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Interview with Barry Neame by Joyce DiMascio: Challenges facing PCOs

Barry Neame is half of the double act that owns Canberra-based conference and event management company, Consec.

Neame and his wife Pamela have run the business for 26 years specialising in association conferences and association management.

The difficulties of the past 15 months don’t compare to anything they have experienced in the quarter of a century of running the business together.

But since February this year, the tide has begun to turn and Consec now has 15 events in the pipeline – as many as when COVID-19 hit last year. The company used to employ 10 people and this is now down to six. So overall, things are improving.

The Consec team delivered two significant events in the first week of May – the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority ABF 2021 virtual conference for 2,400 delegates and the National Fruit Fly Symposium 2021 for 420 virtual delegates.

And while the delivery of the these events was based on very different models, the important thing is that Consec has adapted swiftly to professionally service its clients.

Neame says the area of greatest learning for his team over the past year has been in developing the skills to use a range of tech platforms that enable Consec to deliver virtual and hybrid events. Proficiency and professionalism are what they strive for so they can advise their clients with confidence.

The strategy not to outsource this to other suppliers is a very deliberate one based on trying to protect the business for the future.

Neame says traditional Professional Conference Organiser services have been under threat by public affairs and public relations agencies for some time. It’s a real risk.

His view is that the PCOs must be able to service all scenarios in order to shore up their future and to provide their clients the range of professional services they need.

He said the associations around Australia are currently quite challenged in understanding which way to go with their conferences and events – they want to understand how best to activate the opportunities and these are generally around three possible scenarios.

“It is an interesting journey – to contemplate three different scenarios is a new phenomenon. That’s our new challenge in ‘event management land’,” he says.

Those scenarios are live, hybrid and virtual.

“Skilling up the team for these conditions has been phenomenal – really challenging and really rewarding.

“Learning the tech, learning the platforms and how to use them – and knowing which is most suitable for the particular event.”

He believes that even when live events can go ahead with confidence, there will still be a role for hybrid events into the future.

As President of the Professional Conference Organisers Association (PCOA), Neame also has the interests of the greater PCO community and industry on his shoulders. He believes in giving back and sharing learnings.

“We are all building our capability that will future-proof the PCO sector otherwise the disruptors will come forward.

“In the last three to four years, public affairs companies have been coming into our sector with an offering that includes marketing, branding, stakeholder engagement, sponsorship and event management.

“If we don’t adapt and grow, these groups will come into our traditional space,” he said.

Neame says PCOs have to evolve and be equipped to work as business partners of their association clients – that’s certainly the view that Consec takes.

“We can’t just be a Secretariat; we must be able to be support our clients as true partners.”

Associations are going through tough times – they are grappling with how to best manage the current challenges and the changes that have been thrust upon them.

Neame is an association specialist. This is his bread and butter and he is widely respected in the PCO world and also throughout the associations that he has serviced for many years.

He’d like to see our industry build its professionalism and be seen as skilled practitioners valued and respected by our clients.

He has a big message for the industry – continue to adapt, continue to be agile and aim to add value to our clients through our service.

For the interview in micenet magazine click here.

Written by Joyce DiMascio and published courtesy of micenet