Do the math

Although part of my career was spent in financial services, it was in marketing, which is why I’m not great with maths. I leave the monthly accounts to Mrs John, although when she comes back from shopping laden with carrier bags, and starts the conversation with: “It’s sale time, look how much I’ve saved,” I do start to get a nasty feeling in my waters.

However, when I’m working with clients, I feel confident that I can go in and say, “I’m going to charge you £X, but I think I can save you £Y.” And when they’ve mastered that simple concept, I can move into a short treatise on the concept of Event ROI.

Simple enough, you’d think. But clearly not; according to a recent survey from the Hogg Robinson Group (HRG), 56 per cent of its corporate clients do not know how much they spend on events and meetings. That’s pretty bleak news, and a terrible indictment on the people within those companies; although possibly also manna from heaven for HRG; it seems 53 per cent of those clients are planning to increase their spending in this area in the next 12 months.

Now, HRG’s clients are pretty big organisations, so these results are something that should worry us all. It’s a terrible indictment of the sector, that so many managers are so clueless. It’s also depressing that they haven’t been taken to task by their managers, who are clearly as incompetent. Is this how they run their personal finances, I wonder?

And we’ve had 15 years of event management graduates entering the industry; now, I know from personal experience that many students do struggle with the business element of their courses; £9,000 a year fees are enough to make anyone pull a blanket over their heads when it comes to talking money.

Should we be surprised? I recently ran a workshop for some, allegedly, bright young things, and posed this question: “If your salary is £36,000 a year, and the on-costs of employing you are another £12,000 and you do one event a month, what is your cost to each event before you spend any money on hiring a venue?”

Well, it was as if I’d asked them to split the atom, and then mend it again before lunch.

But, where is the issue? We’ve progressed from fingers and abacuses to spreadsheets and calculators, so there shouldn’t really be any issue in adding up a series of numbers and then comparing it with the previous year. I know many of us chose this career rather than accountancy, but every business requires a grasp of the basics.

Should we be worried? Well, I am; it would seem my courses on event budgeting, negotiation and ROI might as well be binned now, as more than half of the industry clearly don’t care. On the other hand, perhaps I should celebrate that I can charge clients what they want and tell them anything, as clearly neither they nor their bosses are going to act on it.

George W Bush once, allegedly, said: “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.”

It seems my hopes that his level of stupidity was an exception was a forlorn one.

Richard John is an events industry trainer and consultant. He can be contacted through the Editor. Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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