ICMS Australasia managing director, Bryan Holliday, says that today’s PCO must be a marketing whiz as well as a creative planner.




Organising meetings is becoming harder. Certainly there are some aspects that are simpler courtesy of better technology. However, the challenges for professional conference organisers are clearly outweighing the positives brought about by modern-day advancements.

The biggest challenge is that of a reduction in corporate spending resulting in reduced attendees. Once upon a time a company may have sent three or more employees to the annual conference in the respective areas of specialisation of their business. A pharmaceutical company, for example, may have sent half a dozen of its staff to a medical meeting. Today, because of apparent budgetary restraints, that company may only send one or two.
And this is where today’s professional conference organiser or meeting planner must put on their marketing hat in an effort to boost delegate numbers.
In our role as conference organiser we not only have to create a meeting that is dynamic and cutting edge but market it to the right people in an effort to attract more delegates to attend. We have to market the meeting and convince them that leaving their office – and their computer – and engaging in something that is high touch rather than high tech is good for them and their organisation.
To do that we have to re-emphasise the primary benefits of meetings. We have to convince them of the potential for almost magical experiences to occur at the conference – results that cannot ever be achieved without the kind of human interaction that can be made at a conference.

I like to call this the serendipity of the meeting – the ability to make desirable but almost accidental discoveries through group discussion.
The potential to create and discover through human discussion and activity cannot be underestimated. Some companies may say that they can get the same results from a teleconference or from downloading information from a website and sharing it amongst staff but we, as professional conference organisers, must continue to argue that they will not receive the same benefits unless they hold a meeting or a conference.

Understanding that it is increasingly becoming the professional conference organiser’s role to convince delegates to attend conferences impacts everything we do in the creation and delivery of meetings. We must do the following as an absolute minimum:

• Review the previous conference and determine what worked and what didn’t
• Evaluate the proposed list of speakers and only confirm those who are deemed to have the greatest “pulling power” for potential delegates
• Select a venue and destination that is appealing and functional
• Set a reasonable price for delegate attendance, and include special offers for companies if they choose to send more than one employee
• Start promoting the conference as early as possible and keep the conversation going at regular intervals with news of the latest features, specials, confirmed speakers, etcetera

There is no greater satisfaction than running a conference where delegates who may have once only been associates leave at the end of the conference as firm friends – sharing ideas and inspiring one another to achieve more in their daily working lives.

A PCO who understands that as much effort has to go into the marketing of a conference as into the creation of the
event itself will go a long way to retaining existing clients and building new ones for years to come.

Bryan Holliday is the managing director of ICMS Australasia, one of Australia’s largest professional conference organising companies. Mr Holliday and his team have organised some of the largest association congresses in the world and are also involved in meetings management for the corporate and government sectors throughout the Asia Pacific region. He can be contacted via email on bryanh@icmsaust.com.au.