Meetings No 19
Artificial Intelligence
Atti Soenarso: AI is soon an everyday commodity.
Cover Story
Anders Sörman-Nilsson
Gazing into the future of the meetings industry.
Europe is not a market
It is the will to live together.
Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre
“Our vision is to create Europe’s most attractive venue.”
Padraic Gilligan
Why ROI for meetings and incentives is a waste of time.
Elling Hamso
Why ROI is not a waste of time.
ICC Sydney
An important contributor to innovation.
Radar on penetrating the ­European meetings industry.
HR Technology
The Rise of AI
Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington: On AI and HR.
Sustainable Growth
Scandinavian sustainability initiative expands.
In a Hole
Lending a hand.
Record number of association meetings in 2016.
Best Cities Global Forum
“Unlocking the collective intelligence.”
My 23 Best Tactics for Personal Greatness
Robin Sharma: “Protect your willpower.”
Technology and Meetings
Tech is key in creating purposeful meetings.
IMEX Frankfurt
Packed with opportunities.
Cyber Security
The Anti-Cloud
Jaak Geens and Linas Bukauskas on
Cyber vs. Personal
Roger Kellerman: “Now is the time to improve online security.”
MCI middle East and Zahara Tours
join forces to bring association events to Oman.
business intelligence
ibtm world pre-matched appointments
reach new high ahead of 30th anniversary edition.
Meeting Industry
Convene Hosted Buyer Programme
Reaches All-Time High.
Award winner
Gothenburg ranks number one
among sustainable and innovative cities.
association meetings
Inaugural Winners
of Incredible Impacts Grants Announced.

Nigeria, Senegal and Cape Verde
dominate the West African hotel pipeline with 77% of the total planned hotel rooms.
business Intelligence
Business events
must adopt Olympic standard when it comes to safety.
hotel news
Dubai’s first all-inclusive resort
sees big rise in demand.
maximum meeting place
Paris Convention Centre:
the largest conference centre in Europe.
Business Intelligence
Digital focus gives 13% uplift
for Denmark on German MICE market.
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Why ROI for Meetings and Incentives Is a Waste of Time

Padraic Gilligan, managing partner Soolnua, Ireland, gives four reasons why the success of business events is hidden and mostly bears fruit after time.

A colleague and I recently spoke with two corporate meeting and event planners about return on investment, aka ROI. It was a fascinating conversation with two highly experienced professionals from global organisations. By the end of the phone conversation, however, I knew we were no further down the line with ROI today than when it first “trended” in our industry over 20 years ago.

ROI is still that bright elusive butterfly that bewitches, bewilders and beguiles us all. We can see it flapping, floating and fluttering about and sometimes we even get really close to it. However, just when we think we have it in our grasp it slips away from us and we’re left with nothing tangible, just the inner conviction and certainty that our meeting or incentive or event had great value although we’ve very little to show the stern-faced, humourless bean counter.

So is calculating ROI on meetings and events a waste of time? At the risk of irritating my esteemed friend and colleague, Elling Hamso of the Event ROI Institute, I think it might be. Here’s why:

1. Like comparing apples and oranges

Teachers’ unions in Ireland have been fighting for years against successive governments’ efforts to introduce “benchmarking”: the systematic measurement of educational success against pre-determined benchmarks or metrics. Their core argument is that it cannot be done as education is a holistic process connected with the social, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth of the child.

Much of its success is hidden, latent and unseen, maybe not properly emerging until years after it has taken place. Education, they say, is about information, formation and transformation and benchmarking is only capable of evaluating one of these.

I think the impact of a meeting or incentive or event is akin to the complexity of the educational process and, therefore, trying to properly measure its ROI is probably a waste of time.

2. ROI is bound by time and space

Any ROI calculation is bound by time and space, whereas the impact of a great meeting or event or exhibition is definitely not.

I learned this a long time ago when I performed crude ROI calculations on my trade show investment using a version of Mr Micawber’s model from the Charles Dickens’ book David Copperfield:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

My version ran something like this:

Cost of trade show participation: $5,500; Number of conversations had: Unknown; Number of leads received: 10; Number of confirmed pieces of business: zero; Result: Awful trade show.

What this neophyte trade show participant didn’t realise, of course, was that the unknown number of conversations and the relationships built as a result of these would lead to confirmed pieces of business for years into the future.

At my first SITE International Conference in Puerto Rico in 1994, I met an Australian DMC and we spent time chatting and exchanging best-practice stories. More than six years later, having changed jobs and gone to the buyer side, that person brought a programme to me in Ireland that constituted 25 percent of our total revenues that year.

Who knew?

3. We know instinctively that it works

Financial and insurance companies, in particular, have been investing heavily in incentive travel experiences for decades but most companies rarely, if ever, run the rule over them. That’s because they know they work – the outcomes have all the external appearances of success so why waste time and effort trying to drill down and prove what your own instinct is telling you?

The easiest way to measure return on investment on incentive programmes is to stop doing them. This happened involuntarily during the years of austerity and recession and the results were not pretty. The net result is that companies that paused or postponed their MICE activities in 2009 are back doing them again.

In its white paper (May, 2010) on the Anatomy of a Successful Incentive Travel programme, the Incentive Research Foundation asked one CEO how his company measured ROI on business events. He replied:

“We don’t. We don’t measure it exactly, relative to the investment. I think our return or measurement is when we look around at the 300 people there. Are those really the people that I, along with the senior management, feel are the movers and shakers and the drivers of our success? If they are and they’re there, and they have a good time and they want to come back next year, then I think the investment’s been worthwhile.”

It’s heartening to note such a “touchy-feely” response from the CEO of a major US corporation with obligations to report to the stock exchange. “If it doesn’t have a number it doesn’t count” might be a great motto with a clever play-on-words but, somehow, it manages to miss the point: human relationships are at the core of corporate exchange too and these don’t always add up!

4. ROI, or ROO, or ROE

In an effort to by-pass the potential tyranny of ROI, many event professionals use alternative acronyms such as ROO (Return on Objective) or ROE (Return on Effort or should that be Return on Equity?).

I especially like Return on Objective as it implies that meetings or events have or should have objectives while allowing that these may be tangible or intangible.

The two event professionals we spoke to, for example, both have wide and extensive metrics around event objectives. These include empirical and verifiable metrics such as attendee numbers, speaker evaluations, net promoter score etc. However, they are also concerned with less objective qualities such as changes in attitude, behaviour and more.

Padraic Gilligan is a managing partner at Soolnua, Ireland, a business events and MICE consultancy. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Padraicino.