In-person versus virtual, what’s your true ROI?

What is your true ROI for in-person and virtual events?

Have you put all the costs together for an in-person or virtual event to see your true ROI?

There are many things that go into planning an in-person or virtual event. Of course, there are way more with an in-person one. It’s a ton of work and planning. That’s one thing I didn’t miss during COVID.

When you think about all the work and costs you really have to consider what your true ROI is to make sure it’s well worth your time and money.

Let’s start with in-person events

What costs do you need to keep track of? 

For starters, is the sponsorship fee. This, of course, can range anywhere from around $5,000 to over $30,000. Picking the one that meets your needs and budget is key.

Some things I look for are which ones that include the following:

  • A session
  • The attendee list
  • The most exposure
  • Expo and event passes
  • Internet, electrical, and other booth must haves
  • Driving traffic to your booth

It really all comes down to which sponsorship level will give you the most value. 

If you sponsored this event in previous years, was it successful enough for you to sponsor again and if so at that level or a different level? Analyzing past data is the best way to determine which one to go with.

Next up, and probably one of the most difficult to track is the time and resources it takes to plan the event and create all the marketing initiatives.

It may be difficult but it’s doable. I would track how many hours a week I would work on the event in my time sheet. That’s the easiest way. You can also use a spreadsheet or put blocks of time on your calendar dedicated to the event so you can add them up each week.

Your time is an important piece to include not only in your budget but of course the ROI of the event as well.

Next up are the more concrete costs such as:

  • Flights
  • Hotel
  • Shipping and drayage
  • Rental fees
  • Marketing collateral such as give-aways, data sheets, and signage
  • Lead retrievals
  • Time out of the office
  • Registration fees

These will at least have costs associated with them, which again you can keep track of in a spreadsheet to add up at the end.

Now’s the fun part, actually using all the numbers from above and putting it all together so you can actually dive into the true ROI.

In Person Event Example ( these are estimates based on a 2019 event)

Sponsorship Fee1$16,000
Registration Fee2$800
Lead Retrieval1$249
Hotel4 people/ 4 nights$3,800
Shipping CostsTo & From$3,350
Give-away items150$300
Planning Time50 hours$2,500

Number of booth scans: 100

Session attendees: 60

Total leads: 160

Virtual Event Example

Sponsorship Fee1$1,950
Planning Time20$1,000

Number of leads: 200 (based on the opt-in list that received from the event) This is just an estimate. Let’s say 40 of them are actual leads based on your session. 

As you can clearly see, the costs for in-person events are more but you also get more face-to-face time, more exposure, and a definitive way to get leads.

Virtual events are of course “less expensive” in the scheme of things. There’s no way to scan or track leads unless you’re able to get the attendee list. (which I did for this example) Not all events allow that. And just because you get the list you really cannot qualify them all as leads because many of them didn’t interact with you at the event.

Do The Math

Let’s use this simple equation to determine the cost per lead.

Cost per lead formula = total cost of the campaign divided by the number of leads generated*


Here is the cost per lead for an in-person and virtual event based on the costs above:

In-person event: $190.43

Virtual event: $73.75

In-person events of course are more expensive but some virtual events are expensive too. It really comes down to what the true cost of a lead is and is it worth it for your business to sponsor.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you calculate your ROI for every event?

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