Event Portfolio Alignment

The following is a question and answer session between Susan Radojevic, president of The Peregrine Agency, and Sandra Eagle, CM&E managing editor, about Event Portfolio Alignment, a strategy to help corporations achieve strategic business goals through the power of meetings and events.  

CM&E: Susan, I’ve been hearing about Event Portfolio Alignment. What is it, exactly?

In a nutshell, Event Portfolio Alignment is about developing measurable strategic events. It enables a company to use its enterprise-wide meetings and events to achieve its corporate mission, vision and goals. It is a strategy designed by an Event Alignment Strategist to allow an organization to capitalize on its overall meeting and event portfolio. Similar to a financial investment portfolio, Event Portfolio Alignment is an ongoing process which analyzes the effectiveness of the organization’s meetings and events to determine appropriate investment allocation.     

CM&E: What is an Event Alignment Strategist? What does she do?

An Event Alignment Strategist has a unique blend of business acumen, strategic planning and an in-depth knowledge of meetings and events, including effective design and measurement.

In addition, an Event Alignment Strategist takes a whole-systems thinking approach to design an Event Alignment Framework. She understands it is a process of discovery and that executive level commitment is mission critical in order to deliver the two strategic Event Portfolio Alignment goals:

  • Event Effectiveness (outputs): how enterprise-wide meetings and events fit in with an organization’s business goals.
  • Event Efficiency (inputs): addresses best practices, travel and hospitality cost consolidation and data centralization of an organization’s meeting and event activity.

CM&E: You mentioned a Whole-Systems Thinking approach. What is that?

Whole-Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole.  In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish.

In the context of Event Portfolio Alignment, meetings and events are a system onto their own (within the greater organizational system). Each meeting and event consists of parts: setting objectives (to support overall business goals), design, return on investment/objectives, planning logistics (collaborative methods/technologies and travel & hospitality components) and delivery. If we consider each part influencing one another within the whole, we create more effective and efficient outcomes.

CM&E: Align, design and measure are three components of Event Portfolio Alignment. What role does each term play?

That’s a great question. We believe the highest strategic value of enterprise-wide meetings and events result when they are practiced together in one cohesive strategy.

An analogy we like to use is: building an organization using strategic events is like building a house. Design, measurement and travel and hospitality logistics answer the what, how, who, where and when of the construction project. Event Portfolio Alignment is the blueprint, the CEO’s vision made tangible. It encapsulates all of the building plans as a finished product from a bird’s eye view.

Just as blueprints are created with multiple factors in mind, every detail included has a reason or purpose and therefore answers, ‘why’ the house is being built in the first place. Although an experienced construction company could theoretically build a house without a blueprint, the finished product would most likely lack structural integrity and functionality.

Similarly, while we acknowledge these terms can be performed separately, the greatest value is when an organization creates a blueprint for success.

CM&E: So Event Portfolio Alignment is a CEO’s blueprint for success. How can C-level executives use Event Portfolio Alignment for business growth?

Pick up any newspaper or business magazine and there are stories that describe how provocative-thinking corporate leaders are investing more in areas like R&D. Our “digital age” is driving an entirely new innovative economy and placing demands on CEOs to produce faster and more frequent ideas, innovation and stronger relationships.

Human capital is the greatest asset (and the biggest investment) for most organizations and the key to success is effective communication. Strategic events can achieve their greatest potential when they are used to tap into an organization’s stores of social, human and intellectual capital. At the same time, they double in power with the ability to inspire and motivate all stakeholders on an individual level to take personal responsibility in contributing to organizational success.

CM&E: Are you suggesting that meetings and events should be considered as part of an overall Marketing and Communications strategy?

Ah, our favourite debate! Right now the common perception held by C-level executives is that meetings and events are a cost centre and fall simply within the realm of travel and hospitality reporting up to Procurement. More accurately, in many cases, a meeting or event is a marketing or communication initiative, much like an advertising campaign is, and travel and hospitality inputs is the enabler used to attend a meeting or event.

When we think about it, most C-level executives wouldn’t arbitrarily assign the management of producing an advertising campaign to an inexperienced individual. There are corporate goals and campaign objectives to consider, return on investment and return on objective measurements to establish and track. The same can be said for an Event Portfolio investment. Strategic events are marketing and communication-driven and every meeting and event, regardless of audience, includes all the essential marketing and communication ingredients: messaging, branding and visibility. This is why meetings and events need to be aligned with marketing or communications and not with procurement.

Just to be clear here, we believe procurement does have a part to play specific to contractual needs and issues. However, goals created for meetings and events which consider corporate brand or how to penetrate new markets should not be based on what’s the most cost efficient approach. Rather, these decisions should focus on the most effective solution that will improve organizational performance and ultimately drive profit.

CM&E: Taking all this into consideration, why is Event Portfolio Alignment important?

I believe C-level executives are looking for innovative solutions to help them navigate in a time of continuous uncertainty. They realize in order to find solutions, they need to tap into the collective mindset of their organization’s people, customers, clients and vendors. And I can’t think of any other business builder and organizational leadership development tool that can help C-Level executives become more successful than enterprise-wide meetings and events.

To help C-level executives understand the true business value of enterprise-wide meetings and events as it relates to their leadership and their organization’s goals, two things have to happen.

First, an organization’s Event Portfolio needs to be seen and positioned as a top-down driven business and leadership intervention tool. In other words, C-level executives need to be made aware of why Event Portfolio Alignment is relevant to them and their organization.

Next, an organization’s Event Portfolio investment needs to be delivered using a whole-systems thinking approach. There has to be a cohesive framework that leverages the elements to align, design and measure the Event Portfolio investment with an organization’s overall business goals. Unless a comprehensive strategy is adopted, enterprise-wide meetings and events are irrelevant to C-level executives. And if they are not relevant, they cannot produce strategic value.

CM&E: All of this information is vital to an organization. How can a traditional planner initiate Event Portfolio Alignment with C-level executives?

That’s an excellent question and one I’ve struggled with since our Agency embarked on the Event Portfolio Alignment journey in 1998.  I think that the new professional planner is a different breed, not necessarily the same one with new stripes.

I think there are three reasons for this. First, most of the education within the meeting and event community remains focused on travel and hospitality logistics, participant  engagement tools and technology, and unfortunately, ignores event strategy. Next, traditional professional planners are experts at planning meeting and event logistics and their immediate boss may not want them to do anything else. And finally, they don’t have the ear to c-level executives. They can’t just knock on the door and say ‘Hey Ms. CEO, I have something you need to hear.’

Event Portfolio Alignment is a top-down driven collaborative approach. Leaders for this initiative need to be a director from marketing, communications, or continuous improvement and an external subject matter expert on Event Portfolio Alignment. Joining forces directly with C-level executives, they collaborate with stakeholders and assemble a project team (comprised of folks from key departments like Finance, Legal, IT, HR and Event Management).

The event manager does play an active role in the Event Alignment initiative, as a member of the project team and in the ongoing sustainability plan. Sometimes there are exceptions and a senior event manager can be found at the helm of Event Portfolio Alignment. In this instance, it is important to note performing Event Portfolio Alignment is a full time role for a period of three to six months (and longer) depending on the pre-determined scope of integration.

CM&E: How does Event Portfolio Alignment differ from Strategic Meetings Management? Is this just semantics?

There is a difference. Event Portfolio Alignment’s core value proposition is beyond cost reduction. It incorporates event effectiveness (outputs)– how meetings and events fit in with an organization’s business strategies and goals; and event efficiency – which addresses travel and hospitality components like: planning best practices, vendor data centralization and cost consolidation.  This is important to note because it’s the difference between investing in events that unleash people potential, drive productivity and profit, versus just having cheaper events.

The only function of Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) and most meeting consolidation and management approaches is to standardize and consolidate travel and hospitality inputs relating to meetings and events within an organization. Its sole aim is cost reduction.
In the end, programmes like SMM miss the bigger picture: weaving enterprise-wide events, defined objectives (meeting & event design) and measurements into the overall business plan to deliver business goals. Event Portfolio Alignment leads with the ‘why’ for meetings and events in context to overall organizational goals, thereby providing meeting and event effectiveness (outputs).

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