I think the sweetest thing I heard at our recent Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum 2012 (rebranded as Pharma Forum 2012) was a comment from a first-time attendee. We were standing near the center of the exhibit hall, which had been transformed from a food station with soft seating during the day to a themed “dance hub” for the evening cocktail reception. “There’s such a good buzz at this event,” she said. That hadn’t been her experience of late at industry events focused on managing exhibit logistics at association conventions. “There have been so many layoffs on that side of the industry.”

I told her there had been downsizing in meeting planning as well, as companies decide it isn’t a core business and outsource the function to third parties. “That’s the thing,” she said. “There are always going to be meetings and they will always need someone to plan them.”

Our sister magazine Medical Meetings co-organizes the annual Pharma Forum with our partner CBI, and while it is not an association meeting, it has all the trappings of one. So it was sweet for me to hear the buzz was back, especially having moved the conference from the Northeast to Orlando for the first time.

But my new friend’s comments about the meetings job market, timed with our cover story on job hunters’ strategies for finding employment in association meetings, gave me pause for thought. Both seem to fly in the face of U.S. News & World Report's naming meeting planning as the top business job for 2012 and No. 16 in its overall job rankings. With companies outsourcing the meeting planning function, with associations reeling from the poor economy and cutting where they can, how can a magazine call meeting planning its top business job?

Predicted growth in the field, along with job satisfaction scores, had a lot to do with it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, event management is expected to grow almost 44 percent between 2010 and 2020. I think the statistic makes sense if we think of event managers becoming more specialized: planning virtual meetings, being project managers, running a department, focusing on cost savings and efficiencies, sourcing meetings, managing the stakeholder (i.e., board or volunteer) relationship, reconciling billing, or going on site to manage logistics. What we’ve got is a multi-layered profession with one moniker: meeting manager.

So if you are an association meeting manager, or looking for a job as one, I hope you will recognize the variety of skill sets needed to make your team the best. Good managers recognize people’s strengths, steer them toward tasks they will excel at, and hire people who will complement themselves. (Chief buzz-maker, anyone?)