Building Experiences: A Quarter Century of CPI with Nicky

As CPI celebrates our 25th Anniversary year, we sat down with our CEO Nicky to look at how CPI came about and what has changed over the past 25 years.

Nicola McGrane

Nicky, 25 years is a great milestone to reflect on, take us back to the start how did CPI come about?

Reflecting on it all, I think the two constants in my work life have been a belief in the power of education and the ability for shared experiences to transform people’s lives. I studied Music and Spanish in College, which was brilliant for me but it didn’t provide a natural career path. I was always more tied to marketing and experiences so did a Masters in International Marketing and Languages. My love of music and culture brought about a desire to showcase the brilliance of Ireland and I wanted to find a route to do that. After briefly working selling commodities, my desire to create experiences for people only grew, so I explored the Conference World properly for the first time. For those that know me, I was always entrepreneurial and wanted to be my own boss, so in 1998 I made that a reality by creating Conference Partners.

Has the journey been what you expected so far?

I don’t think any entrepreneur fully understands what they are getting themselves into, otherwise they wouldn’t do it! It’s been an amazing 25 years with incredible highs, balanced with huge challenges including both Covid and a Global Recession. What has been as I hoped for, more than expected, is the impact you can make on both Association’s and individuals. I can look back at so many events with people I still consider friends and I’ve seen how hosting an international event has changed their careers, how they are perceived and how their National Association is seen internationally. There’s nothing I love more than hearing from former clients that people they know are still talking about their time at one of our events.

What do you think the biggest change over the 25 years?

Technology without a doubt. The way we can connect with our peers and community all over the world is incredible. I tried to explain to our team how people used to post abstracts to us and how we used to have to co-ordinate that whole process and some of our younger staff got stressed out thinking about it! As much as it helps with creating websites and managing registrations, it does have challenges on how we can grab delegates attention and give them a memorable experience on site, that they’ll talk about for years to come.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry do you think?

I think every industry has their challenges and ours is no different. I believe strongly in supporting the next generation of talent, so I’m involved in education programmes both domestically and internationally. If we can continue to get great people working in our industry and we can help them to grow, we’ll be in a great place.

For Associations themselves, there are a lot of factors to look at moving forward. Having sustainable events both environmentally and financially is a major focus. The environmental question is one we all have to work together more effectively both in measuring and presenting options to clients. PCO’s are one link in a chain and with our venue partners, Convention Bureaus and suppliers we all need to present that information more effectively. Financial sustainability is equally critical and having a strong commercial offering is so key, that’s why Colm our Commercial Director and his team are so central to so many of our clients.

What concerns you moving forward?

From a CPI perspective it’s just continuing to build our team as we deal with the new realities of remote working. Face to face is still so important in our industry and we’re very focused on ensuring we see our staff and clients to maintain the brilliant relationships we have.

From a wider industry perspective, we have to keep showing potential ambassadors and Governments the value of bringing Conferences to their city/country.

As I said earlier, the reason I set up CPI was to showcase education and experiences. The education is there but as we focus on important areas like technology, legacies, sustainability and programme, I want to ensure that we don’t get away from the social element that is so critical to Conferences. People come together to share ideas and experiences and we need to ensure that the experience is something people remember for a long time.

What excites you most about the next decade?

I have a really vibrant team who are developing some really exciting ideas for CPI moving forward. Having a full service team in-house is something that I know our clients value a lot and those teams are working collaboratively on some new innovations which excite me. We are also working on event legacy programmes that are making a genuine impact and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of and think there’s huge scope to develop further. Lastly, I’m excited about linking our two companies a lot more. We also have Event Partners Ireland which is a top class DMC and for our major international conferences it’s allowing us provide both PCO and DMC services within one team which is very powerful.

Brilliant Nicky, thank you. Any last thoughts for us?

Just thank you, to our of our partners and everyone within the industry for their support over the years. And a special thank you to my current and former staff who’ve helped make my vision a reality. I’m excited to continue building on the work we’ve done to date.

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