Today's financial services and insurance meeting planners have entered the profession from a host of different directions. Laurie Fitzgerald, CMP, meeting manager at Northbrook, Ill. — based Allstate Financial, for example, majored in Spanish in college. “I started in human resources at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago in 1983 because they were looking for people who spoke Spanish,” she says. Others got into the field from such diverse degrees or beginning job experiences as marketing and communications, other insurance positions, and hospitality management.
On the other hand, Karen Knox, CMP, CMM, manager, meetings management at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Durham, “intended to be in meetings from the beginning. I had some work experience prior to college and I was looking for a career path that would combine corporate experience with my love of travel,” she says. “I had planned to acquire a business degree, but I found out there was a degree in hotel, restaurant, and travel administration and then I discovered there was an animal called a ‘meeting planner.’ My degree is a B.S. in hotel management with an emphasis on meetings management from Georgia State University.”
When Knox graduated in 1986, few colleges and universities offered degrees and certificate programs in meeting and event management — but that is beginning to change. Some universities even have full-fledged meeting planning majors, such as the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management; and the Metropolitan State College of Denver.
As well, planners who got into the field through other avenues can continue their education with certified course work. Stephanie Olivero, meeting planner, MetLife, Long Island City, N.Y., is pursuing a certificate in event management at George Washington University as she works full time. (The GWU program offers both distance learning and in-person classes at its Washington, D.C., campus and others). “I have my degree in international trade and business, but I wanted to show my dedication to the industry, to enroll in a program to get back to basics as well as to become more strategic,” said Olivero, speaking on a panel at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Educational Forum in June. At GWU's event certificate program, core classes cover basic and strategic event planning, marketing, and legal and risk aspects of meeting planning, said Olivero, and then there are a number of electives. It also requires 100 hours of practicum or voluntary work, as well as creating a portfolio, which is similar to creating a business plan.
Other certificate programs are available at a range of schools from New York University to the University of North Carolina, in Charlotte, which offers the meeting and event planning certificate program. Go to the MPI Web site (www.mpiweb.org/CMS/mpiweb/mpicontent.aspx?id=1539) for a complete listing of colleges and universities that offer programs in meeting planning and allied fields, with links to the schools' Web sites.
Experienced insurance and financial services meeting planners often look to certifications in meeting planning to gain much-needed recognition within their own companies or organizations.
“The CMP is the standard,” said Laura Reines, CMP, CTSM, event manager, NCCI Holdings Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., at theEducational Forum. Reines earned the Certified Meeting Professional designation from the Convention Industry Council and is now the liaison for FICP to CMP's board of directors. She spoke of the benefits of earning the CMP on a panel during the conference.
Candidates who wish to sit for the CMP must have three years' experience and a full-time job in the industry; accrue a minimum number of points based on the scope of their responsibilities, education, and professional contributions proven through an rigorous application process; and pass a written exam. Many candidates join local study groups to prepare for the exam. The CMP has become the industry's standard as a certification of the nuts-and-bolts of meeting planning, and CIC has bestowed the coveted initials on 11,269 planners and suppliers in 27 countries since its inception in 1985. CMPs must be recertified every five years.
The Certification in Meeting Management (administered by Meeting Professionals International), on the other hand, is more theoretical, according to panelist Karen Knox, CMP, CMM. While you don't need your CMP to apply for it, you do need 10 years of meeting management experience before you can be accepted into the program. It's designed for meeting planners and suppliers who want to be recognized as strategic contributors to the bottom line of their organizations.
Having earned her CMP, Knox had reached a point in her career that included “a shift in my thinking. My focus as a manager had been elevated and I wanted to become more of a business partner. I wanted to help my company understand meetings with a strategic marketing focus,” she said.
The CMM involves a one-week-long, on-site academic program, which includes financial management, risk management, marketing, strategic business planning, and other classes. “There is also a two-week take-home exam and then a six-week period that requires you to write a business plan,” said Knox.