The annual conference is often the pinnacle event for an association, bringing together members for professional development, education and networking and providing a real value proposition for their membership.  A well crafted, expertly executed conference program reinforces an association’s relevance  within its sector as well as providing a good source of ongoing revenue via membership growth.  

This new digital era of events can be overwhelming and stressful for association event planners, many of whom have seen their support team reduced over the past 12 months.  With their workload already pushing them to the limit, it is a difficult time to take on new or expanding event strategies.  However as border closures, travel restrictions and lockdowns are still a part of our daily considerations associations should definitely be considering a hybrid approach to minimise their risks and be adaptable for their members. 

A Professional Conference Organiser or PCO specialises in the management of conferences, meetings and seminars for professional associations and industry bodies. If an association wants to maintain a high standard of conference for their members, they should consider working with a PCO. While ‘outsourcing’ at a time of uncertainty may seem counter-intuitive, there are many reasons why now, more than ever, associations should be looking to work with a PCO.  

What to look for in a PCO 

With the recent rise of digital events including hybrid and fully virtual, it is important for associations to find a PCO that not only specialises in the management of events but also knows how to deliver the digital experience and provide strategic guidance.  In short you should find a PCO who is also a DCO or Digital Conference Organiser as they have become known. 

The advantage associations have in working with a PCO that is also a DCO is that they will achieve the benefits of holding both an in-person and online event including greater audience reach, certainty that the event can proceed under restricted travel and gathering conditions and reduced costs.

The ideal situation would be to find a PCO who can also offer full technical delivery of the conference to ensure that the event is completely integrated and both in-person and virtual audiences are engaged.  Having one point of contact who is responsible for the entire event will make an association event planner’s life much easier.  

A good PCO is more than just a supplier

Other key considerations when choosing a PCO is finding one that will become an asset to your association – not just a supplier.  A PCO should be  an integral part of the success of the event strategy with a focus on the long-term goals of the organisation. Their experience and contacts should ultimately save the association time, money and add value to their conference.  

With a view on the benefits that a long-term partnership with a PCO can bring, find one that has experience delivering conferences nationally (or internationally when the time comes). That way they can be an effective event partner as your conference moves around the country year on year. 

Engage a PCO on your terms 

A PCO will work with the association’s conference organising committee to provide a full service management for conferences including conference design, abstract management, program development, registration, venue selection, accommodation, speaker sourcing, marketing, audiovisual, logistics, administration support, financial management, social functions, partner programs, study tours, sponsorship and trade exhibition services.  

However it shouldn’t be an ‘all or nothing’ approach.  A PCO should be happy to provide support for the areas of the conference that you may be under-resourced in or need some extra assistance with.  They should have proven processes and supporting project management and event management tools that provide a transparent and collaborative process for all stakeholders.  So consider where you might need help with most – perhaps outsourcing the Delegate Management Services, or Exhibition Management might be all that is required to lighten the load enough on the internal resources.  Another option might be to engage a PCO to assist with the technical production of your conference / awards night – bringing in the option to go hybrid or virtual.   

If you are interested in talking to us about your next conference we’d love to hear from you.  We’d be happy to offer a free, no obligation, 30 minute consultation to understand your event and the specific challenges you are looking to overcome.