Event ROI: Brad Gillespie’s Strategies for Impact, Challenges & Persuasive Narratives

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Episode description

Understanding and demonstrating ROI holds greater significance than ever in light of the industry's resource constraints and staffing concerns. One key step towards effectively navigating the dynamic events landscape is mastering the art of calculating and quantifying the value of event benefits within ROI.

In this week's episode, we're honored to be joined by Brad Gillespie, VP and General Manager of Cvent Consulting, who will provide insights into the world of ROI.

Tune in as he shares his perspectives on the importance of quantifying ROI, the challenges confronting event professionals, and the essential skill of crafting impactful ROI narratives to justify investments.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The significance of understanding and quantifying the impact that events have on stakeholders
  • The ROI equation
  • The challenge of measuring benefits for internal programs

Things to listen for:

[01:54] Elusive event ROI demystified with practical tips
[05:40] How to calculate ROI
[06:40] The current turnover in the events industry and staffing concerns
[10:22] How stakeholders want clear numbers to substantiate the impact
[13:40] Why ROI and impact are sometimes interchangeable

Meet your host

Alyssa Peltier, Director of Market Strategy & Insights, Cvent Consulting

Meet your guest speaker

Brad Gillespie, VP and General Manager of Cvent Consulting

Related resources

Brad's webinar series mentioned in the episode:

Episode Transcript

Brad: A common scenario is a program leader comes to us because they have stakeholders outside of their team that need to see more impact. And that's the case here. But now what they want to understand is what is the actual impact that these programs are having? And so that's a very common scenario. When our team gets involved, in particular with ROI stories, is our leader is hearing from the outside that they need to have a better story and clearer numbers to substantiate, could be defending what they're already doing. It could be expanding the program, or it could be fine tuning things in a way that the stakeholders want to see.

Alyssa: Great events create great brands, and it takes a village to put on an event that engages, excites, and connects audiences to your brand. And we're that village. I'm Alyssa.

Paulina: I'm Paulina.

Rachel: And I'm Rachel.

Alyssa: And you're listening to Great Events, the podcast for all people interested in events and marketing.

Alyssa: Hello, everyone. What has been going on in this wide, wide world of events? My name is Alyssa, and welcome to this week's episode of Great Events, a podcast by Cvent. Today we are going to be discussing the magical and elusive topic of ROI and events. And no one better to engage in this conversation than VP and General Manager of Cvent Consulting. Also happens to be my boss, Brad Gillespie. Welcome to the podcast, Brad.

Brad: Thank you, Alyssa. Good to be here.

Alyssa: So tell me a little bit about what you've been talking about in this space. I know you've been kind of on a roadshow for the last three or four months on this particular topic. It seems to be kind of rearing its head right now, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts on why now, why ROI, what's going on in this space, and what are some of the kind of key things that you've been talking about?

Brad: Yeah, I liked your words. Magical, elusive, also super important. We seem to talk about this time every year about the time of Cvent Connect. It makes its way into the Connect agenda. It's always, I think, one of my projects to help the industry evolve how it thinks about ROI. It's still, as you say, very elusive. And what we're trying to do with the series is demystify some of the concepts around event ROI and give people really practical ways to think about it, including the equation that is kind of CFO ready to help program leaders feel more confident in developing ROI stories, telling ROI stories, and defending the impact that our program.

Alyssa: What is that equation that you allude to?

Brad: Yeah, so we can try to do our best with words and no visuals, because it's kind of a math problem. If you were picturing writing on a whiteboard and doing a math problem, the equation starts with income. So think of income as what we get from our meeting and event, and we subtract the expense. So income minus expense. Expense, think of the total cost that it took us to produce, create, deliver the meeting, event, or program. We take that number and divide it by the cost. Same number again, divide it by the cost.

Brad: And what you're left with is the ROI number. And that number is usually a decimal. And we typically like to express ROI as a percentage. So we multiply that decimal by 100, and we're usually left with, hopefully a positive percentage to represent the ROI for our effort. So therein lies the work to be done. Most program leaders, we find, have a pretty good handle on the costs of their program. The expense part of that ROI equation. It's really what replaces income.

We like to substitute for income this concept of benefits, because, as you know, meeting and events create all kinds of benefits, but we've got to quantify the value of those benefits. And then the classic ROI equation, where we're using income that's black and white. We know what the investment created for income. We plug that number in. But in our world, unless we're talking about a commercial event, where we're talking about sales of tickets, sales of sponsorship, sales of actual product, we have to calculate a value of the event benefit. That's where we're spending most of our time in this series, is helping program leaders and practitioners really think about how to quantify benefits.

Alyssa: So what happens if I'm an event professional and I am working more exclusively on internal event programs? Is there a mean to calculate those numbers on the benefit side as well? Sometimes those seem a little less tangible. Right. Or less financially driven. Right. We're talking about engagement or retention or things like that. So how do you suggest an individual who's listening to this that may not have commercial objectives associated to their program, but still trying to justify the ROI?

Brad: Yeah, exactly right. We draw that line between programs, between the internal and the external for that very reason. Internal programs are a little trickier, because think town halls, think of training programs. Think about all the ways that we can create engagement for employees, training programs, sales kickoff.

Alyssa: Sales Kick Offs.Big season of planning going on right now. Yeah.

Brad: So one of the things we talk about is evolving from the metrics of old, like attendee satisfaction, speaker satisfaction, those kinds of things. Very difficult to calculate ROI on something that soft. So that's where the work goes in. And it's a good thought process to think in terms of, why are we doing this meeting and event? What is the objective that we might have for a sales kickoff? What is the objective that we might have for a training program? If you think in terms of audience and objectives, you can usually go down a path of measuring against those objectives and land on the right metrics that we can then start to quantify. And that's where the work goes into creating an ROI story for any meeting in the particular internal or a little more difficult. So we break that down in our series and we can certainly get into that today if you like.

Alyssa: Yeah, I also was just going to call out that on landing page for this podcast you can find resources to all of these webinars that Brad has been doing over the course of the last quarter accessible, you know, in the absence of not having a whiteboard behind us as we're doing this kind of MDA program of short. You can find those on the landing page for this podcast. So another question Brad related to just kind of like what's going on at kind of like the macro level. We're seeing a lot of turnover in the meetings and event space. We're also seeing kind of resource constraints across the board and inability to kind of hire and all of that staffing concern. Right. So are you seeing any correlation between this need to quantify obviously there's a seasonality and a cyclical nature of this being that it is budget season and trying to justify.

But are you also thinking that there's something bigger that might be at play here? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Brad: Absolutely. Yeah. Unfortunately, our industry, we are seeing some teams be downsized and leadership. We are seeing some program leaders all the way up to the VP level whose roles are being eliminated. And look, I interpret that as leaders need to be more proactive in telling stories of value and impact and in particular ROI. We like to say that ROI is the most mature KPI that a program leader can demonstrate and it takes some time and effort to really build that out. But the same path and being able to develop an ROI story for a program, you're also going to identify lots of other metrics and KPIs that are important to tell impact stories. And clearly, leaders need to be doing this outside of the budget season.

We need to be talking about this all the time in terms of how what we're doing and the investments we're making are having a positive impact. And so when we see people losing their jobs, I can point directly to I suspect they had difficulty demonstrating impact because if they could, even if that means we have to make sacrifices and do less of things, they're still going to be based on fact based decisions, based on some of these things that we're talking about and having the ability to calculate and tell ROI stories. So very important, very personal when we see our colleagues having impact. And it's not just a nice to have anymore. It's something that I think as program leaders, we all have to take seriously and make some progress on.

Alyssa: I have a question that kind of will take us down into more prescriptive lens, if you will. Being the leader of the Cvent Consulting team here, I know that we have enterprise level customers who are coming to us looking to justify their program spend. We've recently got a very interesting project come across our plate. Without naming any names, I'd be curious if you could help unpack the scope, the problems that this customer has come to us with and where Cvent Consulting is hoping to lead them moving into 2024.

Brad: Yeah, it's a really good one. We're excited to work on it. A common scenario is a program leader comes to us because they have stakeholders outside of their team that need to see more impact. And that's the case here. There are some stakeholders from the revenue organization that believe in the events program. They obviously participate in this particular organization. These individuals and leaders play a very hands on role in the meetings and events program. So they obviously believe in it or they wouldn't do it each year.

But now what they want to understand is what is the actual impact that these programs are having? And so that's a very common scenario, when our team gets involved in particular with ROI stories, is our leader is hearing from the outside that they need to have a better story and clearer numbers to substantiate, could be defending what they're already doing. It could be expanding the program, or it could be fine tuning things in a way that the stakeholders want to see. Sometimes when program leaders try to do this just with their own view of the program in mind, it's not a bad thing to do. But being in touch with what our stakeholders expect is even more important because that usually takes us down a path of understanding what those stakeholders expect from the meetings and events program and quantifying the impact in different ways, perhaps. And in this case that you're talking about, it's sales and revenue, and it's closer to that sourcing of sales and revenue as opposed to just being there to be a part of or move things from kind of one stage in the sales cycle to the next. This client really wants to understand sales that originated from the events program, that perhaps without the events program, those sales may not have occurred. And so it's a really big challenge because you get into topics like attribution and there's a lot of subjectivity to things like attribution, but we're obviously excited to help this client figure it out.

At every one of these stories that we get to be a part of, we want to share with the community because it will apply to some number of our listeners. But the story there is really all of our programs have stakeholders. Whether those stakeholders are human resources for internal training programs, executive leadership for things like town hall programs, sales leadership for commercial programs. Those are our customers. Those objectives that those stakeholders have had to factor into what we measure, how we measure, how we build our ROI stories, and keeping that very close to the center of things.

Alyssa: And I like what you said earlier. ROI is a very specific KPI. I do think what we ultimately are trying to help customers do, and what the big conversation in market is, what is the value of the event program that I run, or all of the event programs that I run. Open up scope a little bit and tell those stories for the stakeholder that's listening and needs that information. And ROI may be a very specific KPI that ultimately might not be necessary for the particular stakeholder that you're talking to. Right? That stakeholder might be looking for just marketing attribution. They might not need to see all of the cost data that is something for you. Of course, I'm not saying don't limit yourself, but sometimes these terms are conflated.

And I think that's an interesting point to draw out here, that they are different things and we need to tell different stories confidently to the stakeholders that we're telling them to.

Brad: You're right on. And sometimes when we hear ROI, what the client really means is impact. They need to demonstrate it. And as I mentioned on the path to ROI, the way we talk about it, the way that we think about it in our process, we look at metrics and objectives together. And so we really encourage program leaders to think about audience first. Who is the audience of this meeting or event, and what objectives do I have for that audience that I am supporting with this meeting? Knowing, as we know our meetings, events can support a wide range of objectives. And so, sometimes what we see is where you've got an event that could do several different things to have impact, really isolating down. What are the number one or two things? Don't try to measure everything all at once.

So when we get the question, where do we start? Isolate the audience and really clarify the top one or two objectives that you have for that audience that will lead you down the path to the right metrics for those objectives. And metrics can become KPIs that are all quantifiable. One of the things that we've been talking about in demystifying ROI is, while it takes effort, we can calculate a value for most every objective that we would ever assign to any meeting, event or program, internal or external. We just have to go looking in the right places for it. But it all starts with understanding the audience and the objectives that we have for our meeting and event for that audience.

Alyssa: I think that is a perfect way to wrap up today's conversation. Brad, super actionable. Super helpful. Very prescriptive at the same time. I hope all of you listeners today found that this was helpful as well. Like I said, the resources are being made available to you guys on the landing page. So feel free to download. Take a deeper dive into this Demystifying ROI series, whether that is a commercial objective event or more of an internal aligned objective.

Once again, thanks for joining us. If you have any additional thoughts or things to share with us related to this topic always, you can shoot us a DM on LinkedIn or send us an email at greatevents@cvent.com. Thanks for tuning into great events. Hope you have a great week. Bye.