Is it the case of the smaller the public funding, the greater the concern about the ROI of an event?

A colleague who attended an event organised by a state-institution called me today, upset. Given that the promotional event was organised abroad, as a freelancer she spent a lot of her own funds in being there. Dissatisfied with the event outcomes and execution – it didn’t meet her expectations and was, in her opinion, carried out for the sole purpose of delivering activities from the annual plan – she asked me for my opinion on the possibility of a refund. As a freelancer she simply cannot afford to fail with such expenditure.

I come across issues such as this quite often and my colleagues are especially critical of the public sector. A common problem of such events is that the form is put at the forefront, with the content somewhere in the background.

The first alarm bell rings when the number of organisers, artists, moderators, directors and all those involved in the organisation exceeds the number of participating companies. What usually happens in this case is that the organisers forget to do an extensive promotion of the participating partners who used their own resources, and the focus on a remarkable PR coverage gives the impression of an extraordinary event of near historical importance.

My colleague’s question then got me thinking about the added value of events. Event participation is constantly under the microscope; marketing budgets are in a spiral of shrinkage and the decision makers require maximum ROI. Therefore, choosing the right event that will deliver your business objectives in promoting your business is crucial.

Almost every year, exhibitors at one of the trade shows we organise ask me when we will be able to calculate their ROI. I ordinarily tell them that measuring ROI starts with selecting the right target audience. The more precise we are here, the higher the return on investment will be. The second element we then have to think carefully about is setting clear objectives, which is something we very clearly communicate to all of our trade show participants. Quite often at events it is the case that the objectives are not set or communicated, and of course the worst outcome occurs: the organisers and participants don’t have clear expectations about their participation.

‘What can’t be measured can’t be managed’

‘What can’t be measured can’t be managed’ is therefore a tenet we adhere to, so we regularly check the satisfaction of key stakeholders through targeted surveys for hosted buyers and exhibitors. Over the years the results of these surveys have become a credible and valuable source of information for improving the quality of our projects. We have a fixed set of criteria that allows us to track trends over time.


Despite the fact that there are a number of methodologies and measurement techniques, it all starts with the method of evaluation and your decision about which effects are most important to you. As a rule, they can be divided into three categories:

1. Short-term sales, which is still the dominant criterion for evaluation of return attendance at B2B events.

2. Brand development and customer loyalty is a criterion with a pronounced long-term effect. Only multi-annual and continuous participation at an event brings concrete results.

3. Networking and influencing key stakeholders is also a long-term activity that can greatly increase the marketability of your brand.

Measuring the effects is not as easy as it seems at first glance; it is difficult to assess whether attendance at the event, trade show or fair influenced the short-term sales or whether any of the activities related to consolidating the trademark or networking did the job.

Looking from the participants’ side

It all starts with clear objectives and expectations. All can of course seem well if there are no objectives, but the number one priority is setting objectives, as it is the only way we can assess what we have accomplished. The critical question raised after the event is whether the participant has his or her own CRM system that can in the long-term answer the questions of when the first, second and key contacts have been made. The key criteria are still the number of sales leads and the cost per sales lead.

Looking from the organisers’ side

There is quite a wide chasm between organisers from the public and private sectors. The smaller the share of public financing, the bigger the worry for the ROI of the event, so clear and precise financial indicators for measuring the return on attending the trade show must be in place, as it is much harder to measure the lower part of the upper part of pyramid. Despite the sceptics, events as part of direct marketing are still one of the most effective tools, because you can clearly define the objectives and measure them with, for example, the number of meetings or the number of acquired business opportunities.

An important part of ensuring high ROI is also a general feeling of quality. Thus we try to provide a suitable environment for B2B communication. This also includes an appropriate and hospitable exhibition booth for establishing personal relationships. At the trade show we create business opportunities and consequently we carefully choose the suppliers, in fact we devote significant attention to it. Quality control is carried out throughout the preparation of the project by way of personal meetings with suppliers and through interviewing all of the stakeholders. After the project we conduct personal meetings with approximately 50% of all exhibitors, intended primarily to improve the quality of the project.


Based on our experience we are happy to share some advice and recommendations for a more objective evaluation of return on investment at trade shows and fairs.

1. Before attending the trade show clearly define your marketing and sales objectives, which should derive from your business goals. Define quantitative and time objectives.

2. In addition to short-term goals, we must be able to measure the long-term ones, such as loyalty, awareness and brand engagement.

3. Do not measure only the immediate response – check and evaluate it over a longer period of time.

4. Following the trade show conduct a survey via your database of contacts to check the response. The survey results will tell you what kind of effect your communication had on those that did not attend and what kind on those who established new business contacts at the event.

5. Follow indirect effects as the fair attendance can increase sales through other channels, for example through positive PR in the show catalogue and other channels.

6. Measure responses at trade shows through contests and other marketing innovations.

7. Measure both the quantitative (number of contacts with buyers) and qualitative effects (one good contact can be worth more than 10 poor ones)

8. Building a customer database and comparing the quality of the contacts on individual markets is the key to differentiating good B2B events from the bad and for the implementation of after-sales activities.

9. Existing customers represent a gold mine. We can catch up with them at trade shows or use trade shows to strengthen our business relationship with them.

10. Pareto principle for trade shows: 20 % of trade shows are worth 80 % of our attention.

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