TRANSFORMING MEETINGS & EVENTS
WITH BETTER INTELLIGENCE
C-suite executives everywhere are rushing to formalize their
“Big Data” strategies. Articles on the subject abound in the
business press, and it’s standing-room-only for conference
sessions on the topic. And just to prove its place as the hottest
new business trend, there’s even the beginning of an anti-
Big Data movement. But what is Big Data, and does it have
any bearing whatsoever on the Meetings & Events industry?
Well, yes, quite a bit, actually.
Think of your own meeting and event data. Years ago, we
simply collected name and address information on a paper
registration form – primarily so we could mail an attendance
brochure next year. Compare that to the data you have on
attendees today – demographics, psychographics, budget
cycles, buying behaviors, etc. You know what sessions
someone attended and you have their feedback on it.
You know the exhibitors they visited and from which they
downloaded information. You know what SMS messages they
responded to, who they had appointments with and pretty
much everything they did at your event. Now multiply that times
every attendee. In short, you have B-I-G D-A-T-A.
Think, too, of your Strategic Meetings Management tools.
The ability to compare thousands of hotels within programs
such as the ACTIVE Marketplace is seriously Big Data – as is
the ability to consolidate and manage meeting spend from
multiple divisions and global locations.
In addition to increased amounts of data, consider, too, the
variety of tools and solutions you have gathering the data –
registration systems, RFID chips, mobile apps, appointment
schedulers, meeting cards, travel management systems,
communities, social media, survey tools, etc. You can
conceivably cross-reference an attendee’s spending patterns
with the exhibitors he visited, or his survey responses with his
market segment. And you can gain up-to-date and accurate
data on what’s being spent on meetings throughout even the
There’s also “structured” and “unstructured”
data: structured data being numeric database-
type information; unstructured data consisting of
emails, social media actions, open-ended survey
questions, behaviors, etc.
“Big data is really just another word for business intelligence,”
says Chris Dwyer, Director of Research and VP, Operations
(a meetings and event analyst) with Ardent Partners. “It
basically means taking your data and converting it to
actionable strategies. Many in our industry – especially on
the procurement side – have been working with Big Data for
years. It started by evaluating meeting spend as a step toward
negotiating future discounts. That’s Big Data – using your
business intelligence to make strategic moves to improve your
Using that intelligence to make strategic decisions about your
entire meetings and events program is also Big Data. A Big
Data strategy might, for instance, reveal that 10 of your 100
meetings last year had very little end-value to your organization
or its customers. You might realize that some meetings could
be combined, eliminated or made virtual.
“Big Data, is really
just another word for
DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH & VP, OPERATIONS,
Big Data is simply a term used to describe the voluminous
amounts of data businesses have and can acquire today.
Discussion of Big Data covers capturing, storing, searching,
sharing, transferring, curating and analyzing data.
To get to these actionable strategies, however, the trend is
toward consolidation. Having all its data in one place allows an
organization to gain a holistic view of all meetings and events
activity, as well as eliminate the need for manually cross-
referencing data from disparate systems.
One organization reaping the benefits of this
consolidation is IDG World Expo, producers
of the ultimate fan fest, Macworld/iWorld,
as well as other events. Using the ACTIVE
Network platform, Macworld/iWorld was able
to consolidate three individual systems into
one. Registration, speaker management and
exhibitor management are now together
in one solution, with all relevant data
“Business analytics are very important to us,” says Nina
Carrara, Vice President of Events at IDG World Expo.
“Our mantra is to ‘delight and inspire’ our audience.
So while we certainly need a system robust enough to
serve our needs, it’s even more important that it help us
understand our attendees from a strategic perspective.
When we announce a new initiative, for example,
we want to immediately see the impact that has on
registrations, cross-referenced by demographics. This
will tell us there’s a sector of our audience that needs ‘X’
on-site to be ‘delighted and inspired.’”
Consolidating solutions often has the added benefit of
streamlining meeting processes, as well. Exhibitors at
Macworld/iWorld participate in multiple programs, for
instance, such as new product displays and speaker
bag promotions. Previously, each program had its
own forms in multiple systems. Consolidated into one
solution, however, the programs can now be managed
and tracked holistically, with automatic reminder emails.
“Reducing administrative functions like this allows us
to spend more time on our strategic initiatives,” says
Carrara. “And, frankly, it improves our customer service.”
will help you to better
attendees and their
on-site needs. The goal
should always be to to
delight and inspire.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU),
for instance, was managing hundreds of meetings
for its 2.1 million members at regional, divisional
and local levels, and tracking meeting RSVPs in
By implementing the ACTIVE StarCite™, an industry-leading
Strategic Meetings Management solution, an online portal now
centralizes meeting requests from SEIU staff, divisions and
local union members. From a Big Data perspective, SEIU now:
Consolidation is also, in essence, the first step toward
implementing a Strategic Meetings Management
Program – which can play a significant role in a
Big Data strategy, as well.
– Has access to centralized meeting information for
budgeting, reconciliation and reporting.
– Helps its planners research and compare thousands of
hotels and easily see the union’s preferred properties.
– Has a consolidated spend history to use for future
negotiations and agreements.
– Has centralized reporting capabilities with real-time
information that has dramatically reduced cancellation
and attrition charges.
– Manages meeting costs and gets up-to-date data on
what’s being spent throughout the organization.
– Create new conferences and events based on the
future business needs of your attendees – while
also eliminating or altering current events to meet
– Track costs that will allow for updating and
negotiating preferred vendor contracts for venues,
A/V, and other services.
– Identify synergies between meetings and travel
patterns and negotiate with suppliers.
– Create smaller “custom” events for like-
– Recommend appointments between specific
exhibitors and attendees based on purchase intent.
– Recommend conference sessions based on the job
duties or needs of specific attendees.
– Find efficiencies that can be exploited such as
booking back-to-back meetings in the same
– Personalize road shows based on customer
demand by region.
– Create communities or working groups
from specific sessions to follow-on and aid in
implementation of presented ideas.
– Determine which events are declining in terms
of attendee interest or revenue and either retool,
combine or eliminate them.
– Identify “invested” attendees to whom more
education can be offered throughout the year.
– Improve and tailor marketing plans.
– Send tailored recommendations and offers to
mobile devices during the event.
– Identify the customers who matter the most at
specific events based on event goals.
– Identify the customers who matter most to
– Identify preferred properties based on repeat-need
meeting locations and negotiate substantial
The list is essentially endless, but there is also the
challenge of too much data creating “analysis paralysis.”
Your time is limited, so you’ll need to collect, extract and
analyze only the data that has real value based on your
goals and objectives for each event and your overall
organization meetings and event goals.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
WITH BIG DATA?
Big Data is not that mysterious and many of you have
been gathering, analyzing and using Big Data for years –
maybe you just didn’t know it had a name.
As the process becomes more sophisticated, however,
a Big Data strategy can allow you to:
Analyzing Big Data can certainly help identify and isolate
spending and consolidate and improve supplier negotiations.
But Big Data can take you further – even to a place where
you can aid in forecasting organization revenues based on
The best reason for consolidating
solutions from a Big Data perspective is
that it leads to more accurate analysis
of your individual events – thereby
improving each of them – and your
overall meetings and events program,
creating operational efficiencies, cost-
savings and reduced risk across the
organization, as well as a meetings and
events strategy that ties to the larger
“With around 7 to 12 percent of the average company’s
overall budget spent on meetings and events,
organizations that fail to recognize the value of their
data and intelligence are potentially wasting that
seven to 12 percent, and likely do not have a strategic
direction for their meetings programs,” says Dwyer.
But what information should you be
gathering as a part of your Big Data
strategy? “That really depends on what
you’re going to do with it,” says Carrara.
“You need to think both logistically and
strategically. If you want to improve your
conference sessions, for instance, you’re
going to need evaluations.”
Dwyer would like to see more organizations gather data to
test their progress against goals. “What were the goals of this
meeting and did you meet them?” he asks. “Then, of all the
meetings you held this year, how many met their goals? Can
you identify why the others failed to meet their goals?”
Obviously, you want to track all your spend categories
and travel and hotel data in order to find cost-savings and
operational efficiencies, as well as gather data for future
The attendee experience is another critical component to
be measured. An attendees’ perception of your events can
aid in shaping not only future events, and their relationship
with your brand, but also how you might best reach them
throughout the year with other engagements – webinars,
virtual events, road shows, customer roundtables, etc.
While not sexy or new, the data culled from your post-
event survey may provide the best intelligence for creating
impactful future meetings, including the quality of the
content (speakers, presentations, entertainment, etc.)
and the effectiveness of the core messaging. “We have a
strong connection to our audience,” says Carrara. “We not
only do pre- and post-event surveys, but we survey alumni
throughout the year, as well. We test new initiatives so we
know how to best engage with people onsite.”
For organizations realizing the value of automating and
consolidating the events management function and
supporting a wide range of processes (sourcing, marketing,
registration, etc.), analytics should be a top priority, says
Dwyer. “You need to find a solution that allows you to dig
deep into a 360-degree view of spend and ROI, while
integrating information across events and attendees.”
“You need to find a solution that allows you to dig deep
into a 360-degree view of spend and ROI, while integrating
information across events and attendees.”
Meeting Card spend:
Reports on cost categories can reveal
trends. For example, if you notice a large
percentage of your events have extra
expenses for on-site printing, you may be
able to consolidate this expense with a
single nationwide vendor, and therefore
minimize the cost.
Dig into hotel data to determine how
often preferred hotels were used,
identify room pick-up trends and see
what services were used within the
venue. If, for instance, 85 percent of
your attendees use in-room internet
connections, maybe you can negotiate a
lower price for connections next year.
What types of attendees responded most
to which types of push messages?
Demographics, psychographics, budgets,
buying intent, purchase authority,
experience level, areas of interest,
competitive events attended, number
of years attending your event, what
someone most hopes to accomplish at
Feedback on speakers, topics and
presentation formats, lengths and values.
Recommendations for other topics and
speakers. Recommendations for follow-
up activities such as webinars.
Most everyone already evaluates which
email promotions pull the best response,
but try tying those responses to purchase
authority or areas of interest or other
relevant attendee data.
Seek feedback mostly on strategic
issues (though logistics have their
place, as well). “What business did you
accomplish onsite?” “What purchases do
you anticipate as a result of this event?”
“Has attending this event altered your
perception of our brand?” Etc. What
you want to focus on depends largely
on what you want to do with the data
you receive and the goals you set for
the event and your meeting and event
Who went to which sessions and how
long did they stay? Can you tie the chip
data to the session evaluation? If you’re
using the badge chips on the show floor,
you can also get a picture of their buying
interests based on exhibitors visited and
follow-up information requested.
While often the source of more “the-
room-is-cold” type feedback, evaluate
your Twitter stream after the event for
very honest input on speakers and the
Facebook and other
Proprietary communities can certainly
collect plenty of “registration” type data,
but here you can also follow a lot of
unstructured Big Data on pain points, hot
topics, industry rock stars, etc. Identify
specific attendees’ areas of expertise for
potential as future speakers.
Appointment Scheduling Tools:
Which job titles are most likely to set
advance appointments with exhibitors
(and keep them!) and what could you do
with that information next year?
WHERE TO GET
Anyone with a Strategic
Program is already
harnessing the power of
For those without an SMMP, however, you can still access
Big Data through other tools and solutions you presently
use to gather data – though consolidation of those tools is
recommended so as not to require manual integration of
data from disparate systems.
The key to Big Data is to convert the business intelligence
you uncover to actionable strategies that create operational
efficiencies, cost-savings and reduced risk for the
organization, and ties the meetings and events strategy to
the larger organization strategy.
While Big Data may be
the business trend of the
moment, the meetings
industry has clearly been
working with Big Data
About ACTIVE Network
ACTIVE Network is powering the next generation
of SMART EVENTS™ through its Business Solutions
technology suite, which provides intelligent data
and insights designed to increase potential revenue
growth, deepen attendee engagement and gain
efficiency. Customers of all sizes—including small and
medium-sized businesses, enterprise corporations,
associations, trade shows and expos—benefit from
a single technology partner for all of their event
The Business Solutions technology suite includes
ACTIVE Conference™ for large flagship conferences,
ACTIVE RegOnline™ for event management software
for any type of event – big or small, ACTIVE StarCite™
for strategic meetings management and event
expense management, and ACTIVE Marketplace to
connect events with suppliers.