Anybody can call themselves an event organiser.  But what you really need is somebody with the background, the connections, the skills and the ethics to do a good job, so that when the time of the conference arrives, you can worry about the networking, not the logistics. But how to choose the perfect PCO?

It’s that time of the year. 

The date of your annual conference is staring back at you from your diary. But the happenings of the past year have put everything on a wobble. Like so many companies, your organisation is reconsidering old habits and some conference cost-cutting is on the table. After some humming and harring, you decide the PCO is the obvious choice for some savings. After all, how hard can it be to knock a conference together? 

Fast forward to THE day and one of the keynote speakers gets sick a day before the event. Some frantic phone calls later, you freak out all over again because the caterer messed up the booking (What do you mean there are no vegetarian options?!). More delegates show up than RSVP’d and you find you don’t have enough seats. You realise you didn’t allow for enough break time between segments and to make it worse, one of the speakers goes seriously over time. The CEO has a worried frown on his forehead.  

The STRESS of it!

So you make a deal with yourself: next year it’s going to be different. With the experience you just had, it can’t be just any random PCO that submitted the lowest. It’s going to be an Approved PCO

What is an Approved PCO (APCO)?

Anybody can call themselves an event organiser. 

Type in ‘event planner’ in the Google search box and ‘How to become an event planner nz’ is one of the top search suggestions. The glamour of it!

But as you just found out, there’s more perspiration than glamour involved. Winging it will not cut the mustard. You need somebody with the background, the connections, the skills and the ethics to do a good job, so that when the time of the conference arrives, you can worry about the networking, not the logistics. 

The question is: what makes a PCO ‘Approved’? 

  • An Approved PCO is endorsed by BEIA (the industry body) after they have signed both “Minimum Service Levels” and “Code of Ethics”. 
  • Both documents demonstrate that the endorsed members have earned their merit as skilful project managers, conscientious event risk managers and capable marketeers. They need to show outstanding financial and budgeting chops and be capable of professionally juggle all aspects of organising a conference (from ‘abstract handling’ to ‘registration’ all the way to ‘venues’, ‘sponsors’ and ‘speakers’ plus everything in between) 
  • Every year, they undergo a new compliance review to confirm that they comply with the BEIA “Approved” requirements.
  • During the course of 2020, the industry started working cohesively with the NZ event sector voluntary code to ensure a safe environment (including venues and suppliers). 

It may sound like a casual tick in the box, but in reality it’s a rigorous process that gives you the confidence your PCO is an expert in their field. It separates the grown-ups from the kids in the events industry and it’s the easiest way for you to make sure you are dealing with a professional.  

The job description of a APCO – What to expect?

An APCO is a whizz at all things logistics but they also have a wealth of knowledge in business event strategy and design. Spot-on time management and budgeting, minute attention to detail and long-standing connections in the industry go a long way in creating an outstanding event. But it’s not where it ends.

A decent chunk of successfully organising a conference is understanding the underlying process. What works and what doesn’t? Which partner is the best match for a particular situation? 

When things go pear-shaped (sure enough, something always does), it’s the years and years of experience that help an APCO think fast on their feet. Many stressful situations – or worse… disasters – can be averted because they’ve seen it all, done it all. 

The bottom-line is that ultimately what may initially look like ‘overhead’ to the untrained eye will save you time, money and a lot of stress. 

How to hire a PCO?

I think you’ve got the message that when you hire an APCO, you’re working with somebody who knows the job inside out. There’s no need to ask if they can do it. They’ll handle the most demanding and complex event projects with style. 

They’ve done it hundreds of times before. Not a drop of sweat in sight … at least not where you can see it! 😉

But there’s another half to the equation that is not as tangible as ticking all the right boxes. 

All APCOs are capable of doing a good job. But one might be a better pick for you than the other. Why? Because you and the APCO need to work together quite closely for an extended amount of time. That’s (at least) two people with a personality, priorities, preferences and a unique way of approaching a project. 

It’s like saying Beyoncé and Herbie Hancock are both professional musicians at the top of their game. But would you be happy to play either in equal amounts?  

In other words, it’s easy enough to find a PCO that is a professional on all levels. Finding the one that gets you and your vision for the event is a little more subtle. And there is no shortcut. 

The magic bullet: COMMUNICATE 

Bonus tip: do it early in the process!

5 tips to find the perfect APCO for YOU 

So how do you do that? And what do you communicate? We have 5 tips on how to choose the perfect PCO that will be part of your event dream team. 

How to choose the perfect PCO – Tip 1

How do you want to partner with your APCO?

It all starts with the relationship you want to have with your APCO.

Ask yourself: Are you looking for a partnership where you’re both invested in the outcome of your event and the PCO is prepared to break the message that you’re taking the wrong path. OR do you want a relationship where you want your PCO to simply implement your action plan? 

Either way, it’s your job as the client to decide how you want to work. The important part is to be clear about it from the engagement phase. It avoids miscommunication, confusion, and friction later on it the process.    

How to choose the perfect PCO – Tip 2

Do your homework

The best way to approach this is to create a clear and detailed list of what you want your APCO to do. Not only does it give your PCO an idea of what services you are looking for and how you prefer to work. It also helps you to compare apples with apples with crunching the numbers. 

How to choose the perfect PCO – Tip 3 

Look beyond the spreadsheet

This is probably also the right time to point out the obvious; yet it’s a common pitfall. So let’s say it again. The cheapest PCO is not always the best or the best value for money (Beware of hidden costs and unexpected budget overruns!). To work this out, you need an in person conversation; list in hand. I know you’re busy, but you really need to do it!

How to choose the perfect PCO – Tip 4 

Ethics and modus operandi matter

Which brings us to values and qualities you’re looking for in a PCO. Again, this is not something you will find written on paper. We may sometimes have the impression that we all roll the same way. But reality is… we don’t. What is important to YOU is not necessarily that high on the list for somebody else. We all have our own ways. And that’s awesome. But you need a PCO who aligns with your values and priorities …. which means you have to talk to them.   

How to choose the perfect PCO – Tip 5 

There’s a person behind the name!

And last but not least; every PCO is different. Why? Because there’s a person behind the name. It’s that person who you can or can’t relate to. It’s also that person who needs to see the vision you have for your event. Ask for written responses after you’ve issued a proposal and you’re failing to see that you’re looking for much more than to engage ‘the cheapest’ proposal.