Article written by Rosalie Howard at Venue Pages (www.venuepages.co.za)
THE PCO’s ROLE
Q: What is a PCO? A: A Professional Conference Organiser
Sales and Marketing … there IS a difference and they work well together
I was employed in senior management in a fine hotel for over 10 years and the area I loved most and succeeded well in was the field of Sales and Marketing which in my position included Banqueting and Conference Coordinating, every aspect of sales, promotional golf days, exhibitions, educational site inspections for PCO’s, Travel Agents …. You name it.
From this platform, due to a back injury, I changed direction and the wind blew me into the PCO industry, which until a little while before, I bore a little bit of a grudge towards. Why? Because quite frequently in my position I would find that events I had been toiling on for weeks, liaising with my client on a personal one-to-one basis suddenly became the possession of a leading local PCO ! … When I raised this matter with our Operations Manager, who doubled as our General Manager, he had quite a time persuading me to take a different stance and to look at business from another angle …. This didn’t come easily to me at first because I guarded my successes in sales very closely and to suddenly find that my Operations Manager had given my bookings away to a PCO who was going to be earning 15% commission on these was indeed a bitter pill to swallow! In retrospect, Heaven knows why I reacted thus, as I didn’t earn commission. I was paid a monthly salary! I questioned whether it was jealousy or whether I was merely doing my job in support of my hotel, hanging onto every cent I could… After I ‘got it’, I understood ;though didn’t quite accept yet, that the value of the said PCO and for that matter any PCO was much greater than I had ever given them credit for, for the client in question, a large Blue Chip company had become her ‘client’ and she was their ‘guru’. She actually had it in her power to sway her client anywhere she chose!! That’s quite something right? … She was good, she was successful and she served me, I had to concede.
Now …. I am a PCO and have enjoyed fair success over 15 years … and I can now genuinely understand or have removed the blocks around this subject for I am on the other side now and ‘get’ just how valuable my Operations Manager’s words were at that time!
The Market Place …
Every PCO has a list, miles long of clients, either current or past and they are movers and shakers in finding future clients – they never rest … they are sales people, people! Believe it, they are! They are also marketing minded people, or they wouldn’t be in this industry. A reputable PCO will not market or sell a venue he or she does not believe will suit their client. It isn’t anyway in his or her interest to do so. We (I generalise) only promote venues we have tried and tested, who have good reputations or have been highly recommended to us and who meet expected standards. We build relationships with our clients, who come back again and again if they have received good service. We are a one-stop shop for them, their personal nanny if you like, because we relieve them of a lot of donkey work. A perfect solution for the PA or Secretary who works for 8 bosses, all of whom think his or her work is top priority. In return for their loyalty and support, we continue to offer them superb service, and I am sure I speak for most of us. It’s not an industry where one can make an easy or quick buck, take it from the horse’s mouth!! “We work hard for our money!”
Venue Support – Win-Win or Win-Lose?.
Just as the PCO’s serves their clients, they serve the venue as well. How?, you might ask – because, to ensure the success of the event, to ensure the satisfaction of our clients, we fully coordinate every detail from enquiry stage, to departure from the venue, making sure that every t is crossed, that every i is dotted. The task of gathering facts, itineraries, rooming lists, conference materials and papers, money, ordering gifts and conference bags, making name badges, transport, exhibitions, entertainment, décor, buying and installing the latest on-line registration programmes for our computers for efficient and professional management of the event … the tasks are endless, can be tedious and can take a year or longer to conclude, depending on the size and content of the event. Banqueting Coordinators in hotels and conference centres do not have time or experience in attending to all the requirements that are called for. That is not their job. They are experts at carrying out instructions from the client, they are highly qualified to make the event happen, either via the PCO or direct, depending on whether a PCO is involved or not. The hotel management can only do what they are asked to do. This begs a question … why is it that there are still many venues out there who do not appreciate what the PCO does, who believe that the PCO is overpaid and frequently try to beat them down in commission and it does happen! Seriously it happens! Any PCO will vouch for that or we are made to feel that they, the venue are doing us a favour by offering some sort of reward other than hard cash!
One day, we hope in the not too distant future, all hotels and conference centres will appreciate the value of a PCO to them from marketing and selling their specific venue to their client, to carrying out the numerous duties expected of them by the client AND the venue and that they will gladly pay what is essentially a pittance comparatively speaking if we take the entire event into consideration. Why is there often so much reluctance to acknowledge a PCO’s worth? My old Ops Manager, being a marketing minded man could see their value a long time ago and he changed my impressions and my stuck ideas of what a PCO truly represents!
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