by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI
I know Virgil. Not in the original Latin, mind you. But, as student of Italian, I do know Virgil as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory in the irrefutably brilliant Divina Commedia. What I didn’t know, until today that is, was that Virgil is responsible for the much quoted dictum “tempus fugit” (time flies) which is actually a segment from the longer “sed fugit interea fugit irreparable tempus” (but it flees, meanwhile: irretrievable time flees). I looked that up today because I had a “tempus fugit” moment. It happened when I was speaking with my old friend and colleague Noel Mitchell. We worked together at Ovation Group prior to its acquisition by MCI. I recall conversations with Noel when he was an expectant first time father and the last of my 6 children was 9. Today Noel has a 9 year old daughter along with 2 more and I’m a grandfather twice over. Tempus Fugit indeed.
IAPCO 44th General Assembly
We met because our companies – MCI and Keynote PCO – along with Nicola McGrane’s Conference Partners are joint hosts for the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (aka IAPCO) 44th General Assembly which is currently taking place in Dublin. IAPCO is a small, but perfectly formed meetings industry association representing a truly global roster of PCOs – there are more than 30 nations represented amongst the 120 registered delegates. The theme for the Assembly – “Riding the Winds of Change: new Strategies for PCOs” – took me back to bad 80s mullets and to the King of bland, Christopher Cross (I couldn’t get “Ride like the Wind” out of my be-fuzzled brain) but the content of the event was anything but anodyne.
Hand in Hand
I heard great feedback from the plenary session chaired by Shaun Quinn, CEO of Fáilte Ireland, the country’s National Tourism Development Authority. With a panel of speakers representing all stakeholders – NTOs, National Airline and private sector (Noel Mitchell did a super job as our spokesperson) – Shaun Quinn’s session demonstrated how a small geographically peripheral island destination can punch way above its weight when the players operate a “hand in hand strategy” and work in a true partnership. IAPCO13 is, in ways, testament to that very strategy in so far as the bid to secure the event, along with its execution, is jointly managed by 3 PCOs who are also fierce competitors. The lesson is crystal clear: sell the destination first and everything else will fall into place.
I was present for Maureen Gaffney’s brilliant presentation bearing the slightly misleading title “How to put High Value on the Professional Service of the PCO”. Granted, I probably wouldn’t have been so easily drawn into a talk with the title “Captain Sensible was right: Happy Talk, Keep Talking Happy Talk” but that, in essence, is what Maureen told us. Drawing on scientific, empirical evidence – Dr. Gaffney is a well-known broadcaster, writer and columnist on psychological issues – Maureen debunked grumpiness and contrarianism and championed cheerfulness, optimism, being positive. For some reason – maybe I was just having a literary day – I kept hearing the words of Julius Caesar:
Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.
Again the lesson is crystal clear: in business surround yourself with upbeat people and be positive like Pollyanna no matter what.
Thanks Aviva Events!
The “Refreshment & Networking Break” is always a great chance to catch up with people and I enjoyed chatting with Jason Yeh of GIS Group, strategic partner of Ovation Global DMC for Taiwan. Despite a marathon journey from Asia, Jason was thoroughly enjoying his first IAPCO and seeing great day to day applications of lessons learned in Dublin. I also chatted with former IAPCO President and best-dressed-man-in-the-room, Philippe Fournier and, of course, my INCON colleagues, who’ve both forgotten more about conference organisation than collectively the rest of us will ever know, Inge Hanser (CPO Hanser Service GmbH) and Roslyn Mcleod (Arinex Pty Ltd.). There was barely a moment to thank Niamh McCrystal and Julie O’Sullivan of Aviva Events, sponsors of our refreshments, before we were back in session for 3 compelling presentations on changing the PCO business model.
Organisers or Consultants?
Rene Haller (MCI) laid out the current business models deployed across our industry from fixed fee to commission to hybrid. It was striking the see in the visual precision of his PPT slide the wide range and flexibility of approach offered to clients in terms of payment options. Dan Rivlin (Kenes Group) made a compelling case for presenting our service offering similar to other professional service firms and argued convincingly that it was the least we were due. Aideen Morrin of Conference Partners made a brilliant presentation based on real pieces of business illustrating how audacious novel approaches to pricing can lead to the pinnacle of success or, sadly, to the client deciding to “in-source” the event because you’re too transparent around the likely scope of costs. Aideen used the platform to call on our industry to consider changing our acronym from PCO to PCC where “organiser” is replaced by “consultant” thereby shifting the weight of the value proposition from execution to expertise. When I looked at the first definition of “consultant” that popped up from a random Google search I found the perfect justification for Aideen’s contention:
The overall impact of a consultant is that clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired
The lesson is crystal clear: organisers will only ever organise and this is perceived to have low value; consultants add “deeper levels of expertise” and can charge accordingly.
One of the more satisfying aspects of IAPCO was the added value brought to proceedings by the truly excellent Maurice Pratt, FMCG Expert who acted as moderator throughout the day. As someone old enough to recall Maurice’s infamous television ads for Quinnsworth I can only say it was a pleasure to be in the company of a consummate professional who displayed amazing ability to “ride the winds of change” of an industry completely new to him. He added enormously to our conference thanks to his broad range of business experience and his ability to summarise and pull it all together. Maurice may be glad to know that those amazing Quinnsworth ads can still be viewed on youtube.
A note from Pedantic Padraicino
I can find no credible attribution of “There are no strangers here: only friends who haven’t yet met” to Ireland’s national poet W.B.Yeats. Regardless, I prefer Dame Enda’s version of the same phrase (this is for you Roslyn): “My mother used to say that there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet. She’s now in a maximum security twilight home in Australia”
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI and, with Patrick Delaney, is Vice President of Industry Relations. Delaney and Gilligan also run the destination services division of MCI, Ovation Global DMC. Opinions in this blog and every blog are his own.