What is your opinion on scientific congresses for next year?
There are a few things that I see – one of them is anticipating pressure, because there is an inflation of the number of meetings. More and more companies are looking to cut their costs and this is one way of doing it. I foresee an increased economic pressure on most of the associations, which will force them to become more efficient from the economical point of view. I see a bright future for some of them – those who will be serious on the content and those who will evolve in innovating. Those who will stick to tradition and still insist on performing expensive services like printing books and expensive social events are going to be challenged.      

In your opinion, are there new or preferred criteria to choosing a location / destination for a congress?

I don’t think we’ve established something new here, but I think a transition to second-tier cities is going to happen. Less expensive cities are going to be preferred. And again, this is not a market transition – I am talking about average-sized meetings of 800 to 2,000 people. These will start looking for less expensive venues. They will start looking for smaller cities which weren’t a part of their agenda before. Secondly, people will be looking more and more for what I call non-leisure destinations. All the so called sea side destinations are going to be challenged.

Do you think South-Eastern Europe offers good and suitable locations according to the abovementioned criteria?
The answer is yes. We can find countries which are not too expensive and where the medical community is very strong. As it has always been those who are more active will have more chance to fit into what associations are looking for. One of the first criteria are facilities. Some of the countries in SE Europe have proper facilities and others don’t. I’ve had the chance to visit some of them – last year we held a meeting in Belgrade, in Croatia and so on. Accessibility is also very important and some countries certainly meet this criterion. Then there are the costs – it helps if a country is inexpensive. The countries also need to have active doctors, when associations visit a city they want to see who is in the local committee – who is behind the event. I think SE Europe has quite a few locations that fit the international criteria of location selection. Some of them just need more time.

International surveys show a decrease in the number of participants and days for each event, even though the number of events organized per year remains quite stable. What’s your interpretation of this?

I’ll go back to my first point here is economic pressure. The lesser the budgets, the stricter the criteria for attendance. Fewer doctors will be attending more meetings. So, by a stable number of meetings we will see less participants and less sponsorship. Some of the meetings will die out. I am not sure about the duration, but it is now more common to do small topical meetings or short meetings over the weekend. People are busy, they want to come, get the knowledge, the networking and go. Meetings will therefore be shorter; there will be fewer participants due to the pressure. Some meetings will have more participants, but on average fewer participants will attend.

Could this mean that in 2011 smaller and more targeted events will be the new trend?
Yes, I assume so. Companies and participants will focus on fewer meetings. They will focus on meetings that seem to have a stronger brand and bring them stronger value as appose to attending twenty average meetings. This has been true for a while, not just for 2011.

Which are the services a PCO can carry out for and on behalf of the client, as opposed to a DMC agency? What’s the difference between the two?

In my opinion the PCO is dead already, because it should be an educational facilitator, which is far more than just providing the logistics. A DMC would usually be a company that knows how to work the ground arrangements at a specific destination or destinations. On the other hand, a PCO would be a company that knows how to do logistics required for the meeting. These are two different tasks. It’s not rocket science, so DMCs can do some of the things a PCO would ordinarily do. A classic PCO only needed to have the right software for registration and an understanding of crowd control. Yet, a modern PCO has huge abilities which a DMC will never have. For example, raising funds for a meeting, attracting participants and doing the marketing. The DMC’s and regular PCO’s are not capable of that. At Kenes I have 20 people working in Kenes media, which is a specialized marketing company. DMCs don’t usually deal with things like reaching a social network, researching mailing lists and also, changing the format of the meetings. PCOs will need to do more and more in the areas which attract more funds and participants, or they won’t survive

How does a PCO agency manage personal relations with their suppliers and ensures the quality of their services?
Personal relationships are very important and so is trust. This is one of the three ways in which we measure our suppliers: relationship, results (reports at the end of the meeting) and processes. We like to incorporate suppliers into the process of organizing a meeting to make sure they have all the information they need for their preparation, and we have all the information to supervise. It’s as simple as that. We value the inputs of our partners and consider them a part of the team. The more they know about the meeting, the better the chances to succeed. So, it’s about the relationship and about the processes as well as the results and how we measure them.

Who are the main players in the global PCO market and in Central and SE Europe?
On the global level there are Kenes, MCI and Congrex which are probably the three largest players in the market. These are the three major ones. Then there’s a second level of PCOs. In SE Europe there are no really big players, there are more local PCOs.

What’s the key to a PCO agencies’ success and recognisability nowadays?

To measure success you have to set up a so called KPI (key performance indicator).  Success means delivering the promised results. We want to show our clients value. It is not the question of costs but of value. Value means more than being just a trusted provider to your client, you need to collaborate with them on their future development. Make sure they are familiar with future trends, so they don’t work in the same way over and over. Clients who look to the future are usually more successful. Successful PCO’s should develop abilities to support their solutions; that’s why I mentioned Kenes media. They need to bring people to the meetings – in the past people used to come to meetings, you just sat down and mailed the invitations. Nowadays that’s not enough. PCOs have to work much harder to bring people to the meetings, do much more research to get the funding and change the format of the meeting to make things happen differently. This is what makes them successful. The clients need to feel that even if they pay more they get added value for their money.

What is the biggest challenge for PCOs these days? How to overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge is the competition and economic pressure on the clients so they in turn pressure the PCO. The clients are expecting to get more services but they cannot afford to pay more. PCOs should expand and look to other services based on PCO services, such as e-learning, which is a new way to generate funding.

Do you have a final massage for our readers?

Those who will not evolve will not survive. It’s time we look at our profession with pride and take a step forward as partners instead of just suppliers to our clients.

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