“I am a big believer in the value of professional certifications,” explains Mary de la Fe, conference planner for the National Main Street Center, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. “But I want to know that if I put the time and effort and money into becoming certified, I'll get some value over and above the value of continuous learning, which I can do myself.”
That's the $64,000 question. Are the Certified Meeting Professional or Certified Meeting Manager designations worth the time and money it takes to earn them?
The CMM certification, the more costly program, is managed by Meeting Professionals International and is aimed at the more experienced meeting planner. Just over 200 people in the U.S. have completed the program since it was launched here in 1998. (The program has a longer history in Europe). Just over 50 people attended the certification program in August, according to an MPI spokesperson.
The Convention Liaison council manages the CMP program, which had a record number of meeting managers lined up to take the test the last two times it was offered. Nearly, 8,000 planners and suppliers have earned their CMP since it debuted in 1985, making it the granddaddy in the meeting certification field. “Despite the downturn in the economy, this year we have seen the highest number of applicants and exam registrants ever,” says CIC's Vice-President Susan Krug, CMP, CAE. “Employers and job seekers understand the value of the CMP credential. The increase in the number of independent planners also plays a part. These planners want the credential to get more business. Suppliers are getting their employers to pay for their CMPs, in lieu of pay increases.”
A Designation That Works for You?
Wanda Johnson, CMP, senior director of education for the Endocrine Society in Bethesda, Md., 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. Vendors treated her differently as well — they didn't feel that they had to train her to do her job, she says.
Mariya Brewer, CMP, 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. “What I'm seeing on the Internet is that most jobs, with the exception of entry level, are now noting CMP preferred or experience,” says Brewer, a meeting planner with the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia.
On the other hand, Suzette Eaddy, CMP, director of conferences for the National Minority Supplier Development Council, New York City, says she rarely sees ads for association planners that mentions CMP or CMM. Nonetheless, Eaddy was motivated to earn her CMP in the mid-1990s, after more than two decades of meeting planning, because she was thinking of starting her own business.
“A lot of people were losing their jobs at that time, and I thought I might have to start my own firm, so I started to think about what would set me apart from everyone else.” By the same token, she doesn't believe the CMP offers any guarantees. “The only thing the CMP guarantees is that somebody probably knows the basics, what's in the book,” she says. “Someone might know the buzzwords and the lingo, but you don't know whether they can plan a meeting or not.”
Carol Krugman, who heads her own meeting planning company in Miami, completed both CMP and CMM 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 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.”
Does having a CMP or CMM make you, ipso facto, a better planner? “I think the answer is no, not necessarily,” Carol 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.”
Joan Eisenstodt, president of Washington, D.C.-based Eisenstodt Associates, has chosen for personal reasons not to pursue certification, although she can see the value of pursuing it. She says she has less patience for certified meeting professionals who lack a firm command of the knowledge they've been tested on. “I look at hotelfrom hoteliers who are CMPs and I shake my head and think, ‘What part did you miss?’”
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 need to become recertified, it should be more than a simple process,” Eisenstodt says. “In those five years, you should know a whole lot more and spit back a lot of information that is new in the industry.”
Perhaps the harshest criticism leveled at certification programs concerns the issue of standards. “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. 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 for all the wrong reasons.”
Mary de la Fe questions some of the criteria for qualifying for a CMP — she doesn't see how writing articles or presenting at a conference should weigh as heavily as actual meeting planning experience. For now she has decided not to pursue a CMP. “It's a long, involved process that I don't have the time or money for right now. I think it's valuable, but not necessary”
Who Gets a CMP, CMM?
About 70 percent of CMPs are planners and 30 percent are suppliers, according to the Convention Liaison 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 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 1 percent are “other.”
|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 Executives
|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|
Those “Other” Letters
Robert Johnson isn't 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. “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.
Recertification isn't necessary, Johnson says. “To force members to be recertified is usually, in my opinion, more of a vehicle to extract money from people to go to conferences.”
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 MIMlist listserv. “It's like dangling a carrot to someone 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 know a body of knowledge.”