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Face to face: Martin Boyle, CEO of IAPCO

“We must remain compassionate to get through this…”

 

Martin Boyle, CEO of IAPCO, the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, believes the human touch is more important than ever…

Interview: James Lancaster

These are extraordinary times: how has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work at IAPCO?

I have always felt that it is important for me to have compassion for our team, our members and partners, show conviction in the decisions and actions we were taking and be clear in IAPCO’s communication. I made the very early decision to concentrate on our members as their clients’ congresses and events were put on hold almost overnight and the immediate impact on those PCOs was hard-hitting.  Value to our members remained of utmost importance as the philosophy behind every decision we have made throughout the pandemic.

Like every other organisation, we have had to make rather dramatic changes in both our activities as well as how we deliver them. As an example, we launched the IAPCO Impact Dialogues, first as an open platform for our members to share challenges and solutions but it quickly became so sought after that we felt it important to open the dialogues to all.  Delivering relevant content at regular intervals to diverse audiences takes a lot of thought and planning.  However, time is not always on your side.  As such, we had to be more agile in how we managed activities whilst at the same time avoiding any decrease in the quality of IAPCO products.

Has it forced any permanent changes to how your organisation will operate in the future?

Of course.  The pandemic has brought challenges for us but has also created opportunities.  We remain focussed on delivering our 5-year strategic plan that we presented to our members in February. However, we have had to become a much more agile organisation by delivering activities and programmes to ‘fill the gaps’ brought on by the pandemic.  Transitioning to this more agile structure places us in a much stronger position to continue moving forward with our plan even if we take a few twists and turns along the way.

What do you think the main challenges are for associations right now?

Proving value to their members and stakeholders. As organisations struggle to secure funding during this economic downturn caused by the pandemic, they will look to reduce expenditure and memberships to associations may decline.  It is therefore vital that associations can communicate their value proposition to their constituents.  IAPCO’s members prove time and time again through our rigorous accreditation and auditing process that they deliver the highest level of professional PCO services to their clients.  As we all resurface from this pandemic, clients will be looking to only those service providers and strategic consultants that demonstrate professional standards and can ensure business continuity.

How old is your organisation and how many members does it have?

52 years and with 133 Accredited Company Members, representing over 9,700 meeting professionals.

Who are your members?

Professional Congress Organisers (PCOs).  Unlike many other associations wherein a member simply joins and pays a membership fee, to become a member of IAPCO, a PCO must prove they meet our strict quality criteria.  Each member has had to undergo rigorous entry criteria and as a result of which, an IAPCO accredited PCO offers a unique quality assurance recognised by congress clients and suppliers all over the world.

Why does the Association exist? What is it trying to achieve?

Our mission is to raise the standards of service amongst our Members and other sectors of the meetings industry through continuing education and interaction with other professionals.

What are the major challenges facing your organisation?

One would think that the sudden implementation of virtual conferences would be a challenge for our Members and have a detrimental impact on IAPCO.  However, this has proven not to be the case.  Virtual and hybrid business event solutions require the same level of attention, professionalism, and expertise as a traditional in-person conference, the difference is mainly in the delivery method.  Many IAPCO members have been providing virtual elements to their client programmes for several years now so this has been a natural fit for all of them.

One of our roles is to support our members through continued education and knowledge-share.  The increasingly fast-moving advances in technology and practices means that we must keep on top of what is of greatest value and relevance to our members.  This too can be a challenge for an association with limited resources like IAPCO. However, it is through the experience and knowledge of the IAPCO Training Academy that we can remain at the sharp end of such advances.

Finally, an immediate challenge we face is in advocating for the safe re-opening of business events. As governments from one country to the next take different decisions on what can and cannot take place, we need a united national push with data to support safe practices.  This can be challenging to coordinate, but through our recently formed Strategic National PCO Association Task Force of eleven PCO associations, we are working together to do just that.

You have worked right across the meetings industry – for professional congress organisers and convention bureaux – and now leading an international association of PCOs. What excited you about working for an association and has the job lived up to expectations?

I am a strong believer in the ‘greater good’ and that when people come together for a common purpose, great things can happen.  This is no truer than in a not-for-profit association. IAPCO had just celebrated its 50th Anniversary when I joined which is no small feat for any not-for-profit.  The IAPCO Council decided to take a bold decision to recruit a CEO for the first time in IAPCO’s history to drive international engagement and develop IAPCO further to meet the future needs of the industry. This was a very exciting opportunity for me to be part of a very well-respected organisation with very ambitious plans and I knew I was ready to apply my previous experiences to help them get there.  The ‘job’, as you call it, challenges me daily, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.

Are you a member of any association or society for association executives? ASAE or ESAE for example? Do you think there is enough opportunity for peer-to-peer networking for people in your position?

I am a member of ESAE.  In my role as CEO of IAPCO, I also represent IAPCO Council and members on the Events Industry Council and Joint Meetings Industry Council, both of which provide great opportunities throughout the year to network with peers.  There are, of course, informal groups which gather at industry events to catch-up and share experiences.

If you could change one thing about ‘the meetings industry’ what would it be?

There’s going to be more contractual disputes in the coming months as a result of business event postponements and cancellations due to the pandemic.  Relationships between venues, service providers and clients are going to be challenged, so my message to all is to remain compassionate as we all navigate through these rough waters, communicate openly and work together to arrive at mutually beneficial outcomes and, where possible, avoid short-term wins that risk long-term opportunities and relationships. Our industry must arrive at a measurement for the long-term value that our sector brings to society, not only the immediate economic impact.  Governments and clients will be increasingly pushed to prove ROI of delivering and attending professional and business events in future, so it is on us to create a metric that works.