Why Associations Should Appoint a PCO to Manage Conferences?



For many Not for Profit organisations an annual conference is the most significant fund raising activity it will undertake in any year.

Alison Petrie

So it’s vital that the conference is not only highly successful, providing delegates with an enriching experience and value for money, but also delivers a high net return that can sustain the organisation for the year ahead. CEO’s look at every avenue to minimise costs whilst maximising net profit, that is their job.

This article will explore if hiring a Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) is a given or an expendable cost of running the conference. To hire or not to hire, that is the question. If you have a track record of running and managing well run meetings and/or training courses you probably have experienced staff. It is tempting to consider they can manage the conference and in fact will relish the opportunity to stretch themselves and raise their skill level. A win win for all.

Alison Petrie, CEO of EECW Pty Ltd, a PCOA Accredited company, shares her insights from over 30 years experience in venue and conference management.

A word of caution, managing a half or full day course with a one or more speakers is nothing, repeat, nothing like running a national conference. Do you really want them learning as they go, with such an important event? So before you embark on this major exercise write down all the components of the conference e.g. duration; format; program; speakers; venue; catering; AV; travel; accommodation; social functions; transport; accommodation; travel; web technology; on-line registrations; managing delegates; managing publications; sponsorship; exhibition; marketing; proceedings; run sheets; media; entertainment and the list goes on and on. Then beside each heading write down who on your team has the capability and capacity to manage each one.

The results will surprise you. Once you get down to the nitty gritty you will immediately identify where the gaps lie. This will be new territory for your staff so you need to be absolutely certain they are up for it. And don’t forget whilst they are managing the conference they also have to manage and run all your regular meetings with no dilution of professionalism or service delivery standards. The simplest, and often the most cost effective solution, is to employ the service of a PCO if you want to achieve positive outcomes on a number of levels. A PCO is already geared to managing major conferences of all types. So they will have all the latest tools, technology and experience to deliver an outstanding and successful event. If you strike a contract with a variable fee and build it into the registration fee then there will be little risk to the organisation if the delegate numbers do not come through.

The other major benefit is that PCO’s can leverage off their frequent usage of a number of suppliers and that means you pay less for room hire and other negotiable expenses. It is in the interest of the PCO to ensure expenses are kept low, the budget is adhered to and revenue is maximised through exhibitions, sponsorship and delegate registration. Never fear hiring a PCO, they are in this with you and are a major stakeholder in the success of the conference. You are still in control. If you model this relationship right, your staff can also be involved and learn new skills that can only enhance your regular programs.

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