The future of the PCO: what is your take on it?

By the way, “what does PCO stand for?” is a question that is often asked. Having worked in the MICE industry for almost three decades, this question has always somewhat surprised me when asked by a MICE industry colleague. So, for those outside the conference industry who read this blog: PCO stands for Professional Congress Organizer; it can represent the person, and the company.
The acronym PCO is most often used in Europe, while for instance in the USA we are called Meeting Planners. A connection to the European IAPCO (International Association of Professional Congress Organisers) and the American MPI (Meeting Professionals International) is easily made. These are two member organizations – albeit IAPCO has company memberships and MPI individual memberships – which are basically quality certifications and offer education programs.

So far the introduction of the term PCO. But what then is that future of a PCO company, especially now during COVID-19? Are their business models COVID-19 proof? Are they lean and mean enough, are they indeed agile? Was any organization in the MICE industry in fact prepared and COVID-19 proof? I dare say not. There is a ratio between creating a memorable event and the number of staff one needs to accomplish it, so one could say:

Typically, these companies offer their clients, associations and corporate clients, a full service package to make their events a strategic-, operational- and financial success for all stakeholders: a memorable event. In order to achieve this, a wide range of services is offered, involving a high number of people – mostly staff members. But the number of staff was irrelevant, as long as the number of project hours were chargeable.

With COVID-19 everything changed: events have to be postponed or cancelled. It is also unclear if and when the live meetings will return, and when they do, to what extent will they be live again? There are enough opinions and theories available on that topic only, because that is in fact the basis of your decision how your company will (have to) look like in the (near) future and what your business model will be. But do we in fact have all the information?

Are we certain whether we go back to full live events? Or will online only events become the norm? Or will we have hybrid meetings? What is the timeframe in which this will develop and moreover, what do I do with a lot of staff on fixed contracts in the meantime? We all know what the worst case scenarios are for a company with a lot of staff, when projects are cancelled.

I do not believe in the bigger PCO company, which employs a battery of people to provide the extensive package of services of a project. It’s time for change! Each single service is available in an outsourced form, and all the client needs is a person who actually listens to what their wishes are and which services are in fact needed, and who puts the package of services together.

I believe in a small company, which is run by 1 or 2 persons, who can guarantee quality and continuity because they – or at least one of them – are the constant factors of the project offering commitment, dedication and advice when putting that package of services together, and overseeing the progress and development of the project while guarding the interests of all stakeholders of the project. One of the most important factors in this, though, is the flexibility of hiring extra experienced and professional temporary (freelance) staff only if and when the project requires it.

What is your take on all this?

And please feel free to leave a reaction here. I would love to have a discussion, maybe even in person over coffee!

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