ALAIN PITTET, Managing Director at Congrex Switzerland
ALAIN PITTET, Managing Director at Congrex Switzerland

THE FUTURE OF PCO

The successful PCO of the future will increasingly act as a consultant of its client. The traditional, more logistical services will become a commodity every client expects and which in my opinion in the future will not be the differentiator between real PCOs.

Unfortunately a lot of companies call themselves PCO, even if their core business is definitively not professional congress organisation, but a more partial delivery of logistical services around a conference.

This is why Associations should choose their PCO and consultants among the members of IAPCO (International Association of Professional Congress Organisers). IAPCO members have to gain their yearly quality stamp through continuous education and stringent admission procedures. [pullquote]The real PCO of the future will consult its clients on a medium and long term basis providing strategic business planning, brand development, fundraising, compliance consulting and will develop and implement a comprehensive, tailor-made activity plan for two to three years.[/pullquote]
The consulting services can be combined with other association management or conference planning services to provide an integrated solution for any organisation. Obviously this is not possible for those clients who opt for a yearly rotation of the event organiser, where the working relationship needs to be re-established and a lot of time has to be invested to transfer the knowledge about the vision of the organisation and the goals and objectives of its event.

Considering the consultative approach the future PCO has to adopt, only a long-term partnership can create continuity, understanding of the needs of the different stakeholders and supporters and help to gain a lot of efficiencies. All associations, also very big ones with an in-house conference team, can profit from the experience and multi branch know-how of a PCO and should therefore plan regular external business plan reviews and consider a medium- or long-term partnership with an agency.

The future PCO will be pleased to act as core PCO, but also to deliver only part services on a long-term basis i.e. as a core housing agency, a core delegates’ relationship agency and so on.

The vision of a PCO should be to achieve memorable conferences, host happy participants and, if the PCO delivers also strategic Association Management services, to increase membership engagement. What does that mean?
PCOs have to use their years of experience and lead their clients to the understanding that today the quality of a congress is not assessed purely with its content. There is a considerably increasing importance of the overall delegate’s experience.

In the near future, when also participants of scientific conferences will have to pay for their trip and registration, they will choose where to go on the basis of their best overall experience in the past or of the best image transmitted by the different communication channels.

In my opinion, memorable congresses have networking possibilities before, during and after the event, combined with online and onsite social media activities. Younger and first time participants need facilitators to come into contact with more senior delegates. Also the meeting architecture and the format of the different sessions influence the participants’ experience. Do they have possibilities to actively participate in sessions, or is the programme based just on lectures, on one-way communication? Our clients have to understand that their conference is a product with a brand. And a brand needs a branding development strategy, which a good PCO is able to provide.

THE PERFECT PCO

The perfect PCO delivers all services free of charge.

I am joking!

More seriously, I think the perfect PCO has a very consultative approach and enthusiastic, motivated, multilingual and multicultural staff who care about the client.
This leads to a 365/24 service-oriented working attitude, 100% commitment and dedication to details. The perfect PCO achieves the client’s targets in an effective and efficient way and always delivers what he promises. And finally, creative individual solutions should exceed the expectations of the client.

About the Author

Alain Pittet has been working for 22 years in the Events Industry. Before joining Congrex Switzerland as Managing Director in August 2009 he worked for 16 years at the MCH Group as Director of Trade Fairs and Exhibitions and in this role was responsible for 15 trade fairs in Basel and Zurich. Alain is married to an Italian and has two adult sons. He speaks German, English, French, Italian, understands Sardinian and a bit of Spanish, likes red wine, Italian and Thai food, smokes cigars and is very active on social media.

WHAT IS AN IAPCO PCO?

An IAPCO PCO is a Professional Congress Organiser or Meeting Planner who administers and brings to fruition the organisation of a congress, meeting, event or convention in a professional manner. Such a professional manner will include timeliness, efficiency, financial responsibility and good management.

An IAPCO PCO has achieved a professional standard as judged by their peers and their clients. Each member has had to undergo rigorous entry criteria:

WHAT IS AN IAPCO PCO?

— Proof of organisation of 10 international meetings, of which 5 must be of over 400 participants

— Confidential references received from past clients

— Site inspection of a selected international congress

— Successful interviews by peer review of international client, local organising committee, delegates and exhibitors of a selected international congress

— Inspection of offices and audit of procedures

— Once accepted into the Association, an IAPCO PCO has to maintain their membership by participating in an annual quality assessment including:

— Statutory returns to prove on-going trading and notification of management changes

— Submission of Congress Check Lists to ensure continuous activity in the international meetings market

— Quality Self Assessment to position oneself against one’s competition and peers and to provide a benchmark for improvement

— Attendance at the annual Quality Seminar at least once every three years

As a result of the above, an IAPCO PCO offers a unique quality assurance recognised by congress clients and suppliers all over the world.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN IAPCO PCO AND A NON-MEMBER PCO?

A non-member PCO may differ from an IAPCO PCO in one or more of the following ways:
– Core business is not professional congress organisation
– Level of expertise is not ensured through continuous quality control and assurance procedures
– Not under review by a Committee of Ethics in case of a dispute
– Not stimulated to take part in annual educational programmes
– Not part of an international forum exchanging ideas and expertise.
– This does not mean that non-member PCOs are unqualified to do the job to the highest level; it means that, when engaging or employing a PCO, careful attention should be paid to the level of expertise and quality assurance to ensure that the right PCO is selected.

IAPCO is a worldwide sign of quality and the solution to congress organising is to appoint an IAPCO member.