“WHEN I FIRST STARTED planning events, I found a lot of hotel managers thought they had to train me how to do my job. Once I got a CMP, there was [usually] an assumption that my knowledge was there,” says Wanda Johnson, CMP (Certified Meeting Professional), senior director of education for The Endocrine Society in Bethesda, Md. Johnson says completing the CMP six years ago helped raise her credibility and advanced her career when she was relatively new to the business. As a result, she says people in her organization were more comfortable giving her more planning responsibilities. And vendors treated her differently as well.
Johnson is one of many medical meeting planners who value the CMP certification. Mariya Brewer, CMP, a meeting planner with the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia, thinks being certified will increase her value as a potential job candidate. She plans to look for a higher-paying job in the coming year, and she chose to earn a CMP as a first step in burnishing her résumé. “What I'm seeing on the Internet is that most jobs, with the exception of entry level, are now requesting CMP preferred or experience,” says Brewer.
Carol Krugman, who heads her own meeting planning company in Miami, completed both CMP and CMM (Certified Meeting Manager) programs. “I had started to do a lot of speaking and training and I thought if I was going to be standing in front of my peers, sharing my expertise with them, and serving as a role model, the least I could do was put my money where my mouth was,” she says. Krugman, who handles many medical clients, says she obtained the certifications less to prove her competence than as a personal choice. “It was a statement of my commitment to the profession more than anything else.”
The reasons for pursuing professional designations vary, but one thing is clear: More meeting planners view certification as a key tool in efforts to enhance their professional image. At the same time, many also assert that a lack of consistent standards undermines the value of tacking a few initials onto one's name.
Boosting Your Professional Profile
The two most well-known certification programs for meeting planners are the CMP Certified Meeting Professional) and CMM (Certified Meeting Manager) programs. Despite a soft economy, the Convention Industry Council, the umbrella organization that oversees the CMP, reports that a record number of meeting managers lined up to take the test the last two times it was offered. More than 7,000 planners and suppliers have earned the designation since it debuted in 1985, making it the granddaddy in the meeting certification field.
The CMM, a more costly program managed by Meeting Professionals International, and aimed at the more experienced meeting planner, has been completed by just over 200 people in the United States (the program has a longer history in Europe). An assortment of other certification programs have also cropped up.
Theoretically, improved professionalism is at the root of the CMP, CMM, and other designations. Certification invites certain expectations by one's peers, managers, and clients, but those expectations vary. “Does having a CMP or CMM make you, ipso facto, a better planner? No, not necessarily,” Krugman says. “I don't think someone should be judged to be more competent in any field solely on the basis of whether they have alphabet soup after their name.”
Recertification is intended to ensure that certified planners stay on top of new developments, but some charge that existing standards aren't demanding enough. “When people are recertified, it should be more than a simple process,” says Joan Eisenstodt, president of Washington, D.C.-based Eisenstodt Associates, who has chosen for personal reasons not to pursue certification. “In those five years, you should know a lot more new information.”
All the Wrong Reasons
Perhaps the harshest criticism leveled at certification programs concerns their lack of consistency. “Certification in our industry means absolutely nothing without the industry also accepting and practicing the standards that are taught in the certification,” says David Sachs, an account manager with PlanSoft Corp. in Twinsburg, Ohio, who planned corporate andfor 17 years. He thinks hotels, vendors, and planners all need to adhere to a set of standard practices.
Sachs also bemoans some organizations' blind insistence on certification. “I know of one company that wants all their meeting-based employees to have the CMP, and they are [given incentives] to pass the test. But no one practices as a standard what they have learned, and the push to have a CMP designation behind all employees' names is motivated by all the wrong reasons.”
Who Gets a CMP, CMM?
About 70 percent of CMPs are planners and 30 percent are suppliers, according to the Convention Industry Council. Of the planners, 39 percent are corporate, 26 percent are association, 22 percent are independent, and 13 percent “other.” Of the suppliers, 52 percent are convention service managers, 32 percent are in sales, 8 percent are CVB executives, 3 percent are DMCs, and 5 percent are “other.”
CIC Vice President Susan Krug says that CIC has “not done formal surveys on employers covering the cost of employees going through the program, but informally we see that the majority of employers pay the CMP fees for corporate and association meeting planners.”
Meeting Professionals International says 10 percent of CMMs are association planners, 32 percent are corporate planners, 41 percent independent planners, 16 percent suppliers, and one percent are “other.”
Real Credential or Rubber Stamp?
Robert Johnson isn't a bit apologetic about the standards for the International Society of Meeting Planners' five professional designations. Johnson, executive director of the Alexandria, Minn.-based group, defends ISMP's practice of certifying applicants without requiring that they pass a written test, which most meeting planner certification programs do. “We go more on experience,” he explains. “We're an association for those people who are already in the industry.”
When they join, members of ISMP can automatically choose one of the designations, which include Registered Meeting Planner, Certified Event Planner, Certified Entertainment Manager, Certified Destination Specialist, and Incentive Travel Specialist. To join ISMP, applicants provide dues of $165 and evidence of “extensive experience of at least two years in the field of meeting/event planning” or formal or continuing education credits.
Tests are not part of the process, and recertification isn't necessary, Johnson says, because “we believe that not only our members but other members of the industry are getting recertified every day out there doing their jobs.” He suggests that organizations that demand recertification might simply be greedy. “To force members to be recertified is usually, in my opinion, more of a vehicle to extract money from people to go to conferences,” he argues.
Not everyone appreciates ISMP's policies. “I think it's criminal, literally and figuratively,” says Joan Eisenstodt, a respected Washington, D.C.-based planner and moderator of the MIM Listserv. “First of all, it's like dangling a carrot and saying, ‘All you have to do is send in X dollars and you, too, can be certified.’ And it denigrates our profession, saying it's not worthy to master a body of knowledge.”
Which Group Offers What
|Designation||Offered by||Requirements||Cost||Duration||How Many Are There?||First Offered|
| CMP |
Certified Meeting Professional
|Convention Industry Council||3 years as a meeting manager or a 4-year degree; written exam||$185 to apply; $325 for exam||5 years||7,460||1985|
| CMM |
Certificate in Meeting Management
|Meeting Professionals International||References; professional experience; completion of 4.5-day program, group case study, and business project; online exam||$75-$125 to apply; $1,600-$1,800 for program and testing||3 years||204||1998|
| CSEP |
Certified Special Events Planner
|International Special Events Society||Applicants accrue points for ISES contributions, experience, etc.; test includes essay and portfolio assessment||$100-$300 to enroll; $125-$225 to apply; $170-$270 for test||5 years||150||1983|
| CAE |
Certified Association Executive
|American Society of Association Executives||Open to association executives or staff specialists; must complete written exam||$500 for ASAE members; $700 for nonmembers||5 years||150||1983|
| CEM |
Certified in Exhibition Management
|International Association for Exhibition Management||Must complete continuing education modules with individual exams||Fees vary||2 years||200||1985|
| Further Certified Meeting Professional Reading: |