Spotlight on Meetings and Conventions
Top tips for associations when choosing a professional conference organizer
Associations can greatly benefit from the services of a professional conference organizer (PCO). PCOs can indeed be life savers when it comes to planning events, particularly if you haven’t organized many before (if any at all).
Credit: Marc Robitaille Zoom
How to choose the right PCO? We spoke with Normand Voyer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry at the Université Laval and Director at PROTEO, the Québec Network for Research on Protein Function, Engineering and Applications, on his experience using PCOs during two events he has spearheaded: the 96th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition, which took place in Québec in May 2013 and welcomed over 2500 participants, and the International Symposium on Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry (ISMCS) 2018, which will welcome hundreds of delegates in July 2018 at the Québec City Convention Centre.
“You cannot underestimate a PCO’s track record and what he or she can offer you.,” said Mr. Voyer.
PCOs take care of the entire planning and execution of your event; you can benefit from their support, expertise and experience to mitigate risks and ensure that your conference and convention can be pulled off without a hitch.
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you perform your research and meet with potential candidates.
What’s their vision?
After describing your event goals, find out how your potential PCOs envision your event and how they plan to address possible challenges that could arise.
“The key is to remain pragmatic, yet flexible,” said Mr. Voyer. After all, your PCO will do whatever it takes to get the job done. But your job is to understand whether or not potential PCOs has grace under fire. You need a partner in crime, so to speak, not a complete organizational nightmare because someone didn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s.
Go beyond the sales spiel and find out what value PCOs can really bring to the table. You need to get a sense of how potential PCOs consider handling your marketing, logistics, effective budgeting and price negotiations. Skills in leadership, team building and networking are also key. After all, association events bring together a lot of stakeholders with different priorities. Your PCO must be able to detect undercurrents and act with diplomacy and tact—all while keeping an eye on the overall goal.
Explore previous marketing experience
A savvy PCO will master the ins and outs of marketing way before and after your event. Be sure to ask about their views on marketing tactics and how social media and content marketing fit into their overall strategy. The last thing you need is a PCO who is only about logistics—but forgets the role marketing plays in an event’s success.
Ask your potential PCOs about how they devise an event marketing plan as well as their approach to pre- and post-event marketing initiatives. Determine whether or not they understand attendee personas, social media, strategies to increase engagement, and new ways to improve opportunities for sponsors.
Mr. Voyer recommends putting together a list of questions to ask when you meet with potential PCOs. Ask for client references so that you can get the opinion from past clients and quickly pinpoint any red flags.
“It’s easy to sell Québec City to scientific researchers,” explained. Mr. Voyer. “Scientists love Québec City’s French culture and the fact that it is the heart of Europe in North America.”
Are they savvy with how they sell the host city?
Mr. Voyer recommends that PCOs are your go-to sources for ways to better promote the location of your event. “The Québec City Convention Centre and Cercle des Ambassadeurs had a unique way to sell the city and all of its advantages. The proposals they put together made a huge difference in our bids.”
Find out how many events your potential PCOs have organized in the host city you’ve elected. Ask them the types of venues and off-site activities they tend to favour when organizing events. You’ll gain deeper insight into their creative mindset and what “tricks” they have up their sleeves.
Effective event planning and management need not be something that is complicated. An expert PCO can offer tremendous advantages to associations looking to host an event. Take the time to plan carefully in advance so that you have the time to scout out and interview potential PCOs who know the tricks of the trade. And watch your event achieve record results!