As the macroeconomic picture in the U.S. and abroad points to a possible plateau or even a contraction in marketing budgets, it's necessary for marketing leadership to review event programs with an eye towards streamlining activity and maximizing business impact. This means viewing your calendar of events as an investment portfolio, with an eye towards increasing efficiency and effectiveness.
Effective portfolio management means that you are meeting specific business objectives via your event marketing regardless of business objective, event type or geography; by doing the right events in the right way; and creating the optimal series of interactions with your most valued customers and partners in the most cost-effective manner possible.
It should provide measurement and visibility into the entire event marketing spend. It empowers you to make smarter decisions informed by specific objectives, research and data, not through old assumptions, myths and habits. It allows you to say “no” to opportunities that don't align tightly with the overarching plan and say “yes” to new opportunities that may elevate your game.
In a nutshell, effective portfolio management allows you to unlock a tremendous amount of new value from your existing portfolio.
Here are some guidelines that may help you formulate a plan for more effective portfolio management.
First a warning: Truly effective portfolio management is as much about change management as it is implementing a new strategy. Portfolio management means that there are events you will no longer attend. It means that at those events you do attend, your presence there can be smaller, larger or different than in the past. It means that in certain situations, you are going to substitute one kind of event for another, replacing a trade show with a seminar, for example.
The underlying factor in these scenarios is that each requires change, sometimes radical change. And change is hard for people. You cannot spend too much time planning and accounting for what it will take to drive these kinds of changes through your organization, just one of the reasons you may want to consider the support of an event marketing agency, a third party that specializes in this set of best practices integrating the best portfolio management techniques with solid experience in large-scale change management. Whether you are moving the pieces around for a portfolio of 10 events or 10,000, the effectiveness of your change management plan will determine your level of success.
With that understanding in place, any comprehensive program for event portfolio management should begin with a clear statement of objectives. These objectives are your roadmap and rulebook. They are the means by which you stay on course, make difficult decisions and rate your progress. Portfolio management programs are multiyear programs that require a deep commitment by the most senior leadership in the organization who will visibly inspect the project for results. A clear set of objectives determined by the right senior people at the outset will save you time and headaches down the road.
With a clear set of objectives in mind, it's time to get into the research and evaluation stage. At IBM Corp., we began looking at our entire event marketing spend in the late 1990s in response to leadership's call to consolidate the marketing function. Having agreed upon our objectives along with agency George P. Johnson, we conducted a thorough review process in which we developed a map for how our worldwide event function truly operated on a daily basis.
We were stunned at the amount of independent decision-making taking place that was disconnected from our changing objectives, about the sheer volume of linkages we needed to make between functional units, geographies and the event discipline. Organic growth in the event function had given rise to different groups in various business units or global regions that spoke to each other infrequently; customers, partners and other audiences were often bombarded by a confusing barrage of event invitations and marketing messages.
Starting from a new map and with endorsement by leadership, IBM's event marketing managers drove forward a new way of doing business as an organization, one built on harmonizing the various efforts going on worldwide; aligning them more directly to our objectives; instituting new rules and processes to create visibility, transparency and drive discipline; and providing frequent review of our progress and results.
While an ongoing program that needs continuous tweaking and refinement as our business and objectives change, this effort has produced millions of dollars in cost savings while increasing results.
The institutionalization of our portfolio management approach has resulted in better goal-setting for each team to work off of, better communication about what events we're doing and why, more streamlined execution of those activities, more precise measurement and ultimately greater credibility for event marketing and widespread recognition of its ability to help us turn mind share into market share.
Some trade shows have fallen off the radar, while other shows and related events have taken their place. At some events, we are expanding our presence and adding new tactics to the mix to differentiate the IBM brand and our multitude of products and services. And at others we've diminished our on-floor presence in favor of increasing off-floor interactions with targeted audiences.
The common thread to all these activities is that we are—at any given moment—at the precise balance of events we need to be in order to deliver on our objectives: There are no errant details to a truly effective event portfolio management strategy.
Steve Waugh is manager-global event marketing for IBM Integrated Marketing Communications.
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Managing your event portfolio leads to more efficient spending