accuracy. Looking at investment behavior after an equity conference, for instance, could require months or even years of analysis.
    For almost every event, ROI should not end when the event does. Some metrics need immediate results and follow-up data collected and analyzed at later intervals.

Tools of the Trade
Quantifying all of the elements of a meeting for ROI purposes is not easy. Jack Phillips of the Birmingham, Ala.-based ROI Institute ( and Meeting Professionals International have developed a tool to help planners set up measurement systems for use before, during and after their events. Currently, 12 MPI members who were trained by Phillips are traveling the country, conducting sessions at MPI chapters (go to for details).

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is senior vice president of event marketing for The Wilkinson Group in Burlingame, Calif.