IAPCO talks to Nicola McGrane, Managing Director, to find our more.

How many members of staff?  How many offices and where are they located?

We currently have a total of 76 members of staff spread across 4 offices which are located in Belfast, Manchester and Edinburgh with the headquarters based in Dublin.

What year was the company set up and have you seen a change in the meetings industry?

The company was originally founded almost 20 years ago in 1998, with the aim of bringing international conferences to Ireland, understandably there have been some considerable changes both within the industry in Ireland and on a larger global scale in that time. Here in Ireland many companies within the industry suffered a hit during the recession, and were forced to change their business model and approach as a result. Personally, I believe when something negative happens it gives us an opportunity to create change, which is the reason I diversified into UK market and corporate/incentive sector. In more recent times, the greatest change we see occurring in the industry is the changing attitudes within the associations in Europe. There are concerns around the available talent pool, intensified public scrutiny, bureaucratic issues, the impact of the digital world and of course the time management and lack thereof to successfully run these associations. These trends are forcing them to re-assess their business, and this will of course have a massive impact on the PCO.

In the last 3 years, what has been the most successful meeting you have organised and why?

I am proud of all the events that we run and am very happy to say that I consider all of them to have been a success, however the event that stands out in my mind the most from the last 3 years would have to be ESOF 2016. The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2016 was realised in partnership with the University of Manchester, Manchester City Council and was supported by Marketing Manchester, local government, the European Commission and many commercial organisations. This was the first time that ESOF was held in a UK city, and it attracted 3,542 delegates from 80 countries. For 4 days, this global gathering of Nobel laureates, leading researchers, policy makers, business leaders, international media and general public enjoyed a rich platform for debate and exchange of ideas on a variety of topical issues. The conference featured keynote addresses delivered by renowned Manchester physicist, presenter and author, Professor Brian Cox, UK national treasure, Sir David Attenborough and a live video link with Tim Peake, a UK astronaut.  I would consider this to be one of our most successful events based on the lasting effects it will have on the city of Manchester.  Delegates received a positive experience of the city and the ESOF 2016 organisers see this as the start of a longstanding relationship with Manchester, as many delegates planned to return to work/ study/ visit in the city.  ESOF also left the city of Manchester with a greater appreciation and awareness of science and the ESOF association. The event also placed an important focus on helping young people to engage with cutting edge research and ensuring that the delegate experience was socially, culturally and intellectually invigorating. I am a strong believer that education is key as today’s young people will be finding the solutions of tomorrow, dealing with global challenges and ensuring prosperity and societal wellbeing. This event was awarded The Best Association Partner award at the prestigious European Association Awards 2017 for our strong partnership with the client. It was recognised that we made an effort to get to know the client and customize our services. ESOF 2016 was also awarded the ‘Best Conference by an Agency Conference Organiser’ at the ABPCO Excellence Awards 2016, awarded based on the event’s lasting impact and attendee votes secured on the day.

One piece of advice for running a PCO business?  Business Tip?  Quote? Book/ Website Recommendation?

My one piece of advice for running a PCO would be to only work on areas of business where you excel. Do what you do best. We are in service industry where people are our business, therefore the training and engagement of your team is critical to success. Not only should you train your team to be the best at conference delivering, but also on the importance of client/people management. Keep the client at the centre of your focus

If I was to give one tip in business it would be “Put people at the centre of your strategy”. Try to find people who are better than you when you are employing. Figure out what you are not good at and find people who are.


How do you manage the wellbeing of the team?

Our people are what have made Conference Partners International as strong and as successful as it is today. For this reason, their wellbeing is of the upmost importance to me. In a stressful industry, it is vital that we take this into consideration if we wish to achieve the most from our team members. There are several initiatives that we have implemented over the years such as healthy eating with the delivery of fruit platters, two days off post conference allowing our operations team to recover, business book clubs, social days out, bring your dog to work day, early home on pay day and company team training which take place throughout the year. In addition, we have an annual training programme in place to ensure continuous career development.

I also strongly believe in an enjoyable and safe working environment where the team feel they can approach the management with any issues or concerns. This fosters a more productive and fruitful working environment.

Why/ how do you value being an IAPCO member?

We are proud to be an IAPCO accredited member and consider it an honour to be acknowledged among our peers. But the true value for me being a member of IAPCO is shared learning of experiences amongst friends and colleagues. The sense of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals is very powerful. This is what makes me return year on year. Quality education is what IAPCO stands for and is also something that we value within the business. For this reason, 4 members of our team this year alone have accessed IAPCO educational programmes. In fact, we have introduced an incentive programme rewarding top performers with access to IAPCO seminars.

 Have you had a successful partnerships with another IAPCO member – an internship/ staff swap, exchange of best practice or even a helpful piece of advice?  If so, do tell us all about it!

We have had a number of successful partnerships with other IAPCO members.

1. We provide local support for many Core PCOs who have business in Ireland and the UK. We become their ears on the ground and their connect to quality stakeholders/suppliers, ensuring a seamless delivery on site.

2. We have supported many PCOs by providing statistical/financial reports on conferences we have run in the past, that they are looking to win for their destination. IAPCO colleague have also reciprocated in providing me with similar reports.

 Anything else we have missed that you would love to tell us….

Working on the IAPCO council for the past 5 years has been incredibly rewarding. Delivering educational seminars to colleagues around the world has taught me that I love to teach and share my experiences. This, I did not know about myself until joining IAPCO. I would highly recommend both. Thank you IAPCO for providing a platform to learn, feel supported and build great friendships.