Event Horizons:
New perspectives on designing successful events

Clare Tunstead, Global Director of Operations at FT Live, on how to meet rising delegate expectations, and why intimate events can deliver the best ROI

Which forces are shaping the events business?

Experiential marketing is one of the biggest trends in the industry. And we are seeing so much more around experiences offered by the venues we work with. It’s no longer about booking a space; the delegate experience is everything.

Experiential marketing is most prevalent during tech events where our clients and sponsors turn up with new software that they want to show. Everybody loves to get involved and try on virtual headsets, for example, or get on the stand where they're showing an AI product.

Greater audience interaction is a big trend at the moment, too. It’s essential that participants interact and ask questions of speakers during the different events rather than being talked at for seven or eight hours.

In what ways do you facilitate networking at your events?

Our clients’ success level can depend on how many leads they create from that event. And if they can walk away with three, four business cards of their key core audience, then that's a massive success.

One way in which we facilitate networking is by hosting speed ‘dating’. Delegates will spend three minutes discussing a few questions with one of our client’s reps, and then will swap and do the same with someone else. That way, our client’s representatives will get to meet around a third of the audience that are actually at the event.

The client could also submit a wish list of the companies that they want to meet. We can invite these delegates that we feel the sponsor would like to meet to a private lunch or private breakfast during the event.

Which event types are you aiming to deliver in the coming years?

In terms of format, we will continue to do what we normally do – from our breakfast briefings, executive dinners, roundtables, to half- and all-day conferences. We also run a weekend festival, which is a completely different beast to everything else we do; there is no infrastructure, so we have to build everything from scratch. However, we'll look into trends like experiential marketing and the need for more networking lounges.

Last year, we did a study around why our delegates come to our conferences. The quality of content and speakers was the absolute number one draw. So, while we can enhance the experience, we don't want to detract from the content. The speakers and the content to me are what make an event world-class.

How are expectations of venues changing?

Venues have had to up their game in the past few years. If we are running a sustainable award ceremony, we would expect that all the food is sustainably sourced, for instance. There are also expectations from a procurement angle – we ask the venues we work with to sign due diligence around sustainability, anti-slavery, as well as around staff wages.

Are you seeing a movement towards smaller or themed events?

At the moment there’s an even split between small and large events. With Brexit, in particular, there's a greater need to be talking to cities than before. So, we've done a lot of roadshows throughout the UK, where we've held smaller roundtable dinners. Large events tend to come from the government. If they have a particular initiative, they will have dedicated a budget. We will then devise a big, client-tailored programme. It might be a speakers' dinner plus drinks reception the night before a big four-day conference and then a gala dinner, where you could have the Finance Minister or even the Prime Minister.

What metrics are you using to measure ROI?

It’s important we set the KPIs at the beginning. Some clients will know exactly what they want. For instance, they’ll want these four speakers onstage at some point during the day, these topics covered, a drinks reception, and an interactive element, so their representatives can meet five different companies. In this case, it’s very easy to organise the event and measure success. However, we’ll also have another client who will want to increase their brand awareness, which is much harder to measure.

We do have our own KPIs though. Did we get the right people in the room? Did the speakers say it was a beneficial day? Did we get the right speakers onstage? Did we hit the required revenue? Did we bring it in on budget? Did we make the required profit margin? A big part of measuring ROI is the debrief at the end. Was it a beneficial event? Is it an event that we should continue to do? Does it fit with our core themes? If it ticks all these boxes, the event was successful, and we should continue to do it.

When you invite a small group of people to an executive dinner in a distinctive venue where they can get dedicated time for a peer-group discussion – I don't see how you can beat that for return on investment.

What obstacles get in the way of delivering on those KPIs?

Lead time is a big factor. Sometimes, due to delays in getting that one speaker who is key to the event agenda, we don’t want to go live with dates. Or maybe the client can't get their stakeholders to sign off on the project, which pushes the date back.

A mis-understanding of the buy-sell dynamic can be a problem. You need a marketeer that understands the industry and the key people in the room and doesn’t just invite everyone.

And then there are market issues, as well. If you've got a banking and finance event, for instance, and there's been a big crash, 60 percent of your room might just not turn up.

The events also need to be relevant. But as the conference business is saturated, that could be difficult as well. That’s why you have to put your stake in the ground and say, "We're doing an event," and not be scared of what your competitors are doing.

Local expertise, global mindset

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