Study: Events Pack A Big Punch With Clients, Shops

Event marketing is moving up the food chain, with 82 percent of U.S. companies using the tactic, up 6 percent from 2003, according to the 2004 Global Event Trends Survey. One big reason: Marketers perceive events to be more cost effective than advertising or public relations.

“Event marketing has to be one very strong element in your marketing mix because people are not sitting in front of their TV watching ad after ad,” said Jill Fannon, events and alliances manager at Ford in Dearborn, Mich., who uses a variety of companies to craft Ford’s events. “Gone are the days when you just set up a tent with some cars. [Consumers] who come to an event want to learn something, be intrigued. … It takes a unique strategy to make it right.”

The telephone survey—conducted in May and June; results are being released this month—queried more than 200 vice presidents or director-level marketing executives. It found that 44 percent of marketers believe event marketing provides the greatest return on investment, compared with 29 percent in 2003. Trailing event marketing was advertising at 18 percent, direct marketing at 15 percent and public relations at 6 percent.

The dollars allocated to meetings and events are significant: more than $100 billion, according to the MPI Foundation, the research firm that conducted the survey with the George P. Johnson Co.

The use of event marketing varies by sector, with the healthcare and financial industries most “apt to see the importance of event marketing as increasing,” while executives in the automotive sector reported a lower-than-average perceived importance. In addition, the healthcare and automotive sectors showed a higher use of “external” events compared to other industries, according to the survey.

“People aren’t giving up on advertising, but they are starting to … funnel some of these marketing dollars into tactics that cost infinitely less and can, in many cases, deliver infinitely more,” said Kevin Adler, vp of sponsorships and event marketing at Publicis Groupe’s event marketing arm, Relay. “It’s not that it’s a brand new tactic … [but] people are starting to realize what it can do.”

Event marketing “is finally being recognized as an integral part of the marketing mix because of its effectiveness,” said Chris Weil, chairman and CEO of Interpublic Group’s Momentum in New York.

Not all events are created equal. In rating the “most effective” external events, it is trade shows, conferences and seminars that are considered to provide the greatest ROI. Compared with 2003, sponsorships declined in their perceived ability to deliver sufficient ROI, according to the survey.

“Clients continue to evolve in their understanding of the need to surround the consumer with their message,” explained Adler. “The continued fragmentation of media choices makes it harder to reach consumers. The passive nature of advertising as a medium, almost by definition, necessitates a complimentary method that allows for two-way marketing, and that’s what event marketing does.”