Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones

The IAPCO Seminar presented by Roslyn McLeod, MD, arinex ltd pty and Esther Assous, Events Manager, World LP Gas Association, drew a large and controversial audience on the topic of Insourcing or Outsourcing Conference Management.

Albeit a constant dilemma for Associations, “there is a common denominator” says Roslyn McLeod “which is where the glass house comes in.  PCOs are faced with the same challenge as associations and that is to find suitably talented staff.   Success”, she continued “depends on the talent of the appointed staff, their abilities and skills; the business sense of the Board and the direction/support received from management.  In other words all the stars need to be aligned to get the right outcome”.

“Clients are generally smart and committed but the role of conference management requires more than a willing attitude and hands, it requires expertise across a broad spectrum, which associations often lack” continues Esther Assous. “Part in-sourcing and part out-sourcing is, from our point of view, the best model, with our Association benefiting from the strengths of a Core PCO, who then works closely with their selected Local PCO.”

Committed to out-sourcing, Roslyn McLeod expanded on the advantages of the PCO company providing full services.  “The outsourced service has to draw upon a range of skills, such as management, communication and marketing, finance, logistics etc, to deliver the right product.  The PCO was born out of the need for an expertise to manage conferences, and conference management is a science, involving a number of different skills that are woven together to produce an end effect.”

Does the Association lose control by outsourcing to a PCO?  “If the partnership harnesses the combined skills of both parties it is a recipe for success” says Esther.

“There is a third option” commented Robert Harrison, Congrex Group “the half-way house, and that is embedding PCO staff in the office of the Association.  This way, one of the most difficult elements of in-house service, that of human resource, training, experience etc is covered by the PCO, but the Association still retains the personal interaction with their members by having that resource embedded with them”.

“One must remember that to many associations an event is not just “tacked on” to the work of the association, but is actually integrated into whole infrastructure.  It is incumbent on the association staff to be responsible in all aspects of the PCOs work” commented Charu Malik, Executive Director of the World Allergy Organization “But the embedding model is an interesting one”.

Is insourcing value for money?  How many Associations have done a true analysis to measure the real cost of managing the Association conference in-house?  How does it compare to outsourcing?  In the case of NfP Associations, what is the percentage of the Association overheads that is spent on insourcing conference management?  “The accepted maximum of a conference budget a PCO fee should be is 15% but it is often less.  How do the two compare?”   Roslyn McLeod threw out the challenge for accurate costings of in-house services and thus equitable cost comparisons.

Philippe Fournier summed up “Every group is different, as is every requirement.  Working across a number of different events provides the PCO with an innovative source of experience which is shared across clients.  It is just essential that the expectations are known and thus met, whether in-house or out-sourced.  But it must be recognised that PCOs increase the quality of an event, raising the bar, and attendees and stakeholders can expect this level of quality for their meetings.”

(Ιούνιος 2011)