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Finding the Return on Experience in Meetings Management

More meetings stakeholders are trying to leverage business intelligence for meetings management. They want to measure engagement and articulate insights about how effective their meetings are at achieving their companies' objectives. More often today than yesterday, they are asking, what is the return on the attendee experience?

Stakeholders want to go beyond static reporting, beyond snapshots on savings and compliance. They want to drill down into an audience's engagement and what that ultimately delivers to the host organization. "They don't care as much about how the cost of this particular meal compares to the last time they did this or compared to a different division in their organization," said Acquis Consulting Group principal and meetings management head Shimon Avish. "They really care about whether the customers were happy at this event, whether they were engaged or whether they're able to convert them, if it's an external clientele, into a sale or generate additional loyalty."

Kimberly Meyer, principal of consultancy Meetings Strategy, said, "From a business intelligence perspective, there is gold in terms of who attends these meetings, what comes out of these meetings and what happens next in terms of their relationship with [the host] company." Engagement data insights can tell meetings managers when to scrap an event that isn't working or tweak it to hit a corporate target.

Increased Focus on Intelligence

In the early days of meetings management, "we really focused on savings and compliance to the exclusion of quality events," said Avish, who promoted meetings management strategies as early as 2004. Event-quality metrics should have been front and center for a major stakeholder, the chief marketing officer, he said, but it often didn't happen. As a result, marketing departments have been strong holdouts from managing meetings. They looked at the metrics involved—cost-cutting, year-over-year savings, cost-per-attendee—and didn't see their interests represented. What about increased sales conversions and loyalty? What did attendees actually learn at the event? How has the event changed the way attendees think of the company's brand?

These days, meetings managers are recognizing the critical nature of metrics that will support marketing and business-building goals. And, said Avish, they are looking to buy or build the tools that can capture them.

What's Your Objective?

What Data Can Do

Common questions companies want to answer with data, according to Glisser founder Michael Piddock

• Sales generation: Did you sell more things as a result of that event? Did the attendees that were more engaged at the event go on to buy more from that company?

• Raising brand awareness: Was the brand effective in building brand perception? "You can start to look at analytics around social media and around Instagram posts related to your brand, around activation and [if they] actually shared it on social media with followers."

• Learning: Did attendees learn what we were trying to teach them? You can determine this by "scoring them, testing them, checking their knowledge."

• Networking: Did people connect at the event? "How many LinkedIn connections were made from people in that room? Did people make connections that led to new business?"

Michael Piddock, founder of Glisser, an audience engagement analytics provider, said a lot of clients come to him to enhance audience engagement. "Our clients may run a whole host of events and spend a lot of money on them," Piddock said, "but they may not know whether their meetings are achieving their objectives or if their audiences are satisfied." Other clients may understand the bigger picture, but they want to get more granular. "Maybe they want to know which sessions are working and where they can improve their events. Either way, all of them are looking for solutions that use data to help guide their decisions." (See What Data Can Do, at left.)

One company answering these kinds of questions with data is McDonald's. Every other year, the fast food giant convenes 50,000 employees, franchisee owners and vendors from around the world. Bringing all these groups together makes fundamental sense, but the outcome had never been measured well. What worked and what didn't? What experiences did the attendees find useful? What content resonated with them?

Convention decisions were made more or less by tradition, according to McDonald's global meetings manager Erin Smock, speaking last month at BTN Group's Strategic Meetings Summit. "We had a lot of ‘We always do this,' ... ‘We have to have that,' but [we didn't have] a real ability to say why," she said.

That all changed in 2018. The convention that year was held in Orlando, and McDonald's dug deep into attendee interactions to understand individual, as well as overall, engagement. The company used event registration data to build attendee personas and used unique ID numbers to track attendee activity across the event's digital platforms like the website and onsite apps. It also collected activity patterns on the ground using Bluetooth Low Energy attendee badges. With the help of consulting partner ZS, Smock and her team uncovered lessons about the event. "[We were able to see] how people were consuming the event, how messages were resonating, how we were shifting sentiment, as well as logistics around when people are coming and going."

First, McDonald's gained clarity on the event's audience. Conventional wisdom taught that attendees were a mix of suppliers, employees and franchisees. "Now [we know] the attendee is really the franchisee. That was a good lesson for us," said Smock. Second, the data revealed aspects of the event that could be improved. Traditionally, McDonald's had prescribed attendee schedules to a degree during the event, but the data showed that "they didn't love that," Smock said. The data also identified some highly produced content that did not draw big attendance. Third, the data taught some important logistical lessons: Following an industry trend, McDonald's attendees are moving away from structured meal times and prefer to have snacks throughout the day. As a result, the convention's five-course event dinner and its associated costs are now on the chopping block. McDonald's data efforts also validated the perception that event attendance thinned by 4 p.m. each day. Smock is working on fitting event content into fewer hours and is going into the 2020 program feeling a lot more prepared. "We have all this really great information to [help us] plan," she said.

The Next Level

Year-over-year data analysis and decision-making is a critical milestone for meetings management. As data practices advance, however, goals remain, Avish said. Industry benchmarking is a real frustration for meetings stakeholders who want to dig deeper into program performance. "We can't yet compare ourselves to peers, competitors and like-size companies, which is a real shame. We do that on the travel side of the industry and we get rich data and rich insights."

D. Habtemariam

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