Most event planners understand they’re only as good as their most recent event. But what they often struggle with is that their definition of a great event may vary vastly from that of the client or business behind it. While event planners may bask in attendee compliments of an enjoyable time, if that doesn’t translate to revenue and ROI, a client may not be satisfied.
Misaligned expectations are a sure way to spoil any planner-client relationship.
Personal opinions are irrelevant unless they directly translate to the clients’ goals. At the same time, many clients or managers often struggle to communicate exactly what their desired outcome for an event is. That’s why successful event planners closely align their performance goals with event revenue and measurable analytics. Clarifying event goals, so you can assign key performance indicators, is one of the first things event planners should undertake.
But, how is that done exactly?
The short answer is deliberately. This is not magic, dear event planner. It’s all about the numbers.
More specifically though… which numbers?
To effectively measure success, you need to set clear objectives.
In this article, you’ll learn how to:
- Flesh out clear, measurable client/business goals and assign key performance indicators.
- Use the appropriate analytics to measure success for your goal.
- Avoid vanity metrics, the bain of every event planner new to analytics.
- Chart a path toward reflective performance indicators and valuable data for a more robust event view.
What Are KPIs and Why Are They Essential to Success?
Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.” While this sounds like a wonderful recipe for meandering discovery, it won’t work in events.
Or at least, not in a satisfactory way for your client.
“Key Performance Indicator” (or KPI) might be a new term for you. It simply refers to the goals (or specific points) a business or individual sets to measure success. If this KPI is met, we were successful.
While high-level KPIs are calibrated to the overall mission of a company; low-level KPIs measure the success of specific actions—such as events—as they relate to that mission.
Let’s start with you. As an event planner, you are a service provider and your KPIs measure how well you provide that service. Well, what is the mantra of all service providers? “The customer is always right.”
Like it or not, that is your first Key Performance Indicator—to deliver on those things that are valuable and important to the client.
Ensuring that goals are aligned between planners and clients (and by “clients” that includes your own company if you’re an internal corporate planner) helps ensure that everyone knows what’s important and where to focus resources. It’s so easy to get lost in the event details, like swag bags and tech, and lose sight of the more important outcomes—that which your client is focused on.
Avoiding the Dreaded Vanity Metrics
Event planners and CEOs have different segments of a business they’re charged with; thus they’ll often have their eyes on different success indicators. A CEO of a publicly-traded company will likely be more concerned with share prices than event theme, while an event planner may be over the moon about getting a compliment from an industry influencer.
Each role is measured differently. It’s incumbent on the event planner to bridge that gap and begin speaking in a language that the client will understand. What may seem important to a planner may be a vanity metric to leadership—something that makes you feel good, but doesn’t translate into a business objective.
Don’t let vanity metrics catch you staring into the mirror.
The exception to this is KPIs that are tied to your business goal. For instance, a compliment on social media may not seem important to the client but it can be valuable if the event’s goal is improving brand reputation. If you share this type of data (such as positive social media mentions), look for ways to tie it into what your client cares about (in this case, brand reputation). That way, you’re translating the positive sentiment into something your client or senior leadership understands and cares deeply about.
The Four Critical Steps to Deriving KPIs
You go to great efforts to tailor event experiences. You select the ideal theme, decor, “wow” moments, and much more. You know each event is unique and want to personalize it with your touch.
You also likely know that when business or organization spends money on an event, they have a specific outcome in mind. Their reasons and goals dictate the KPIs you’ll use for each individual event. There is no one KPI that works for every event. You’ll have to map them out every time.
Step One: Ask Probing Questions to Clarify Event Expectations
The first step in deriving key performance indicators is understanding what’s the driver behind your client’s event. Why have they decided to host one as part of their marketing or business strategy?
Common reasons include:
- Name recognition or brand awareness
- Overcoming a bad reputation or injurious public relations issue
- Leads and sales (including upsells at a users’ conference)
- Learning and training opportunities
- Building a stronger culture (among employees or customers)
- Product launches or demonstrations
While this all may seem simple on surface level, problems will arise from a lack of clear communication between planners and their clients. Often, you’ll need to talk to them about goals and uncover their definition of success. Without that discussion, it’s likely your event priorities will be misaligned with one another.
Start with: “What is your main goal for this event?”
Step Two: Dig Deeper to Uncover the Key Details to Success
First meetings are only the beginning of a strategy, the starting point to dig deeper—not the final strategy itself. When you ask the main goal question above, you’ll need to ask follow-ups involving more specifics. For instance, they may tell you they want 1,000 attendees but you don’t know if that’s new attendees or a mixture of new and old. How will retention factor in? Will they be happy with a total of 1,000 attendees even if their retention drops down to 30%? Or maybe they want 1,000 virtual attendees.
Details are critical—make sure you have an explicit understanding of client goals early on in the process.
Step Three: Perform Necessary Research
Any number can sound achievable without context. Hosting an event in which you sell 500 tickets seems easy enough unless you find out that doing so would mean selling to every employee. The chance of getting 100% attendance is nearly impossible. That’s why research is essential.
You need to know things like:
- What’s been done before and what was the success rate? Here you’re looking for details in context. Yes, attendee numbers are important, but what is the context behind those numbers? 500 people attending in 2016 may have been a sold-out event. 2017 brought 700 people but an inability to meet the minimums. At first, an increase of 200 people looks like a success. Upon closer examination, minimums fell short, costing the client a lot of money and resources.
- What sales strategies have been used in the past? If you sell tickets to your event, how have they used conversion methods like early-bird pricing to sell tickets or increase registrations? What was most effective in moving prospective attendees down the ticket sales funnel?
- What other events will it be competing with—both at the time of year it’s being proposed and in the industry? Make note of events in your destination city at that time (if you’ve already agreed upon this) and look at events at other times of the year that might pose a “them or us” travel decision for potential attendees. Perform some research on whether these events sell out or not.
- What’s your client’s or event’s reputation? What have others said about it on social media? Do a quick search on your event’s hashtag. Scan through previous year’s comments. Note the trends.
In addition to your research of past events and market reputation, you may find it helpful to prepare a SWOT analysis. SWOT analysis takes into account strengths (of the event), weaknesses, opportunities (for more attendees, diving into a different market, offering a virtual ticket. etc.), and threats (such as an event competitor moving into your industry or travel budgets being slashed in your top attendee demographic). This type of analyses will give you a clearer view of the broader event field and help you begin to talk strategy with your client.
As part of your SWOT analysis you may want to involve the following areas:
- The marketing department. Ask them for the types of attendee personas that have been developed or if this falls on your shoulders, understand who they want to see at this event. What are the usual methods for reaching these people?
- Research & Development. If this event is a product launch, what is the project the company is looking to launch? What niche in the company and which customer need is the product expected to fill? Is the product an iteration or a new direction?
- The legal or CSR officer. If this event is a bandage for a public relations mishap, understand the details of what occurred so that event marketing will be sensitive to it. If no PR issue has occurred but the client is looking to improve its reputation, talk to a CSR to understand what the company’s (or product’s) weaknesses in the market are.
- Attendee exit surveys, exhibitors, and other past event feedback. As mentioned earlier, knowing what’s been done before is essential to tomorrow’s success. In order to get a full view, you need to speak with (or research) the sentiments of multiple types of stakeholders. What an attendee deems important in an event is different than what your sponsors will.
The right research up front will save time and resources later.
SWOT analysis is a tool management will likely be familiar with and will assist in bridging any differences in communication style. Through this process, they’ll know you share their concerns about the larger picture and business goals.
Step Four: Employ Research and Questions to Finalize KPIs
This final step is the most critical to the key performance indicator alignment. Here you will take the information you’ve uncovered about the client’s goals, your independent research, historical data, and marry it together to finalize your KPIs.
Isolate the main goal behind the event and put it through the SMART objective structure. Is your goal:
This process is easier to understand through an example. For instance, if you’re planning a new product launch targeted at an upsell to longtime customers, you might use the following SMART goal:
Introduce 300 existing customers in good-standing (of longer than five years) to our new product X at a product launch on April 15th, 2019, with a target of 25% conversions to the upsell by April 30th using a special discount code of #1234, specific only to our event.
Whew! That’s a wordy goal but let’s see if it fits our SMART qualifications.
(S)pecific: Yes, you’re only targeting longtime customers (of over 5 years) in good standing to new product X.
(M)easurable: Yes, you’re targeting a pool of 300 potential buyers and you’re giving them a specific discount code that is available only through your event. Everyone who signs up under this code is associated with your event. Even if the code is leaked out, you know it came (originally) from your event and thus the success/sale is event-driven.
(A)chievable: That depends on your research. This pool of 300 people has been with your client for over 5 years. Marketing could tell you how much they spend a year and how often they upgrade to new products. These are existing customers so the research is available. Sales can also tell you their close rate based on past events. They should be able to tell you what their conversion percentage is on this demographic. As long as it’s generally 25% or higher, this goal should be achievable.
(R)evelant: It’s relevant to the customer base if there’s a need for it. If it’s a product that is only used once, there may not be a need among the customer base to upgrade or replace it.
(T)ime-bound: It is time-bound. They have (only) 15 days to act on the offer, which should drive action.
Don’t Forget Secondary KPIs
Wait! You’re not finished.
The above process will yield your top KPI for your main event goal. However, there are smaller KPIs that you will want to map out so that you do not get lost along the way.
Now that you understand your destination, you need to plug in plot points on your path to success. If you used only the KPI/SMART objective, above you wouldn’t know if you’ve achieved it until after that April 30th deadline. That’s too late to make any adjustments.
Instead, single out success indicators along the way. These will be highly personalized based on your SMART goal or business objective. For instance, if your client wants 300 attendees at the event, you’ll need to figure out what percentage of your invites must be accepted. What’s the number of customers of theirs that are eligible/in their target demographic?
Pro Tip: If you have an event goal like the example above, find out how many customers fit the specified qualifications. If the number of customers eligible for this invitation (those who are in good standing and have been customers for over five years, in this example) is only slightly over the desired 300 attendees, that means nearly everyone invited will need to attend for you to meet the goal of introducing 300 customers to the new product. This is unlikely. Raise a red flag to your client if this is the case.
Another secondary KPI in this example is RSVPs by date. Historically, when is the largest RSVP count that comes in? The day the invitation is emailed? If so, are you on target to make your number based on past similar events? If not, you’ll need to implement additional marketing techniques like drip marketing or personalized reach outs.
This type of process gauging will also come to play after the event. They have 15 days to accept the offer. Work with sales to determine what percentage of sign-ups should occur at the event in order to reach your 25% number. Likely, you’ll want most of them to occur before attendees get back to their own lives. Gear your event to maximizing those in-person conversions. Document how you will do this.
Now you have something that will be the basis of your reporting structure. Share it with the client before you begin the event planning process. Seeing this plan for success will ensure everyone understands the measurables and deliverables. Questions, clarifications, and expectations can be adjusted before the budget is affected.
You will continue to use these KPIs in your client reporting before, during, and after the event. If something is not working, you’ll have time to change it. This will set your client more at ease and give you a clearer view of how you are doing along the way. Roadmapping your KPIs in reverse like this is the easiest way to create them and see how they tie in every stage of event planning.
A Final Word About KPIs for Event Planners
Charting key performance indicators may not come naturally to you. But once you have perfected the process, you’re able to understand what reports and data are most important to your client. KPIs also provide an easy measure from which to make event planning and marketing decisions. With KPIs in place, it’s simple to apply them as a framework to help you decide if something is worth the effort as you can measure it against your ultimate goal path.
It’s not a quick process, but when done properly, it yields extraordinary event results and respect from your client because you are now closely aligned on expectations and goals.