I am fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct research, teach, and consult with diverse groups of continuing professional education providers. I have found that the vast majority of problems they identify can be placed comfortably under one large umbrella-- return on investment. Specifically, CPE providers (and our various stakeholders) ask and then attempt to answer two fundamental questions for each of their activities: 1) "How did we do?" and, 2) "Was it worth the investment?"

Regrettably, many CPE providers are not satisfied with the answers to either question. In answering the second question, one colleague commented to me that all the effort, resources, and opportunity costs weren't worth it for "15 minutes of fame." In other words, there was not an adequate return on investment. My colleague and others like her should not be discouraged; read on for some ideas on how to determine and then increase your CPE programs' ROI.

The FAME CPE Model of ROI In contrast to most other organizations, continuing professional education is not always driven by profit. For some CPE organizations the profit motive is a secondary consideration, while others are primarily profit-driven. In measuring ROI, I have attempted to expand on the traditional financial analysis to a model that considers three additional performance measures that are major barometers of success for CPE. I call the model FAME ROI (see chart).

Taken all together, FAME analysis provides quantifiable data to measure the core mission and margin objectives of CPE programs. The four aspects of CPE ROI that FAME measures (Finance, Attendees, Marketing, and Evaluation) will enable you to determine your return on investment.

FAME CPE MODEL OF ROI

FAME > ROI Finance > Financial return from break-even to operating margins of 10 to 40 percent

Attendee > Number of attendees from break-even to reaching maximum available capacity; also achieving number and mix of participants for optimal learning experience

Marketing > Minimum investment to reach program objectives; measurement of differential conversion rates, and cost per order (CPO) analysis

Evaluation > Measured outcomes of educational offering for various stakeholders (including attendees, course directors, commercial sponsors, CPE operation, and parent institution)

The Benefits of Brands There are many ways to increase your return with the FAME ROI. A particularly potent strategy, related extensions, is included in my set of 15 brand equity indicators. Branding and creating activity and revenue streams can increase any institution's FAME ROI.

Branding your CPE products, programs, and services increases the value of your FAME ROI objectives. People will pay more, wait longer, and travel farther for their chosen brand. Moreover, and perhaps most significantly, in study after study we find that individuals most positively evaluate a product once they learn the brand name. Branding can enhance the public image of the CPE organization and its programs as well as its internal image--and thus lead to increased participants, profits, stakeholder satisfaction, and opportunities.

To increase your FAME ROI most effectively, consider leveraging your CPE program by creating activity and revenue streams from it. Activity streams that can arise from CPE programs include offering a satellite uplink for remote viewing of a keynote address or following up a hot national conference topic with a series of regional conferences on the same subject. Revenue streams arise from reproducing conference proceedings as printed texts, audiotapes, videotapes, or CD-ROMs. These activities can generate participants, visibility, and revenue throughout the year. Activity and revenue streams also reinforce your continuing professional education brand with increased name recognition and frequency and reach. Variations on the themes of activity and revenue streams include derivatives, spin-offs, line extensions, or, as mentioned earlier, related extensions.

In my next column, we will look at how you can dramatically increase market share and profitability by increasing your channels of distribution. We will also consider the positive impact such diversification has on both the future of your program and the learning experience of your target audiences. Specifically, we will consider the case of the consummate spin-off organization (Hint: It's a company that is in the information business, as are we).