Checklist: How to write a structured PCO brief

So you’ve done it. You’ve landed a congress for your city or just become your association’s next congress president. Now you are looking for a Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) to help you make your project a reality. After all, you are way too busy focusing on the programme to be dealing with logistics on top of it.

Perhaps you have already researched a list of prospective agencies you would like to contact. But a congress can be a hugely complex endeavor and it can be hard to find the right words to communicate exactly what you are planning to do and what kind of help you will need from your PCO. In fact, sometimes you don’t know yourself, especially if it is your first congress. Writing out a structured brief can help both you and the PCO understand your project better. Below you find some tips on how to write a comprehensive PCO brief that will help you compare service proposals as they roll in.

Before you contact your candidate agencies:

1. Make sure you have enough time: If you have a large congress with several hundred participants, you should secure the aid of a PCO at least one year in advance. The larger the congress, the more time you will need. For congresses with 1000 delegates upwards, we even recommend at least two years. The number of good-sized venues in a given destination is often limited, so you should secure your spaces as soon as possible. Other than conventional event agencies, PCOs therefore often have their schedules locked down years in advance, so you should contact your ideal candidate early to secure their services.

2. Have some idea of where you want to go: Before contacting prospective PCOs, you should at least have the number of potential congress destinations down to a shortlist of three at max. A PCO can help you find the perfect venue for your event, but often does not have the political leeway to select a destination as well.

3. Collect information and know who to ask: Collect as much information as you can about the congress and day-to-day proceedings. This may include programme information, but also information on delegate behavior, registration peak times, abstract numbers, funding, or even lunch habits. Have past websites and printed programmes on record. Keep in touch with somebody who organized the congress before you, so you can ask them whenever you’re unsure. The more you and your PCO know about the project, the more seamless the organization process will be.

4. Know your business model: This seems like a no-brainer, but you should be aware of where your funding comes from. Do you have a set budget or does the congress need to create income through its registration fees, sponsorship, or an industry exhibition?  What happens with any profits or losses generated? Who will act as official organizer, sign contracts and make financial decisions? Will you need to pay taxes? Your PCO can advise you in these areas, but will need a general idea of how your event is going to be funded.

Once you’ve ticket these boxes, it’s time to contact your PCO!

First, tell us a little bit about yourself:

There are certain key terms and figures that meeting professionals use all the time and that will immediately ring a bell with them. Telling them these facts about your congress will be like an “Open, Sesame” and win you their immediate attention:

I The basics:

1.    Your name, function and motivation
2.    Congress name, date, city, venue (if known)
3.    Is the event new or part of a series?
4.    Name and legal status of organization: are you a company, a non-profit, an individual?

Dear PCO,

My name is Martina Exampla and I am the incoming congress president of the International Association of Matchbox Makers (IAMM). We are a non-profit organization registered in the Netherlands and our main mission is our biennial congress, which aims to educate professional matchbox manufacturers and helps them to develop their professional skills. The congress will be held in Amsterdam, from June 6-9 2022. It is exclusively funded via registration and sponsorship income and we aim to create a surplus to fund other IAMM projects.

II The facts and figures:

Depending on what you would like your PCO to do for you (full-service organization or only partly organization, such as handling the registration process or hotel management), you may need to provide the following figures:

1.    Expected number of attendees: you can also quote figures from past congress edition. Where do they come from? Are there any patterns in their registration behavior?
2.    Will there be an abstract submission process? If so, how many abstracts are you expecting? You can also quote figures from past congress editions.
3.    Will there be a poster exhibition? How many posters will be shown there and for how long?
5.    How many invited speakers do you have? Do they get free travel, accommodation and registration?
6.    What are your venue requirements/how many parallel sessions do you have?
7.    Is there an industrial exhibition? If so, what size is the net exhibition area (i.e. the area just taken up by booth minus corridors and open spaces)? How many booths by how many exhibitors do you expect there
8.    Provide a link to an active congress website, so prospective PCOs can have a look at registration fees, programme information and exhibitor manuals.
9.    How large will your room block have to be, based on past booking behavior in comparable destinations


In the past years, the congress has attracted 600-800 matchbox professionals from all around the globe. However, the largest part (typically around 30%) is expected to be attracted from the host country and surrounding areas. Our delegates are budget-conscious and usually register early when attractive early rates are offered.  

There is an abstract submission process and we usually receive around 100 abstracts, which are then exhibited as posters. We’ve so far used poster boards but we would be open to e-poster solutions to save space. All lectures are by invited speakers only, 47 in total. They get free registration, accommodation in a speaker hotel adjacent to the venue, as well as travel reimbursements up to 300€. We only have one session room, but will require some smaller meeting rooms for board discussions.

The congress is supported by an accompanying industrial exhibition which will showcase the latest innovations in matchbox technology. We typically have about 12 exhibitors with booths of 6 square metres each. In addition, we have 5 sponsors in 3 different categories. Please find an industry prospectus here:

Feel free to use bullet points instead of typing it all out!

Next, tell us how we can help you:

There are many tasks a PCO can take over for you. Many online resources are available to help you decide which ones to keep and which ones to outsource. Services may include:

1.    Delegate services (such as registration, visa handling or hotel bookings for your delegates)
2.    General congress organization: handle the complete congress proceedings, including budget, venue and onsite management
3.    Scientific programme management and abstract handling
4.    Exhibition and sponsorship management
5.    Marketing and promotion
6.    Social events
7.    Association Management

For more in-depth information at available services, have a look here:
Service Directory Professional Congress Organisation
Service Directory Destination Management (DMC)
Service Directory Exhibition and Sponsoring
Service Directory Association Management (AMC)

Conclusion & Resources

If you keep the tips above in mind, comparing offers from different PCOs and staying on top of your project will be a breeze, just as long as you remember to send all your candidate agencies exactly the same brief. We wish you all the best for your congress adventure. If you would like any more information, feel free to contact us.

If you’d like to read more, the International Association of Professional Conference Organisers (IAPCO) has a wealth of online resources available for download that are designed to make the lives of congress organisers easier and help them get the most out of their PCO. This also includes sample service directories and RFPs. You can find them here.