At last I slept. After much agonising and contemplating I finally had that ‘eureka’ moment. Not mine – I’m a perennial plunderer of other people’s ideas – but one that for me finally settles my unsettled mind on the subject of ROI, and which I hope will cast a different perspective of a debate that is far too aged now.
I’ve been in this industry for over 12 years, and in the wider marketing, PR and comms world for over 20. The subject of ROI has always been one we in the marketing sector have wrestled with. Not just events, but PR as well and, to a lesser extent, advertising.
The solution from the PR industry was to basically make up a scratch solution; an arbitrary weighting that showed the world how much better we were than advertising. Simply take your advertising cost and x it by 3/7 we said – science? Yeah right! It worked for about five years and now we’re back in the discussion, the world moved and the formula wasn’t adaptable … it was just puff. Still, in the events world we’ve not even got that close.
Rewind. I remember seeing an excellent presentation from Rory Sutherland, of Ogilvy Worldwide. Rory is a creative through and through and a massive advocate for creatives world wide; he ruminated once on the following;
Why is it that when a creative comes up with a great concept, idea or innovation, the first and last thing they then have to do is make sure it works for the finance department. The creative immediately has to show the projected value, ROI and budget to value ratio. In short it’s the finance guys that get the say.’
However, when a finance guy comes up with a budget, a spread sheet, or accounting solution, it is incredibly rare that this is thrown to the creative to see if there is a better way, a more creative approach’
Rory is absolutely right. After all creatives solve problems every day and a little bit of right brain activity is generally accepted as equally or if not better than the left side when problem solving. The fact is that the playing field is unbalanced.
I listened to the excellent Debs Strong, from Strong & Co – formerly an artist, now a creative experience creator – when speaking about ROI at a recent ISES event. She looked so uncomfortable it was as if her skin was crawling, she actually shivered twice.
No surprise really though. Debs is a creative, she is an artist, her world is not about numbers, she values them but she puts the experience first. Last year she was still voted as one of the most influential people in our industry.
It’s not fair on genuinely artistic creatives to inflict a linear mechanic to evaluate what they do. It is right to evaluate them, but let’s do it on their turf, with their rules, not those from a different world entirely, one that isn’t set up to understand them.
Experience design, more than any other marketing discipline, is closer to art and is so harder to really judge. I feel to do so restricts creativity, puts unfair pressure on it.
The subject of data and feedback from events as a means of evaluation was bought up recently. If we take on this type of evaluation we’re suddenly looking to the future based on data from the past. Was it Henry Ford who said that if we looked at the world like this we’d just be trying to make faster horses?
Creativity is clearly value. Ask anyone in the arts; from film production, gaming, to sculpture and painting. Great content has value, it is sold, packaged and reproduced. But it starts as a creative endeavour that is then commercialised, not vice versa. No artist has ever been asked to prove their ROI, because we all accept the folly of it.
Ok, reality check. We all know that events have to earn the right to be financed and invested in. It’s unrealistic for us to drop the debate or simply shun the idea of justifying our existence.
This sort of rant can only come from an umbrella association like ILEA and this isn’t about ignoring the debate. But it is about having the debate on our own ground; that of the creative and the artistic; the imaginative and the emotive. It’s impossible to find a satisfactory solution to ROI if we restrict it to what it looks like on an Excel Spreadsheet.
For 10 years and more we’ve been unable to answer the problem of ROI, in my mind for this very reason. So lets look at a new way of approaching the problem, and solving it … creatively.
Let this discussion begin.