It all began in 1981 when a number of conference organisers had been approached by an entrepreneur, to canvas their opinion as to the need for an organisation for professional conference organisers (PCOs) in the UK. A formal organisation was proposed whose members would be mainly ‘in-house’ organisers.
At that time many conference organisers were concerned that conference organising as a profession in its own right was largely being ignored and there was a great deal of misunderstanding about their role, despite the existence of the London Convention Bureau and the contribution the PCOs were making to the invisible earnings of the country.
Anthea Fortescue of Conference Associates called a meeting of 10 independent PCOs to discuss the entrepreneur’s proposal. Everyone was a bit wary of launching into a formal association and did not agree that membership should be limited to ‘in house’ PCOs, they also felt that an organisation for PCOs should be run by PCOs. They did however agree it would be appropriate to form an Informal Discussion Group which would not be bound by any immediate rules and regulations. The group would meet three or four times a year for the purpose of discussing common problems and exchanging views.
It was decided to adopt a title, even though it would only be used if the group developed into a more formal association. The title was duly registered with the Registrar of Business Names who had agreed to the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) but not the British Association of Professional Conference Organisers – the preferred title. A chairman and an honorary secretary were appointed; there was no joining fee and out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the honorary secretary would be shared between the group.
It didn’t take long for the Informal Discussion Group to realise that there was indeed a need for PCOs in the UK to be able to speak as one voice on matters of professional importance. Some of the founder members were also members of the International Association of Professional Conference Organisers (IAPCO) founded in 1968. IAPCO was well advanced in influencing governments and other agencies to recognise the profession. There was no reason why the same could not be achieved by ABPCO.
The founder members came to the conclusion that in order to achieve recognition from the business community, money would have to be spent in progressing to a more formal structure. During the first two years the basis for a code of conduct (which now forms the Constitution) was established; this has changed little in the intervening years.