The continuing effort to define meeting planning as a profession and to establish it as an important strategic cog in the corporate machine was front and center during Meeting Professionals International's Professional Education Conference in Charlotte, N.C., in January.

MPI, after expending more than $1 million and more than 10,000 hours of program and technology development, used the conference to officially launch Member Solutions, an initiative designed to help foster the evolution of meeting planning into a recognized profession while creating personalized career paths for industry professionals. (See box on page 34.)

The opening general session of the conference saw a first: The keynote speaker was replaced by a live news “talk show” format, highlighted by an executive roundtable moderated by MPI Chairwoman and Maritz Travel Co. CEO Christine Duffy. Through a combination of video segments and live interviews, four executives — from Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Avon, and Bank of America — discussed the challenges facing planners and organizations as meeting planning strives to claim a strategic role in corporate America.

For example, Steve Chyung, vice president, strategic sourcing for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, in discussing how the issue of transparency has affected meetings in his company, said that it has provided meeting planners with the opportunity to “step up to the plate.

“It's about bringing solutions — ‘Here's how I think business processes could change; here's how I think we can enable technology,’” Chyung said. “It's about bringing a consultative- and solutions-based mentality to meeting planning.”

Power of the Partnership

Attendees also heard about a new Culture Active Tool to help meeting professionals and their organizations better communicate cross-culturally. The MPI Foundation approved funding for the effort through MPI's Multicultural Initiative and as a partnership with MPI Foundation Canada and MPI Foundation Europe.

There was also news of an ongoing MPI Foundation — backed survey of corporate CEO's attitudes about the role that meeting planning plays in their organizations. Duffy, during an interview, disclosed that MPI hopes to release the results of the survey, which is being undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers, during a planned “Power of the Partnership” summit this May.

The summit is an invitation-only event that will bring together senior meeting planners with high-powered corporate, hospitality, CVB, and other meeting-industry executives. The exact dates, location, and guest list are still being finalized, but Duffy did say that one of the featured speakers will be Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association of America. Duffy also said that MPI will try to attract university faculty to the summit in recognition of the increasing role that meeting planning is playing in the curricula of university hospitality programs.