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The PCO as Part of an
Early in his career, when asked by a management consulting firm to pro-
vide a concise job description, meeting veteran Jim Jones, then Director of
Conference Planning for a major life insurance company, replied: “I’m an
investment counselor!’’ When the interviewer appeared puzzled, Jones
elaborated: “A meeting is an investment in terms of direct costs and people
time My job is to insure that management maximizes the return on its meet-
ing investments.’’ Jones is well-equipped to expound on management phi-
losophy by virtue of his MBA from Harvard University, and some thirty
years’ experience in meeting management. Statements on his views of man-
agement philosophy are replete with such phrases as “value analysis,’’
resource optimization’’ and “organizational credibility.’’
Jones was an industry pioneer in the career field of event management.
In the beginning, like any new career, it sought to find a clear definition and
consensus. Early meeting managers’ primary concern was that meetings
and conventions be recognized as management tools in the total corporate
communication spectrum. Thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Jones,
event management has gained the status of a profession. Knowledgeable
corporate executives now appreciate the fact, long understood by associa-
tion managers, that the meeting is one of the most effective forms of group
interaction and communication.
Asked to define the role of the meeting professional in an organization’s
internal and external communications, Christine Duffy, President of
McGettigan Partners, responded:
“I attended a meeting where Michael Schraeg, a Fortune magazine writer, described
the meeting professional as the company’s Chief Interaction Officer. That description
clearly defines the meeting executive’s role. We facilitate the interaction between
Chapter_3.qxd 9/28/2004 12:01 PM Page 17
internal and external constituents on behalf of our client if we are suppliers, or on
behalf of our company or association if we are planners. This role is an integral part
of all organizations’ communication strategy as they seek to educate, motivate and
communicate to customers, suppliers, employees and members.
As far back as the late 80’s Jack Miller, then CEO of Providential Mutual
Insurance invoked the philosophy of Marshall McLuhan, oracle of mass
media, that “the medium is the message.’’ “Nowhere is this truer than in a
meeting,’’ said Miller. “Meeting objectives are served by a certain
ambiance. Meetings are tools for CEOs. They are major investments that
we and our senior staff make in managing our companies.’’
Miller emphasized that because meetings are investments their
planning and execution must be entrusted to competent, knowledgeable
professionals who are cognizant of the organization’s objectives. The
meeting manager or PCO needs to have access to top management and to
have the authority, staff and budget to produce an event consistent with
those objectives.
Job descriptions for PCOs now reflect the important position they hold
in their organizations. However, a caveat is in order so that the reader does
not conclude that a PCO alone holds the answer to any organization’s meet-
ing needs. One should keep in mind that meetings are a management tool.
Therefore, all levels of management must have some understanding of the
medium and its dynamics as a corollary to the meeting manager’s function.
Considering the monetary investment in a meeting – from $20,000 for a
training seminar to $1 million or more for an international congress – this
vital function must be placed in the hands of trained professionals. No
organization can afford to delegate the responsibility to “good old Charlie’’
who is due to retire soon. There are far too many “Charlies’’ planning meet-
ings. Jim Parr, the executives search consultant, described such people as
having “a residue of goodwill from earlier performances which keeps them
in their positions of incompetence.’’
Corporate management has no trouble recognizing and delineating tradi-
tional functions such as sales, engineering, accounting, personnel, advertis-
ing or even the somewhat arcane Management Information Systems. These
departments tend to be specialized and have a narrow focus, with well-
defined job descriptions for each staff member whose role in the company’s
mission is readily understood and articulated.
Not so for the professional who is responsible for meeting management.
The PCO, who by definition must be the consummate generalist, views the
18 Meetings and Meeting Professionals
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