While the modern practice of PR can feel all-digital-all-the-time, there are moments when people actually look up from their smart phones and physically gather in one place at one time. Participating in trade shows, conferences or other events requires significant investment of both time and money as well as careful planning (often for months) and artful execution. But is it worth it? After all is said and done does sponsoring a trade show really result in a positive ROI?
It certainly can, but success depends largely on two factors, how well the event is executed (of course) and how you think about and measure ROI.
Directly Relating Revenue
This is the easiest category of event ROI to track. You meet someone for the first time at the event and they subsequently make a purchase. To compare the ROI of an event to other investments, you calculate the cost of the event, then determine the cost per lead, opportunity and sale. This is a simplistic approach, but a useful one for making future investment decisions at a high level.
However, especially from a PR prospective, there are many more ways that events pay off. These less tangible ways that events can contribute to the bottom line should not be overlooked.
One of the great advantages of trade shows is that the people who are likely to write about your industry, and possibly your brand, are likely to be there. Earned media is an important goal for most companies that sponsor events. These mentions can pay off in terms of traffic and SEO long after the event is over, so don’t forget to take your PR ROI into account when measuring the event’s impact.
Thought Leadership and Social Amplification
Events often offer the chance for brand spokespeople to participate as panelists or speakers. This is a great opportunity to reach influencers and start conversations on social media.
For example, Author Tim Ferriss gave a presentation about his first book, The Four-Hour Workweek at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2007 in an overflow room that could seat just 100 people. That talk essentially launched his career. "If you hit the right 100 people at SXSW with Twitter and so forth, you can effectively hit everyone there if you have a strong impression," he says.
Certainly events offer the opportunity to connect with potential buyers of your products or services, but there are non-buyer constituencies to be considered as well. Trade shows are a great way to find potential partners, industry subject matter experts, analysts and even investors.
In another SXSW success story, game creation tool GameSalad participated in the SXSW Accelerator program in 2009. At the time, it had only five employees and was searching for funding to expand. “Within one hour, GameSalad had secured its first investment check,” said Jonathan Hunt, GameSalad’s director of communications. He went on to explain that the company attributes more than $1 million in investments over the next five months directly to the Accelerator contest. Since then, the company has tripled in size, and more than 2% of the games currently available on the Apple App Store were built on its platform.
These less direct returns are more difficult to calculate than deals closed as an immediate consequence of the show, but they are nonetheless important and can sometimes have a much longer lasting impact. Brands that get the most out of events take them into account before the event, while planning the strategy, and after, when considering the value of the investment.
Unlike many other marketing and PR tactics, events are multifaceted. Brands that look at them this way and have the right tools to track impact find the opportunity for considerable returns.