By Mike Antonczyk and Matt Hirschland Ph.D.

Event marketing has always had elusive returns. So, we at H2A propose you drop “events” from your playbook and never look back.

To put a finer point on it, your event lift is likely killing you, taking a toll on your team, and its impact is likely negligible. By events, we are referring to those large-scale gatherings and sponsorships of the same. The corrective is re-directing the budget away from these incredibly resource and time intensive undertakings to something that accomplishes much more in terms of brand and business building; which is engaging your customers and clients directly via smaller-scale, recurring and high-touch community gatherings.

This alternative path is one that delivers all the promise of a big event strategy with — wait for it — better results. Here’s a three-step path to happier marketing teams and better outcomes:

1. Begin by Sacrificing Sacred Cows: Kill the Sponsorships — A wise sage once asked: why rent when you can own? Spending marketing dollars on temporary access to your buyer set via sponsorships may work selectively but it is not a long-term strategy. The relationships you want should be yours to curate, develop and engage on your terms. Those “opportunities” where your name can be swapped out to the next highest bidder are fleeting and remove you from the driver’s seat.

2. Smallify and Build Client/Customer Communities — So if not big events, then what? The answer is simple and does not mean doing away with events all together. Rather than making “bet the company” (and your job) investments, take a portfolio approach to engaging clients in-person. More frequent, smaller, and high touch gatherings with a community of client executives does this and the quality of interaction is far better for you and attendees alike. This approach means you can hold gatherings in cities where they live, lower the bar for participation, and ensure you see them 3–4 times per year instead of at the one big show.

3. Create Powerful Platforms for Internal Leaders — Finally, with more of a community approach to bringing clients and customers together, you have a standing sounding board comprised of those you care about most. Each geographic instance creates a powerful platform for your leaders who are the face and de facto conveners of each group ensuring their buy-in and engagement. The math is simple; engage 100 targets with an 18 month lead time vs. engage 100 targets PER QUARTER with an 8–12 week lead time.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Our data and experience points to the fact that “smallifying” your business building strategy with owned, client communities simply works:

Large scale gatherings will continue to populate the landscape. And the draws required to fuel them will continue to get more exotic (and more expensive) — from conference room tables fixed in mid air, to life size ‘clouds’, to hiring the likes of tony Robbins, Bill Clinton, or Jim Collins. In our experience, as the cost goes up, so does the scrutiny and questions about the return on the spend.

If the advice here seems a bridge too far for your organization, start small. Reach out to five current clients and friends of the firm. Ask them what ‘events’ they currently attend, why they attend them, and what’s missing out there that would create value for them. What do you have to lose but the frustration, spend, and resources that most large event strategies entail?