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5 Events that Measure Clear ROI

By Christina Green

Return on investment in events is about more than being in the black and coming in at budget. There are other considerations and goals outside of making a profit. Take a look at how these events added to their ROI calculations.

Years ago, calculating the return on investment (ROI) on an event was easy. You looked at the money spent and you subtracted that from what you made. Today, there are a lot of other factors included in these calculations such as social media and engagement that affect future event numbers. It’s much harder to measure these nebulous concepts but they should be part of your event goals because of their implications on marketing.

5 Events that Measure Clear ROI

5 Examples of Events with Clear ROI

It should come as no surprise that some of the groups that monitor the ROI of events in the greatest detail are companies. According to the State of B2B Event Marketing study, 48% track ROI. But in a recent study by Aberdeen, 69% of respondents cited that this measurement was also a large challenge for them. Here are examples of five events and how they improved their ROI.


ArcSight Regional Forums for Customers


Goal: ArcSight wanted to increase its ability to upsell and cross-sell customers by creating regional forums. This would help them achieve a captive audience at their event.

They did this in stages:

  1. They promoted and launched the concept/event through a personalized email invitation; creating a dedicated microsite with support materials and event agenda; a re-targeted email to anyone who didn’t register on the first send; an inside sales call inviting customers; a reminder email; and a reminder phone call to everyone who signed up to attend.
  2. Set up registration on the microsite. The event was free but they encouraged people to sign-up so they could get an accurate headcount.
  3. Hosted the event. The regional events were personalized to the area, some small and intimate, others larger. They each lasted about five hours.
  4. Conducted post-event reviews and communication. The events were discussed internally with evaluation forms driving the conversations. Attendees then received a follow-up email providing them with the presentations and a call to action encouraging them to come to the upcoming user conference.  

This increased automation and scheduled communications improved attendance by 150% over the prior year. ArcSight also saw an initial 4% increase in revenue due to closed deals from the events.

Pan-Massachusetts Challenge Charity Bikeathon


Goal: Raise money ($46 million goal in 2016) for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts with every rider-dollar raised going to the hospital.

The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge charity bikeathon’s meager beginnings in 1980 took it from an informal event of a few dozen friends that raised $10,000 for cancer research to today’s premier charity event that attracts 6,000 cyclists and raised $45 million in 2015.

The secrets to the success of this event and its high return is based on what largely amounts to a minimal investment and:

  • Rider commitment. Riders have to pledge a minimum of $500 will be raised. A credit card is required so if they don’t raise it, they will be charged.
  • High-profile advertising before the event, like being on the side of a Dunkin’ Donut’s coffee cup.
  • Low overhead. The staff is kept small, the office is in the warehouse district, and operating overhead is mainly covered by high-profile sponsorships including a link through a former cancer patient who is a part owner of the Boston Red Sox.
  • In-kind contributions. They take donations of goods and services including anything from massages to hamburgers.
  • Attention to details. They provide electronic bracelets for all riders, change kits in case someone’s clothes don’t make it in the two-day event. They even create hospital kits for those who need medical attention that include a t-shirt, water, and magazines.
  • Stable volunteers. Many return year after year because it’s a great cause and they’re treated well.
  • Daily reports keep Billy Starr, the organizer, on top of the fundraising year-over-year so he knows how well they are doing comparatively at the same point in the previous year.

Since 2008, the bikeathon has increased participation by 1,000 cyclists and increased its money raised by over $10 million.

Publici-tea and Book Publishing Summit


Goal: Increase attendance, create a sales opportunity, and increase her e-mail list.

If you’re putting together a new event for a small- or medium-sized business you know how hard it can be to get the word out. This event planner not only did a good job on a relatively new event but also did so on short notice.

The event was the second annual "Publici-tea and Book Publishing Summit" that highlighted book publishing as a tool for entrepreneurs. The first event was held in 2009 and was free. The follow-up in 2010, added an admission price, albeit a small one of a donation item or a small cash donation to a nonprofit. Since this event was held during the holiday season, the event’s organizer Nancy Juetten decided to add the nonprofit-benefitting admission idea.

She wanted to concentrate on getting enough attendees and sponsors that there would be a worthwhile exchange of information going on at the event.

She used:

  1. Promotion. Nancy used the following communications to promote the event:
    • A flyer
    • A landing page on her website
    • Email newsletters
    • Social media
    • Videos
    • Blog posts
    • Ezine articles
    • Email blasts to her list
    • Several online promotion services
    • Bartering. Event sponsors could get free tables if they promoted her event.
  1. Value focus. Nancy began the event showing people about the nonprofit their admission was supporting. This set the tone to make everyone feel good about what they were a part of. Her speakers then focused on providing value to the audience, not selling their services.
  1. Marketing didn’t end with the event. She had the event transcribed and made it available for purchase (eventually). However, she gave the materials away for free for about three weeks after the event to anyone who signed up for her mailing list. She also created an event highlight video and shared it on social media.

Her efforts resulted in attendance doubling from the first year to the second. She made eight sales at the event, which was 11% of her attendees. The free e-mail offer yielded 330 new email list sign-ups. She also secured two speaking engagements from it.

HubSpot at Dreamforce Conference: A Vendor’s Perspective


Goal: Get more sales through sponsorship.

Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference is a monstrous undertaking each year with 45,000 plus attendees and hundreds of vendors all vying for attention.

HubSpot wanted to secure more leads and demos but so did many other companies. How could they stand out? By creating an event inside the event.

They agreed to be a platinum sponsor but insisted Salesforce allow them to do things their way. They refused to just have a booth, have “booth babes,” and be just another vendor in a sea of them. Instead, they wanted to provide value to attendees. (If only we could all be that lucky to have sponsors willing to do that.)

How they stood out:

  1. HubSpot sent inbound marketing consultants, ready with tablets, to provide personalized assessments and one-on-one consultations.
  2. They wore orange track suits and used a unicorn as their mascot.
  3. They had four conversation pits, not booths, casual spots without walls designed for conversation. Three were in the exhibitor area but the fourth was where the breakout sessions were.

They also did very little pre-promotion marketing. They did two blog posts and marketed an e-book around their event theme that went live the Friday before Dreamforce started.

At the event, they tied in their educational materials and consultations into cute promotions. Each attendee who received a consultation also got a stuffed unicorn in an orange cape and a QR code that directed them to the e-book landing page. They received an attendee bag insert of unicorn stickers. No calls-to-action or sales-y materials. Only stickers, stuffed animals, a branded water bottle, and QR codes/URLs.  

While it didn’t promote very much before the event, HubSpot did plenty of promotion at the event. They sponsored a lounge providing a karaoke bar experience, creating an event inside an event.

Their efforts led to 2,300 new leads, 362 post-event demos, and five new clients. Their e-book garnered 55,000 views on SlideShare the first few days after it was shared.

ROI Community Summit


Goal: ROI community wanted their five-day summit that brings together Jewish leaders from all over the world to reach a larger audience, give attendees a voice and create buzz for their brand.

They worked with an agency to:

  1. Set measurable goals
  2. Target an audience
  3. Create a calendar for targeted content
  4. Post live from the event, engaging attendees and others through social media, and boosting posts on social

These actions resulted in a 90% increase in likes and shares than what was previously experienced. A 25% increase in its audience and 2,117,700 uses of its event hashtag.

In Conclusion

When measuring return on investment, it’s important to tie that into your event goals. A profit is ideal, but if your desire is to reach a larger audience, being in the black on a spreadsheet doesn’t guarantee that. Instead, decide how you want to measure your success (in addition to tickets sold) and tie that into your specific ROI calculations like these groups did.


about the author

Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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