by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | October 01, 2010

At some point in your career, you are likely to be asked to conduct or oversee an audit, which, as defined by the Conven­tion Industry Council, is "a methodical examination and review of records pertaining to an event."

Audits can be conducted internally by the firm that owns the event in an effort to find ways to beef up the show, by a third party that is interested in bidding for the event contract, or by an independent auditing firm on behalf of the owner or an interested third party. This column pertains to the first two examples, the internal or third-party audit, in which planners have an active role.

Audits typically are conducted when:

• Your agency's planning contract for the event is up for bid (contract terms typically are for three years) and you need to work out a new agreement;

• A new agency has been chosen to replace yours, or

• You are new to a company and unfamiliar with the event you are taking over.

Getting Started Some audit information can be obtained before the event takes place. To prepare in advance, review all metrics that exist, such as attendance and financial records and sponsorship return on investment. These typically can be obtained from the marketing team or event department.

Next, prepare a checklist of categories to become the blueprint for your final report. You should seek out areas of known weakness (e.g., attendance), but be open to discovering previously overlooked items on-site such as registration procedures and signage. As you are likely to be the only audit representative at the event, plan how you will leverage your time most effectively.

The rest can be done on-site. For this portion of the audit, you will need to sample the full program. In order to absorb every point of contact in context, you should plan to participate in the event as a regular attendee would, including sessions, meals and the trade show floor. Look for elements that make the event successful, as well as for areas that need improvement, e.g., the content of sessions, traffic flow and branding.  

Analyze Results Typically, an audit will conclude with a written report that tells a complete story about the event (and its history), organized into logical categories and including your observations and recommendations for improvement. Reports should not be all negative -- be sure to highlight anything special or exceptional about the event.

Adding information from previous years that has been aggregated from archived registration data, evaluations, etc., as well as current industry comparisons, will give your report far greater value. Results should be shared with the planning department, the marketing team and senior executives.

Note: Some audits are performed for very specific reasons, such as to address declining sponsorship revenue, and thus will need to include robust recommendations pertaining to these critical concerns.

Use Diplomacy Often, you might be one of several firms bidding for the event contract. Those firms might conduct audits, too, so show discretion and respect during the process (e.g., don't discuss your findings with others or attempt to disparage the event).

Similarly, if you are a new hire and are asked to audit your firm's internal event, you might be auditing your new colleagues and/or an outgoing planner. Remember, your goal is to provide a constructive observation of the event, not to trash it. Be professional and factual, and always think in terms of what would result in an improved, more successful event.