Online Events: The ROI

Do you remember what your last physical event cost? Admit it. Whether you were the lead organizer, vendor, or just a booth owner, it must have surprised you a little.

Then why do we like physical events so much? The answer is simple. They seem more measureable and personal. You know your expenses and what it takes to make money. This may be in ticket sales, sponsorships, paid sessions, raffles, cost-per-lead (CPL), or after-event networking functions. Each attendee is a dollar figure that changes dynamically as more enter the event. On the other side, attendees believe they may meet valuable connections to grow their personal or business portfolios.


A stack of business cards is better than online connections, right? Let’s think for a second.

Physical event CPLs vary, but in this example my client, Company X, invested $10,000 and yielded 30 qualified leads during their physical roadshow. Their CPL in this example is $333.33, but do not forget to calculate other expenses like personnel time out of office and travel expenses. These are factors most event owners do not calculate. The $333.33 CPL + Incidentals were their actual costs. Attendees spent money to visit them as well. They spent roughly $300 per day at a physical event, which included travel, time out of office, food, lodging, and transportation. If it is a paid physical event, add registration fees.

Now let’s compare that program to the online event experience. Company X invested $15,000 after services, marketing costs, incidentals to visit the studio, and technology costs on a well-produced webcast and campaign that reached over 1,000 registrants. Their same physical program, except delivered only online, generated over 550 qualified attendees and reached multiple countries. This means the CPL for their online program was $27.27 and cost the attendees nothing but 90 minutes of their time.

Even though Company X invested more, they gained 1,800% more qualified leads. This is a special case however because more was spent than the physical event, but the majority of event owners can save thousands of dollars on online event and webcast engagement.

People ask me, “What’s the catch? Are there hidden costs in terms of business generated online vs. the revenue you can generate from a physical event?” To all indications in my experience, online events and webcasts are every bit as effective and lucrative if produced properly. We will see this technology become more seamless into our daily lives. Produce great content, learning needs, and select premium presenters to watch your programs sprout roots and grow – quickly.

A survey by Frost & Sullivan in 2009 indicated that online events generated $156 million. Since 2009, online events and webcasting has continued to grow and flourish as a dominant alternative. Some critics may disagree, but you need to do your research to understand who the critics are, what their experience was, and their motives for the critique.

Save Time and Money

Setting up a physical event can be a daunting task, and it’s often an extremely expensive. The physical materials are a challenge to purchase, transport, and assemble; contractors, union workers, and specialty skills are often challenging through the acquisition process.

For online events, you do not need the materials or expansive teams to operate efficiently. However, you do need to dedicate time. Many event owners fail their first time because they tried to do other daily tasks while managing their event production cycles. Do NOT fall into this category. Treat your online event or webcasts with the same top-level priority as a physical event.

Respect the online event cycle.

A simple cost-benefit analysis will quickly show you just how much money you can expect to save with an online event. It’s proven to save time and money, but the success factor is determined by your willingness to strive for next-generation engagement with your online audiences.


It may seem like physical events are the big bad wolf, but that is not the case. Physical events will never disappear, but if you are looking to save money and efforts to build brand awareness and generate leads, online events and webcasting are alternatives you should explore. Whether investing in a true online experience or tying the virtual experience into the physical event (called the Hybrid model) the benefits are abundantly clear. You’ll save money on overhead, gain more attention than ever before, and enjoy the same great exposure you’d get offline.

Don’t forget to leave us a comment on your experiences with physical or online costs. We’d love to hear about it.


Post contributed by Matt Goodwin