26th March 2008

DUNCAN BEALE: What’s more important – cost or value?

The growing influence of corporate purchasing departments on the live events industry is leading to a worrying focus on cost-effectiveness rather than value for money, argues Line Up’s managing director.

Let me be clear from the outset – I’m all for clients wanting to check they’re getting the best value from their marketing investment.

The trouble is, it seems to me that too many procurement departments simply equate value with cost-effectiveness. The mindset seems to be: “Can we deliver the same results as last year for lower cost?” But surely the real question should be: “How is this year’s event going to deliver better value for money than last year’s?”

It’s an important distinction. If you constantly try to compare like-for-like on a cost basis, there’s a real danger that our industry will end up moving towards some kind of financially analysed mediocrity, rather than continuing to challenge briefs and provide individual, original and truly inventive ideas.

“But isn’t ‘value’ an impossible concept to define in the intangible world of live events?” I hear you ask? Not necessarily, because if you know what you want to achieve at the outset, the value of an event is extremely easy to define. The question that needs to be answered is simply this: “Did it meet its objectives?”

Live events are about audience transformations, they are not an end in themselves. They are vehicles that can bring about mindshifts and stimulate actions in order to achieve a particular end. So if we can track that mindshift and the resulting effect that it has on a business – voilà – the ‘value’ has been established.

It seems remarkable to me that in this age of purchasing, there still seems to be widespread resistance to spending a very small portion of the total budget on any kind of evaluation of events. Evaluation gives reassurance that budgets deliver proven return on investment. Yet currently the only kind of reassurance that purchasing departments seem to need is that they are buying the most cost-effective solution, not necessarily the most effective.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that so many events have traditionally been evaluated on logistical criteria. How was the venue? Worse still, how was the meal?! Evaluation of events must focus on the communication if ‘value’ is to be established. Did the message achieve cut through? Are people going to think and behave differently as a result? These are the questions that the executives in the boardroom want answered – not whether the salmon was better-rated than the beef, or whether this year’s band was better than last year’s disco!

None of this is rocket science – it’s all fairly straightforward. An event that adds ‘value’ to a business needs to be planned methodically and evaluated properly. And the root to success lies in understanding the audience and the communication objectives from the outset. A simple but effective planning process provides the building blocks for subsequent evaluation:

  • Understand your audience
  • Prioritise your objectives
  • Shape your communication
  • Match the environment and media to the message
  • Deliver the right creative solutions

The question of evaluation should be raised at this planning stage and built into the programme. Simple questionnaires asking the right questions don’t need to be expensive or time-consuming to analyse. And the benefits of evaluation are clear cut:

  • Hard evidence, rather than anecdotal, to gauge the success of corporate events
  • Access to the voice of your audience
  • Not just an informative exercise for you, but one which makes your audience feel that their views are respected, helping to build business relationships
  • Feedback allows continual refinement of the way in which you communicate with business audiences

I do believe procurement is a good thing for our industry in principle, because it makes us all more accountable. But let’s make sure we’re accountable to what we can deliver, not just what we cost.

Duncan Beale is managing director of production company Line Up