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I often find it difficult to explain what I do for a living.  Actually strike that… I find it very easy to explain, it’s just other people find it difficult to understand…and to be fair if one doesn’t have in depth knowledge of either the event or association market places one might well struggle comparing a professional conference organiser with an event agency. This is why I felt it was important to try to highlight some of the key differences between them both.

The elevator pitch

Here is an outline of how my networking conversations go, generally:

New aquaintance:  So what do you do Rob?

Rob:  I’m a professional conference organiser

New acquaintance:  Sorry?

Rob:  I help associations and not-for-profit organisations plan their conferences

New acquaintance:  Oh so you’re an event manager!

Rob: To a degree, yes.  But I also help these organisations generate income for pay for their meetings through sponsorship and marketing.

New acquaintance:  [blank look]

Rob:  Yes I’m an event manager….

But seriously, to the uninitiated it can be confusing, so we’ve compiled what we believe to be the fundamental differences between the two in the handy table below.

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Table: Comparing a PCO with an event agency

PCOServiceEvent Agency
Will take the lead/or work with client to secure all sponsorship for the eventSponsorshipUnlikely to offer this service
Will create and execute a marketing plan, brand, website design etc to support attendance to the conferenceEvent marketingUnlikely to offer this service
Will offer project management and financial management of the entire projectProject managementWill typically only manage the elements that the agency is providing
Will be able to offer registration, housing and abstract submission support and be able to take payments from attendees. Delegate servicesWill be able to support registration and accommodation, unlikely to be able to take credit card payments
Will plan and run exhibitions, liaise with exhibitors.ExhibitionsWill typically look after design and build of a client’s own stand at a trade exhibition
Will be able to support the programme, manage invited speakers, liaise with abstract authors and presentersProgrammeWill typically book and liaise with talent or corporate speakers
Book and liaise with the venue, caterers, shipping, staffing providers etcLogisticsTypically forms the lions share of an event agency’s work
Will support set design, graphics and internal branding, production and audio-visualProductionCan form a large part of the work of the agency.

So you can see that there are quite a few differences, some subtle and some marked, between the two types of organisation.  Of course there are always exceptions; the above is just a rule of thumb.  Neither is necessarily better than the other, but they are both best suited to support very different types of events.

by Rob Eveleigh, Managing Director, Brightelm

First published 26th February 2018

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