As a professional speaker at over 2500 events in over 40 countries, I’m very used to dealing with all the associated teams of people who contribute and work in all aspects of conferences and events. From the clients and sponsors themselves, to the professional conference organizers, audio visual technicians, banqueting teams as well as both back of house venue staff and event front-facing client people – each group obviously plays an important, inter-dependent and significant role in their contribution to the overall success or failure of any particular event.

My most significant contact is usually the marketing or HR person from the client or sponsor company concerned, closely followed by the event organizer themselves; but recently two back-to-back (but totally different) and large sized events I was booked to speak at caused me to reflect on the importance of the people who ought and need to be involved – and how any missing cogs in the wheel have the potential to cause massive trauma or upset. On these two particular – and large –events, the clients had elected not to use a professional conference organizing company – but rather to run the proceedings directly, by themselves, instead.

Both events (one for a global IT company, with 500 delegates, and the other for an international travel organisation with over 250 delegates) were incredibly difficult for me to properly work in and around. Timings were off, agendas were over-scheduled and seemingly the other speakers hadn’t been correctly briefed so as to deliver a proper and concentric audience outcome.

Overall it just felt as if both conferences had just basically been cobbled together, and were being run by some very stressful clients – who in reality ought to have been enjoying and taking glory for the day in a different sense. To be fair, the audiences at both were quite compliant, and probably didn’t notice too much wrong from the outside looking in; save for perhaps people feeling a little awkward and realizing that the proceedings massively overran in time. Yet it wasn’t a great occasion to be at, at either event; and that seems to me to be both a waste and a shame, as each could and should have been spectacular from an audience viewpoint.

Certainly, if an event is only expecting a couple of dozen delegates, or is an internal company occasion – it is permissible not to use the services of outside PCO’s, or AV people, (I get that) but in reality the basis of every solidly developed and run conference needs to utilize the services of professionals wherever possible.

Thinking about these two very different and now over-stressed clients – I asked two top PCO’s or professional conference organizers to give me their reasons as to why they SHOULD always be used by a client. Nash Zwambile of Riverbed Agency and Andy Appalsamy of Old Shanghai Events (both based in Johannesburg) responded … and I felt it appropriate to share with you what they felt:

From Riverbed:

1. Remember PCO’S do this for a living so they are very professional (and cost-efficient).

2. Creative teams will ensure the message is developed exactly as is required for the audience.

3. PCO’S will leverage relationships with suppliers to get better rates.

4. Consolidation of suppliers (through a PCO) means you only deal with one person (who handles the strain on the client’s behalf).

5. Through-the-line capabilities means that a good PCO agency can provide a one stop shop, PR, advertising, project management insights and ensure that everything is fully aligned.

And from Old Shanghai Events:

1.      Marketing people are seldom event people…and often don’t have the bandwidth to properly manage events. The amount of time, detail and effort involved is always underestimated by decision makers higher up.

2.   PCO’s are able to translate a client’s needs into the special “event language” that is spoken between venues and suppliers . Clients often miss things like venue hire and catering costed separately, versus full DCP or a 24hr packages. PCO’s understand all these differentiations and always work on ensuring clients book the correct package for the best value.

3.   PCO’s have Event Liability insurance (well the good ones anyway) and this is a legal requirement to ensure any risk is covered. Corporates do not have this insurance in place.

4. PCO’s have a network of the best, tried and tested suppliers which Corporates may not necessary have access to. PCO’s also negotiate best prices for best value leveraging off relationships.

5. PCO’s ensure seamless project management, end to end covering all aspects. 80% of a successful event is determined during production, not on the day.

Whilst I get that budget is always an issue and clients tend to think that event companies cost a fortune – it really isn’t the case. For both of these events the reasons for not using a PCO were different; the first was cited as ‘budgetary constraints’ and the second was the client ‘felt they could just do it themselves anyway’. In both instances, to my way of thinking, the clients were wrong. Good PCO’s are flexible enough to allow clients to book venues, catering AV etc. and manage everything on their behalf at realistic pricing and rates. It’s usually either a cost-plus model which is clearly delineated for the client in advance or through charging an overall and very transparent fee.

Either way I believe it essential for any client to start thinking about the event from a management point of view and see the – very reasonable – costs involved against the perspective of doing everything for themselves (improperly) against their own time-costs involved.