5 minutes with Dianna Crebbin from DC Conference and Association Management

CIM spoke with Dianna Crebbin, founder and director of DC Conference and Association Management (formerly DC Conferences), about the recent name change and how the company has navigated the coronavirus crisis.

Is the association side growing? Yes, in the past few years, the association side has grown, albeit slowly. It is not something that we have actively marketed but we now more fully recognise this sector of the business, we are prepared to be more active in the future.

How has the association side of the business influenced the PCO operations and vice-versa? We see such synergy in managing both the conference and association. While the staff skill sets are so different, we can share and understand the associations strategic goals and make sure that these are reflected in the annual conference in so many ways.

Our PCO teams have been able to enable the association admin teams to better understand the processes involved in all aspects of conference management and so the association is better prepared. This flows through to so many aspects of the conference; deadlines are better understood, processes for abstract management clearer, exhibition and sponsorship income grows. It’s across the board.

How have you managed the Covid crisis? In March, we had one big (1000 pax) national three-day conference and exhibition at ICC Sydney cancel with around 18 hours’ notice. This was quite a shock to all of us but the team and their Board managed the communications brilliantly.

Then the same week we had another conference at PCEC in Perth go ahead but we had around 24 hours to convert it to a fully hybrid meeting, as restrictions on travel for hospital employees starting taking effect. The program included 7 breakfasts and 6 concurrent sessions each day over 4 days, which we managed without a hitch. Phew! this was a major achievement!

Since then, with the cancellations and postponement of most conferences for 2020, the team has been working hard to build skills in virtual and hybrid meetings and general upskilling. It has also given us time to undertake some administration which often gets left behind in the fast-paced environment we are used to working in.

Has the crisis impacted both sides of the business? Yes, both sides of the business have been impacted in different ways. The conference downturn is well understood but there are repercussions for the Secretariat side with the uncertainty and the loss of income generated from their conferences. The Societies are now being very cautious with expenditure, which is understood.

Your team has worked from home since March – have there been any other changes? We are surprised that working from home has been so successful and communications between us so easy between us. We are mindful that we have to make the most of it and make it work to our advantage, so we are encouraging everyone to use the extra time not travelling do something worthwhile.

We have also had more time for strategic thinking about the business and have held some inspiring face to face meetings with smaller groups. I think these have been more effective than the annual strategic planning sessions. I have also come to see new and different talents emerge from our team members, that I didn’t realise they had. It’s been exciting to see this development and we are stronger more talented team because of it.

Has the crisis changed the way you will operate in the future? I think there will be less emphasis on working from an office environment in the future. I can see more flexibility for our team working from home and from the office, depending on the work that needs to be done. In conference management, we will offer more flexibility for clients choosing between face to face, hybrid or virtual events and offer webinar management throughout the year. We are also working to more thoroughly integrate the conference and association management teams.

How have you managed client expectations in this time of uncertainty? With all the conference cancellations and postponements, the team has done a wonderful job of minimising the financial impact for our clients by negotiating successfully on their behalf. I think this has strengthened the trust and bonds we have with our clients. We have shown them we can be nimble and flexible and respond to various situations as they unfold. We are able to give them options and scenarios for different outcomes and this gives them some reassurance.

Have you any events planned for this year? Yes, we have a ‘pop up’ medical conference that is planned for November as a one-off to offer the opportunity for continuing education in this particular area of medicine.

How are you planning around the current restrictions? Again, we are assessing the situation and are well prepared to convert the conference to a hybrid or virtual event as needed.