It's About ROI

How to transform your event from a “cost-centre” to a “profit centre!”

Let's face it - putting on a decent corporate conference costs a fortune and all too often the meager return on investment makes the cost awfully hard to justify. One CEO eloquently described their yearly event as nothing more than "an annual piss-up!" Frankly, I don't know many corporations that can afford this luxury – not even once a year!

On the other hand, face-to-face events are absolutely essential to integrating, energizing and mobilizing people to supernatural performance. How else are you going to create the unifying spirit so essential for competitive victory? The monthly newsletter isn't likely to do it, that’s for sure.

During one of my “Ian saves the world!” meditations, it struck me that if there was a way to create a corporate event that combined entertaining and inspiring keynote presentations with hard-core research and consulting, we’d have an idea that corporations couldn’t afford not to do. The corporate event would then become a major contributor to significant profitability and unassailable competitive advantage. In fact, it is very reasonable to expect an event, such as I will describe, to return 10X, or even 20X, the company’s investment. If the event costs $250,000, the ROI could easily be over the $2 million mark.

It just seemed to me that a meeting planner who could put together a business case for the annual conference that included this level of ROI would get a hero’s welcome from the suits up on the 12th floor.
Well it turns out that this quite doable, and once I released myself from my meditative vortex, I came up with an inspired plan. I’d love to know what you think of it.

First, let go of the traditional event template…

Typically, conference organizers spend a huge whack of the budget on one or two top celebrity speakers and spread the crumbs as best they can over concurrent session speakers, panel members and so on. Marquee speakers may be good, but they are certainly not going to align their messages – heck they’re not likely to even listen to each other! You know that. They speak and they’re gone. On top of that, many presentations are pretty generic, loaded with general examples that may or may not be relevant to the situation! Once the speaker’s limo disappears, the client is left alone to figure out what to do with what they said.

You will need to enlist a faculty who actually know how to do things, not just talk about them. Ideally, you want consultants who speak. And having the faculty integrated and aligned is more important than one can imagine. For example, it is vital that what the sales people hear during the conference relates to what the distribution folks hear. Likewise, finance people need to understand their role in developing an e-business strategy and so need to connect with the IT team. Of course, everyone has to understand how working in silos is undermining every worthwhile initiative. If the pieces aren’t linked, it’s like launching a wooden boat where all the planks don’t fit tightly together – you are going to sink faster than the Titanic. This is what happens in most conferences – everyone picks up their own plank and goes home. Then we wonder why the event had little ongoing and measurable impact. Alignment and integration – those are the keys to a profitable event.

Right now, I’m calling this new idea “Analysis Based Conferencing” – or “ABC” for short. ABC blends the excitement and energy of an inspirational event with solid business analysis, research and planning... and then ignites it into an awe-inspiring launch of a profitable competitive strategy!

The secret lies in the central theme…

The second task is to create a focus on competitiveness and profitability – something hard-core. Nothing theoretical like “Our Changing World.” If executives are participating, try a theme like “Profitable Competitive Leadership.” I just did a presentation titled “Finding Your ‘Secret Sauce’ – how to win in your competitive marketplace.” Anything focused on profitability will do.

Here’s the reason for this. Whether the big concerns and opportunities in the organization relate to technology, leadership, sales revenue, product development, cost reduction, managing change, e-business strategies, customer relations, branding or even collaborative teamwork – it’s really all about achieving and sustaining profitable competitive leadership. In today’s brutal marketplace, nothing is more important! All themes lead to competitive strategy.

For example, why else would you want to talk about the role of technology if it wasn’t to find ways to use it for greater profitability and efficiency? Same goes for a topic like customer relations – the moment relationships begin to slip is the moment the company loses market share and competitive advantage. And why else would you talk about change, marketing or branding if it wasn’t to strengthen your competitive position? In fact, most business is so difficult right now that if a topic doesn’t directly strengthen the company’s competitive position, you probably shouldn’t even be talking about it. You haven’t got the time and you shouldn’t waste the money.

The conference process…

I’ve been speaking and consulting for a very long time in the areas of leadership, culture, spirit, teamwork and so on – the softer, people areas, if you will. Recently I’ve co-founded a consulting company ( with partners who know about manufacturing, e-business, supply chain, distribution systems – usually regarded as the hard stuff. We all came together because there is a desperate need for someone to put all these dimensions into one integrated whole.

I’ve introduced ABC to my team using the following scenario. A group of us meets with the client executive team at their site for a pre-event planning session. This allows the “chemistry” to develop and also helps hone in on specific areas in which the client is losing competitive advantage. They are given a menu with items like: technology/e-business; supply chain/distribution; competitive intelligence; business process alignment; project management; corporate vision; team alignment; manufacturing, etc. With our help, the client selects three to five areas (depending on their interests as well as their budget) in which they need help. As you’d expect, we have a world-class expert in each area on this menu.

Let’s say they select: 1) the application of technology, 2) distribution, and 3) competitive intelligence as the three areas on which they want to focus. Our respective expert then goes to work researching the client’s current situation, how that compares to their key competitors – and most importantly – what they need to do immediately to gain higher profitability and competitive advantage through that factor. This is done in a collaborative way with our IT guy working with their IT person, our supply chain expert with their supply chain people and so on. In other words, this is a focused consulting engagement that could involve two or three weeks of rock-solid research and analysis. If you keep in mind that all this work is leading up to the event or conference itself, you soon begin to see why you can expect such remarkable return on investment.

Fast forward to the corporate event...

Each presentation during the conference, be it a plenary or concurrent session, is built around the competitive analysis that’s been done. Every example, every bit of data, is real – no generalities, no contrived case study. This is customization unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’s Analysis Based Conferencing.
For example, they won't hear a theoretical presentation about corporate vision - they will hear about their company's vision and the degree to which it energizes their people. No more rambling discourses about advancements in technology, their use of technology will be laid out, evaluated and advice given on how to maximize its use. They're not going to get a pie-in-the-sky sales talk; they will be shown how their sales force can dramatically increase revenue with their products and services in their marketplace. Instead of a generalized sermon about change, they will hear how their industry is changing and exactly where they stand in relation to their major competitors.

Not only is the client’s current reality laid out in brutal detail and compared to the competition, a comprehensive plan as to what they need to do in response is also laid out. This is a sophisticated strategic exercise of the highest order. Each recommended initiative is prioritized with an accurate assessment of both cost and ROI.

Using the conference format is a new idea, though in our consultations we have shown companies how they can save almost a million dollars by changing how they ship products; why they don’t have to spend $3 million on new software because what they have is perfect if they’d use it properly; and how to save untold grief and expense by aligning their business processes. In one case, we showed a client that they could fulfill a huge new manufacturing contract without building the $40 million plant they had already started to plan.

We also analyzed the financials of one client and compared them to two of their key competitors. We discovered that one major competitor had a distinct competitive advantage because of 9% higher operating profit margins – but also lagged in asset management keeping its Return On Assets lower. It was clear that our client’s goal, therefore, should be to strive for an ROA of 25% by turning assets over 2X per year and making 10% operating profit margins. When you have a session with that kind of detailed analysis combined with a tactical ‘how to’ strategy – you can’t help but win!

This is not a theoretical discussion. This is real money! One discovery like that might pretty well pay for your entire conference! The conclusion of the event involves the assembling of all the findings and recommendations into a comprehensive competitive strategy.

I also insist that every faculty member participates in the entire conference, allowing maximum time to discuss vital issues with the participants, help solidify action plans and so on. The value of this informal consultation time is incalculable.

In short – what the client gets is amazingly real and powerful work done AND the joy, inspiration and energy of getting the group together. It doesn't get any better than that! In fact, the work up to the conference and the conference itself will accomplish more than two years of typical organizational planning and more than three traditional annual events.

This is powerful stuff! And frankly not every company is ready for it - just those prepared to do what it takes to achieve profitable competitive leadership. Unfortunately, corporate events are often planned as though they were ends in themselves. They are not. They need to be strategic tools used to define the company’s competitive strategy and then implement it with supernatural force. This is one conference that will actually make money - serious money at that.

Incredible benefits…

If you are a meeting planner, you know all too well how difficult it is to translate your vision and intention into a memorable and productive reality. Especially when your budget for doing so is whittled down to almost nothing! This innovative concept will enable you to put on a conference that will have more positive impact than you can imagine, and more than pay for itself at the same time.

As much as I hate to say it, you don’t need to use an established group like Visionary Oasis. Just be sure that you select a faculty team who know how to do comprehensive analysis, are prepared to truly work together and who do a decent job at presenting their information. Getting true experts is more important than hiring slick presenters with good jokes.

Every effort should be aimed at one thing: to mobilize the people to act on decisions that will lead to profitable competitive leadership for their company. It really is about the ROI!

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at

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Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.


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