What are the different engagement models available when evaluating a conference or event manager?

Peter Sugg

Peter Sugg, AST Management Pty Ltd

. I’m often asked the question “What are the different engagement models available to clients when evaluating a conference or event manager?”. My first response is “what do you want them to do?”. In the example of a 350 delegate conference held over two days with an optional extra day of workshops and maybe a social function or dinner. A conference manager may be engaged to do any of the following;

  • Build/manage the website.
  • Set up and manage content on the basic social media tools, Blogs, Facebook and maybe Twitter
  • Media releases
  • Research  speakers and topics for keynote presentations
  • Manage/prepare publications/brochures/advertising
  • Develop and manage the marketing plan and timelines (no matter how basic)
  • Abstract submission and management/program publication
  • Trade, sponsor management and documentation
  • Supplier contract negotiation and management
  • Registration Management
  • Financial Management/Banking/Reports
  • Provide dedicated event staff for all phone/web/email enquiries
  • Onsite staff

And most important of all… provide advice on how to achieve the conference/convenors objectives in delivering a professional conference product with minimum risk.  This advice would be based on experience in managing similar events, in the same location or venue. It will come as no surprise that many Association committees don’t know what they want.  Individual members usually have not had much, if any, experience with conference management (attending as a delegate does not count). Once the convenor/committee has decided what services they will require, they should examine the two main engagement models.

  1. The Conference Management Company acts as the “Agent” for the client.
    1. The Client takes all the risk.  All contracts/invoices are held in the client’s name.  The client approves all supplier quotes.  Invoices are not subject to “mark-up”, or commissions (accommodation bookings may be the only exception).  The conference manager acts on behalf of the client and receives fees and expenses based on an itemised schedule (usually estimated on the time allocated to each function).   This method gives clients tight control of costs.
  2. The Conference Management Company is the “Principal”.
    1. All supplier contracts are in the “Principals” own name (venues, printing, AV, IT etc).  They will re-invoice all supplies with a mark-up.  While the client has little or no control of costs, they do not have any risk either.  Nor have they had to finance the event.  In consideration of the risk and virtual seed funding, this model will have a considerably higher cost to execute.

Convenors could compare apples with apples if they asked for a time estimate by management function, accompanied by a draft budget.  For simplicity this should be based on one venue. These documents will provide a clear understanding of the real costs involved along with meaningful assistance in making value and competency comparisons, before appointing a management company.

Peter Sugg is the Managing Director of AST Management, a Conference and Association Management Company, launched in 1992.  He also serves on the board of four national associations.

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