What to look for when choosing a professional conference organiser

Events and conferences have come a long way since the days when you could hand them over to the departmental assistant and expect a good event and even a great outcome.

Today’s event-goers are more sophisticated, discerning and demanding by far.

“Event-goers are looking for a return on their time investment. Some receive literally dozens of invitations per month and have to be selective when choosing which to attend. So, among other things, they want to know that the event will be seamless, will run on time and will meet their expectations, whether that’s to be entertained, informed, educated or to engage in a quality networking opportunity,” says Celeste Whitaker, owner of Fizz Marketing.

With high expectations, come high stakes; high enough to paralyze into immobility those organisations that don’t have or don’t know where to find the skills to put on a great event. It’s a high stakes game. Put on a below par event and your company risks reputational damage. Don’t put on an event and you lose a real opportunity to engage your audience and build your relationships and brand.

So, how to choose a skilled event manager, or professional conference organiser (PCO) as they are better known?

Whitaker describes the process as similar to hiring an employee and adds, “Start with checking their credentials. Sift the wheat from the chaff by eliminating those who are not accredited practitioners and members of registered industry associations, and therefore not bound by a professional code of conduct.”

Part of the credential review process involves looking at the PCO’s client list, the types of events they have staged in the past and their references from these clients. Check to see that the nature, size and scale of the projects they have tackled are comparable to the event they are being hired for.

“Next comes the initial meeting. You can be assured the company principals will be in attendance, but check with them beforehand and if they are not going to be your daily contact, insist they bring along the employee or team that will be. Chemistry is as important as credentials,” cautions Whitaker. “You’ll be working closely with these individuals and if you can’t connect with them on a personal level, it will be that much harder to get the job done well.”

Anyone who has ever sat through an advertising pitch will be familiar with the ‘dazzling and wooing’ that will take place at this meeting and, make no mistake, it is important. You need to be dazzled and should be wooed and if they can’t do that for you, it’s unlikely they’ll produce an event that will do it for your audience.

Whitaker adds, “Just as important as the PCO’s ability to impress you, is their ability to ask the right questions and listen to your replies. It’s your event, your brand, your product or service and your reputation on the line. If they aren’t asking the right questions about your event objectives, audience, brand, budget and expected return on investment (ROI) and taking notes, then you can be sure that whatever they bring back to the table is going to be off the mark and a waste of your time.”

“In summary, a good PCO will be industry-certified and have a client list and references to substantiate and prove their ability to produce a seamless event from start to finish. The right PCO for the job, will be one you get along with, who asks the right questions and listens, and who is able to deliver both your desired ROI and the tools to measure it.”

Finally, and of particular importance is the fact that in this socially connected era, events are no longer one-dimensional affairs that take place in a vacuum. Instead they are, or rather can be, multi-dimensional marketing opportunities that enable you to achieve true brand engagement at every stage of the process.

“Choose a PCO who gets this and is experienced and able to leverage public relations and social networking to maximise your brand engagement opportunity, from the invitation and build-up to the event itself and all the way through the follow-up. This is the social age and if your PCO isn’t able to complement your event with an end-to-end event management strategy then you’ve lost your audience and a huge amount of your opportunity,” concludes Whitaker.

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