The task of bringing together all the threads of a conference is not easy especially – although not exclusively – those of a scientific nature.
But you are not alone in this task. Along with the support of the local convention bureau, your local Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) such as Happening Conferences and Events, will work with you to deliver events that will not only place your organisation at the forefront of your area of expertise but will also generate revenue for the city in which you are based.
Now I know the idea of delivering a conference with many with dread but it is not as onerous as it may seem.
Planning a conference can be a very expensive undertaking. A worrying prospect – however you don’t have to put your house at risk. For example, in the management of many international conferences, we arrange for the setting up of a limited liability company with Happening and key representatives of the local organising committee as directors. This single purpose vehicle is a perfectly suited tool set up to manage the conference. We, as PCO’s, will partner you in this and make all the arrangements necessary for you to sleep peacefully in your beds at night! Alternatively we can carry the risk as PCO but taking the profit.
In addition, many associations will give you a fund to commence your conference planning activities – repayable in the event of a profit – but a huge comfort at the early planning stages when the thought of the receipt of revenue is a distant dream. As you know the planning stages can last for up to 3 years and the income is really only beginning to appear in the last 6 months – meaning hefty cash flow implications for venue deposits, literature production, website design and marketing not to mention the organising and committee expenditure. If this is not forthcoming PCO’s such as Happening will work with you to pre-fund the event for a share of the profit.
2.Finance and Legislation (not to scare you all too much!)
The machinations of the tax authorites are far reaching as we are all too aware, however an experienced PCO will undertake all the financial reporting necessary to manage a conference – these can include VAT and whether VAT is charged to delegates or not, what can be reclaimed and the submission of quarterly VAT accounts.
If a Single Purpose Vehicle (SPV) is used a PCO will submit annual accounts and close off the bank accounts and the SPV at the end of the project.
Insurance and health and safety are also paramount because of the Corporate Manslaughter Act which came into effect in April 2008. As committee members you need to be aware of the requirements. Again a good PCO will oversee all aspects of risk assessment and health and safety for you. As a member of the Association of British Professional Conference organisers, Happening are cognisant of the need to protect not just the delegates, sponsors and exhibitors but more importantly to protect you as the organiser.
There are 3 ways in which conferences are funded: –
• Delegate fee income
• Sponsorship and exhibition sales
• Subvention – or local authority / government assistance
Delegate fee income is straightforward and is based generally on a year on year comparison with a little bit of annual increase, but this is not where the main income is generally derived.
Sponsorship and exhibition sales.
Before you embark on the setting up of a local organising committee, you need to speak to the chairs of previous conferences and ascertain the level of corporate support for your conference and whether this is in decline. You also need to find out what they have paid in previous years and then ask your PCO to prepare a budget based on assumptions of income from sponsors and trade exhibitors. This budget needs to be carefully managed by both the PCO and the Local Organising Committee.
I would also recommend that you speak to your potential sponsors beforehand and bring them to the city for a visit to help to enthuse them about the accessibility of the host city.
Raising commercial income can be the main driver for conferences but it should never become an end in itself and overtake the primary objective, or threaten the integrity of the event, but it is useful to know the market in your particular field.
As we enter a new period of changing economic times – it is challenging to us all to reassess priorities and to look to see where we as a City and region can add value.
For many of the conferences brought to the region today, commercial sponsorship is crucial; but others are also reliant on public investment as they build their capacity.
Subvention is where the local authority recognises the value of the conference business and would offer support in a variety of ways. Most usually this would take the form of:
• Assistance toward venue costs
• Assistance toward marketing
As PCO’s we have frequently made a 2-star budget look like 5-star. We have utilised our contract negotiating skills to reduce the overall costs on venue hire, food and beverage and on other suppliers. We have stretched the budget and made the impossible possible – a good PCO can rise to these challenges!
We have established a platform of partnership in multiple cities, close working arrangements and challenging targets to create a healthy game plan to bring conferences to the Cities to create benefits for all.