More and more, marketing departments are demanding that their event marketers be more accountable for their choices. For many event teams, that means taking a hard look at which events they attend and asking themselves why they attend them. In many cases, the response has been eliminating events that don't meet marketing objectives, then creating an event portfolio of specific, targeted events—each with a purpose that meets a larger goal.
Mary Fehrnstrom, senior manager-corporate event strategy at Cisco Systems, a supplier of Internet-based networking equipment, said there have been major changes in the industry that have led to more careful portfolio management. “The whole marketing landscape is changing,” Fehrnstrom said. “[Cisco's chief marketing officer] has to manage her business differently because there are so many more marketing venues and vehicles. We're in an explosive, marketing-redefining moment.”
And that evolutionary change—as well as strong growth in the events industry over the years and the current slowdown in the economy—is increasingly forcing marketing departments to look more closely into where they spend money.
David M. Rich, senior VP- strategic marketing worldwide at experience marketing agency George P. Johnson, said companies are realizing that, much as with their rush into the digital market, initial moves into events were made without measuring in advance the size of event portfolios and the financial impact of such decisions. Now with the changing industry, marketing departments are asking event marketers to prove themselves.
According to Tony Lorenz, president of ProActive, an event design company acquired by exhibit company Freeman last year, the use of metrics will continue to grow, “We're finally at a point where [ROI] tools are readily available.” No longer are they prohibitively expensive or proprietary. As a result, CMOs will increasingly ask that they be used, he said.
With a renewed focus on ROI, each event a company attends will be forced under a microscope, and marketers will either need to prove their worth or pull out.
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In order to live up to expectations leveled at event departments by CMOs, event marketers have begun to move away from siloed event planning and toward integrating events teams into a single event marketing group. “You need to know that none of your customers wakes up in the morning saying, "I'm a person that goes to trade shows.' They're just looking for someone who can sort out their questions, and that's about integrated marketing—it's highly customercentric,” Rich said.
Cisco's Fehrnstrom, whose company has been practicing integrated marketing and portfolio management for some time, said it's important that her team works collectively. “It's about communication, visibility and co-creating something better together than we could apart,” she said
Fehrnstrom likened a siloed event marketing plan to making dinner. In a system that's not integrated, everyone is going to the grocery store separately and making eight dinners for one family (i.e., the customer). What the customer wants, however, is for the chefs to work together to make one meal that's the right one for them.
Event companies that have merged their event marketing departments into one large group have found that the next essential step to creating a successful marketing campaign is to look at each event they attend in the context of their larger marketing game plan.
The question to ask, Fehrnstrom said: “ "What are we trying to accomplish as a company?' Being able to view the events we are doing through lots of different lenses is helping us out. And do we have enough platforms to drive the brand messages?”
According to GPJ's Rich, who heads up portfolio management for companies such as Cisco and IBM Corp., marketers are often shocked at the extraneous expenses and unnecessary event attendances when they create a portfolio. “The first aha! moment is looking at everything consolidated for the first time. [Our clients] say, "I had no idea I was doing that many events, and I had no idea it was costing me that much money,' “ he said.
Companies that have created portfolios often realize there are a good deal of unnecessary events on their yearly budget. According to Fehrnstrom, when Cisco initially created its portfolio, it made significant changes. “Interop was an example where we came in [and looked at] who's there from an audience perspective. We ... realized our booth space was around 10 times the size of our nearest competitor,” she said. “We started to take the size of the show floor down, and invested in the IP program and engaging with our customers—driving activities with the people who were going to be there.”
“We're getting more creative with how we spend our money at the shows. ... It's making such a difference for the sales team and the PR team,” Fehrnstrom added.
The key, said ProActive's Lorenz, is to “assess and recalibrate the event marketing spend for events that are known to deliver strong [results].”
What that means, according to marketers that have been successful in managing their portfolios, is to look at each event individually and ask, “Why are we going?” Often, events simply don't make the cut.
Fehnrstom credits partner IBM with giving her the idea to better manage Cisco's event portfolio. “We hold a user conference called Networkers every year. It was for technical decision-makers. We kept asking IBM why they weren't investing in Networkers. They said, "Because our focus is on business decision-makers.' “ Fehrnstrom said this was a breakthrough moment for her team. “The same things apply for Cisco. It gave us confidence. [IBM] decided where they wanted to be and where they wanted to spend their money, and they were sticking to it.”
Not only that, she said, as a result of Cisco's better managed portfolio, “We're not afraid to "deinvest' in trade shows—taking a smaller booth or doing things off the show floor.”
Without question, consolidating a marketing team, creating a portfolio and cutting unnecessary events is no easy task. However, marketers that have been successful at it said that down the line, success will be much more difficult for those companies that don't do it.
“They're going to find themselves behind the eight ball competitively,” Rich said. “They're going to be wasting money while their competitors are achieving results and getting better market share.”
According to Fehrnstrom, creating a portfolio can have some unexpected results inside a company. “When I volunteered for this, I never thought I was signing up for change management,” Fehrnstrom said. “What's important is that this process follows the perfect change management curve. It is a journey. You can't go in and expect people to turn on a dime. It's taken a couple of years, but the groundswell movement has been tremendous.”
Ultimately, companies that have been successful at getting through the growing pains said they are more than satisfied with the results. Having a plan that takes into account all aspects of a company's brand and marketing strategy, marketers said, will serve not only to make a company stronger but will strengthen the events industry.
“There was some concern when we started. A lot of event producers asked [if we were] out to destroy their industry,” Rich said. “But we are all on the same mission. We're all in the same business of trying to get everybody together to make the right decision. The only thing that's going to change is the definition of the tactics.” M