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Picking a PCO – TAS’ recommended top 5 things to check before signing on the dotted line

Appointing a PCO is no easy task, having been involved in more than our fair share of tender processes, TAS believes there are some simple checks that any convener should run before making their final decision. To avoid getting caught out, here are TAS’ top tips to check before you move to contract:

  1. Level of repeat business: All PCOs promote their experience and the number of events they run, make sure that within this information you identify how many of these events have been run by the PCO more than once. Repeat business indicates multiple successful events and good, strong working relationships which bodes well for your own future relationships.
  2. Testimonials and referees: This may sound obvious, but as well as ensuring that references are checked and testimonials are current (within the last 12 months), convenors should also consider the referees they have been presented with. If a proposal focusses heavily on one conference but then does not provide a referee or testimonial for that conference, questions should be raised. Sometimes this may be because a convenor and key contact has moved on but it is always worth asking. Asking for additional referees is also entirely commonplace and if any alarm bells have been rung (even if very softly) during the tender process then doing extra research may end up saving you dollars in the long run!
  3. Commissions, mark-ups and rebates: Pricing in PCO world can be a bit of a minefield. Unfortunately, there is no standardised format to price conference management and as a result convenors can often have a difficult job comparing one quote with another. When there is an apparent, significant price difference between potential suppliers it is absolutely crucial to examine each PCO’s policy on commissions, mark-ups and rebates. Some organisations make money here by using one supplier that they then receive commissions or rebates from whilst others, refuse any rebate or commission – with the one exception of an accommodation commission which should always be declared from the offset. You can overcome this by requesting / obtaining competitive quotes for major item expenditure, by ensuring you always pay as per third party suppliers’ own invoices and by requesting the PCO to disclose its policies regarding the acceptance of commissions and rebates.
  4. Is the person you are talking to now, the person you will be talking to onsite: When selecting a PCO, convenors often want to meet the event manager that will be their primary point of contact before signing a contract. With long lead times, this can pose a problem as exact staff allocations may not have been made and staff may come and go. It is worth remembering that if a PCO introduces you to a staff member 12 months prior to an event, it is virtually impossible to be sure that this person will be onsite when the conference rolls around. The day-to-day level of involvement of senior staff members (CEO, COO, Team leaders etc) will actually be more important for the ongoing success of your event. Ask who the most senior person onsite will be at your event.
  5. Draft contract: How does a convenor know if what is being proposed is what they will receive? The easiest solution to this is to request sample or draft contracts from all shortlisted PCOs and review them before making your decision. Check the clauses with a fine toothcomb and ask for more information if anything is not clear or appears unusual. What is said in a response to tender via a proposal document may change dramatically when written in a contract. Be sure to check the small print before becoming emotionally tied to your decision. Establishing a two way dialogue is incredibly important in identifying any concerns you have about a PCO, always ask for more information rather than settling for not enough.

So there you have it, the top 5 things to check during your tender process.  Remember that not all PCOs are alike and whilst most can deliver a great event, the profit to your organisation can vary greatly. Be wise to where you could get caught out and if in doubt ask more questions!