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March 24, 2009
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Izania Downie :Why meetings and events still matter




“Meetings, events and incentives are a good investment in recessionary times”, says Ray Bloom, chairman of IMEX, the international events industry exhibition. He claims that they also bring long-term social, political, educational and cultural benefits. Let’s take a more detailed look at the tangible benefits of live events for businesses and for society.

ROI Measurement
Over the past few years there has been a marked decline in spend on traditional advertising, partly because of media fragmentation – there are so many more channels out there that advertisers can’t be sure of large audiences. Brands realise that face-to-face marketing offers more direct and memorable dialogue with consumers (because it reaches all five senses). While it is not easy to measure the return on investment (ROI) of events, where this can be done events are shown to deliver demonstrable returns. This was confirmed by a new Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and George P Johnson survey of 1,000 corporate sales and marketing executives which found that almost a quarter of respondents said that event marketing provides the best ROI. It also found that 43% reported that event marketing best accelerates and deepens relationships.

A February 2009 Eventia survey of our members underlined the recognition given to face-to-face meetings and events as providing the highest return of all marketing tools. Interestingly, it also found that there had been no pronounced swing towards greater use of technology for virtual meetings and events.

Experiential Marketing
In 2007 there were 29.8 million people online, which accounted for 63% of the total UK population. Now, there are 32 million people online – 67% of the total British adult population. In this digital age, experiential marketing is staking its claim to a seat at the media planner’s top table.

There’s little doubt that brands are pursuing consumers in a digital environment but, due to the faceless nature of online, consumers are also being targeted for their advocacy via brand engagement in complementary live environments. Increasingly brands are looking to create communities of brand advocates. A brand event or experience gives them a shared point of interest – digital facilitates communities forming around this single point. There are even cases of communities carrying on when the live experience ends, as in the case of Toyota in America who ran a series of off-road events across the States. When they came to an end, the community that had built up around the events continued using the brand website to organise additional meets off their own back.

Brands are, therefore, waking up to the potential of building consumer relationships both online and in a live arena. And experiential agencies are queuing up to assist in this marketing revolution. If clients use digital marketing effectively, they are able to gain a global audience at relatively low cost but by never meeting them. If experiential is added into the mix, they become natural bedfellows for communicating both online and at face level.

The continuing importance of live communications
Chris Elmitt, managing director of Crystal Interactive, commissioned research among 100 of the largest and most successful organisations to discover the most effective practices adopted by these organisations in managing change. Change is going to be a permanent feature of the corporate landscape in 2009 – whether in the form of mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, relocating or modifying product and services. Crystal’s research supported the argument that, in difficult times, live communication is critical to managing those change initiatives (and possibly to the organisation’s very survival).

Of course, there is a huge requirement in a recession to fight for business, while the need to motivate sales teams is stronger than ever, so distinctive face-to-face communications and constructive self-financing incentive reward programmes are paramount. Events and meetings must be either to communicate or to motivate. Economic, social, political and cultural factors mean that the need to communicate with audiences is greater than before, as is motivation. The key question for most commercial organisations is how to run events and meetings ensuring you are delivering tangible benefits at best value.

Conferences, conventions, meetings and live events have the potential for ensuring a permanent peace for the world throughout the 21st century and beyond, as they provide the framework for discussion rather than conflict, for uniting rather than dividing communities and nations, and for encouraging the sharing of ideas and information for the benefit of all mankind. 2009 and going into 2010 will prove to be a very good time to demonstrate the real value of the meetings and live events industry, and to show that meetings and live events should be considered as an investment and not a cost.

Izania Downie is chief executive of UK events industry association Eventia.


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