Since June 1985 when a few dozen meeting pros walked into Chicago’s Palmer House hotel to sit for the very first Certified Meeting Professional exam, the program has chalked up solid, respectable growth. Year in and year out, for the past 25 years, hundreds of meeting professionals have taken the three-hour test for the honor of appending a CMP to their names. And that predictable plot line is just fine with the Convention Industry Council, the organization that oversees the designation. In total, more than 15,500 individuals have been certified through the CMP program, and today more than 9,000 are active in the industry worldwide.

What the CMP story lacks in suspense, it makes up for in inspiring themes: raising the industry’s profile, defining an evolving body of knowledge, and connecting a community of professionals committed to a career in meetings.

However, while the CMP has emerged as the U.S meetings and convention industry’s most well-known certification, many chapters of the story are still unfolding. The most significant is the effort around globalizing the certification. Getting more non-U.S. meeting professionals to take part in the program has been a stated goal for almost a decade and, finally, several breakthroughs this year are certain to move the effort forward.

At the “Tipping Point”

The CMP designation has always been open to non-U.S. meeting professionals—in fact, the test was offered in Rome as far back as 1993—but raising the CMP’s global profile is far more involved than simply setting up overseas test sites. Everything from the study materials, to the application, to the test questions needed a reevaluation, a process that has spawned a number of projects and partnerships for the CIC. One of the first major undertakings was to add a worldwide perspective to the CIC Manual, the test-taker’s bible: In 2005, the year the program hit 10,000 CMPs, CIC published the first edition of the CIC International Manual, adding a more inclusive perspective to the CMP reading materials and putting energy behind the effort to rewrite test questions to eliminate international bias.

Even then, it took several years before momentum started to build. Kimberly Miles, CMP, senior vice president of industry relations for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, was chair-woman of the CMP Board in 2009 when, she said, “We really felt we had reached our tipping point. We accomplished a lot in 2009 and 2010 by completely reevaluating and revising the application and recertification application. We found that both were really geared toward the North American candidate. We wanted to look more at the global arena, so we knew we had to make some changes.” The new application streamlined the requirements to sit for the exam, emphasizing work experience, internships, and education, and eliminating the point system, in which candidates had to track their membership in industry organizations, and their volunteer assignments, industry awards, and other activities.

And 2009 was also the year that CIC, which represents 31 organizations in the meetings, conventions, and exhibition industry, announced a partnership with Meeting Professionals International, one of its member organizations, to make the program more relevant to people outside the U.S. and spread the word about the designation worldwide.

Some Success, More Work

“We’re definitely becoming more global,” says CIC’s Chief Executive Officer Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP. “We’ve increased the number of international CMPs and applicants over the last five to seven years.” In 2005, only 1 percent of the meeting professionals who earned their certification lived outside the U.S. and Canada. In 2010, that figure was up to 6 percent.

And while the CIC is already measuring success, the number of international CMPs should climb even faster as a result of several new initiatives. For example, the application is only now switching over from a pen-and-paper process. “The recertification application is now online, and the overall application is getting ready to go online as well,” says Karen Gonzalez, CMP, senior vice president, membership and operations at Destination Marketing Association International, who will step up as chairwoman of the CMP board of directors in January 2012. “Anybody in any part of the world can do recertification online now.”

The next big step was announced at the CMP Conclave in Cancun in May: Computer-based CMP testing will begin in the second quarter of 2012. “It’s a convenience issue for our candidates,” explains Kotowski. “Right now we have two major offerings, one in January and one in July, and they’re held in 10 to 12 locations all on the same day. If the exam in January is during your association’s annual meeting, you’ve got to wait six months to take the test. We do have some one-off tests in between, and for international folks, we have five or six locations a year,” but with computer-based testing, the CMP exam will be offered during five- to seven-day exam windows several times a year in thousands of locations. “You won’t be able to take the test on your home computer, but it will be more convenient,” Kotowski says. Prometric, the company CIC works with to design and administer the CMP exam, offers 10,000 testing centers in 166 countries.

Another major development is the revised CMP Blueprint, announced in early June. Now to be called the CMP International Standard, the document defines the competencies that meeting professionals need to be successful, and guides the development of questions for the CMP exam. CIC typically updates the blueprint every five years, but this new iteration is more detailed than in the past. It was created in partnership with the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council, which recently finished a job analysis for its own event management certification. “Our analysis [of CMP standards] included their standard, the CMP Blueprint, as well as MPI’s Meetings and Business Events Competency Standard, which is also based on the Canadian standard,” said Kotowski, in a press release.

“The process of making the CMP globally applicable has been under way for some time,” says Martie Sparks, CMP, current chairwoman of the CMP board and vice president, catering and convention services, at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. “The next step was to conduct an international analysis of the skills and competencies required of today’s meeting professionals. That has been completed and is embodied in the new CMP International Standard. Now that we have the new standard, there is additional behind-the-scenes work that needs to take place before it goes into effect. Those candidates planning to take the exam in 2011 and through the January 2012 exam will prepare and test against the outgoing CMP Blueprint.”

“I think the way to look at it is that we’re laying the groundwork for major expansion of the program,” says Sparks. “Technology is a huge part of it,” she says, and “strategic partnerships is also an area that we’re looking to expand.”

Parlez-Vous CMP?

With a new international focus on the exam content and worldwide testing options, is translating the CMP exam into other languages a possibility? “It’s definitely something that has been talked about on the board,” Sparks says.

A translation option can’t come fast enough in the eyes of Rodolfo Musco, CMP, CMM, president of Motivation & Events in Milan, Italy. Musco has served as proctor for the CMP exam in Frankfurt, Germany, and has watched the non-North American candidates struggle. “English is the mother tongue” of the meetings industry, Musco admits, but says that even when a person’s knowledge of English is good, it can be a huge challenge to take a timed exam in a non-native language.

DMAI’s Gonzalez is optimistic that a multi-lingual CMP is in the wings. “It’s on everybody’s radar that at some point when we go into these new testing sites with Prometric, if they have the ability to offer the test with some kind of translation, we would take advantage of it. It’s not going to happen in six months, but one of my goals as chair is to make sure we have the pathway in place to get that done. If that’s not part of the strategic conversation, it’s not going to happen.”

Whatever the next steps, the loyal community around the CMP is eager to spread the word. It’s the right time to earn a CMP designation, says AHLA’s Miles, because it marks you as a pro in an industry on the rise. “The recent economic impact study that the CIC undertook shows how important the meeting planning profession is and how it can be a very strategic position and impact the bottom line significantly. This is becoming so much more understood and meeting professionals are becoming recognized assets to their organizations. Your CMP is the seal of approval that you have reached a certain level in your profession.

“The board is doing all the right things to make sure that this exam, this content, and this designation does not become stagnant,” Miles continues. “It constantly needs to be reenergized, revitalized. This profession is on the rise. There’s so much more recognition of the profession and the designation.”

What would it mean to get a Green-CMP? A Medical-CMP? While globalization is a top issue for leadership at the Convention Industry Council, which administers the Certified Meeting Professional designation, creating niched certification is also under consideration.

Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, chief operating officer at the CIC, says that her organization is now conducting surveys to learn whether niche certifications are viable. “We are looking at doing some subspecialties within the CMP designation,” she says, noting that certifications for green meetings, medical meetings, and technology meetings seem to be among the most promising, but that it’s still early in the development process.

The CMP 25 Years from Now

The Convention Industry Council held its annual gathering of Certified Meeting Professionals in Cancun, Mexico, May 9–11, at the Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort. About 200 CMPs, along with sponsors and guests, traveled to the Yucatán for the first CMP Conclave outside of the U.S. and Canada.

CIC added a special hands-on project at the meeting in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the CMP designation. Partnering with MeetingsNet, the publisher of Association Meetings, Corporate Meetings & Incentives, Medical Meetings, and Religious Conference Manager, on the project, organizers invited attendees to design a magazine cover reflecting the CMP’s past and its future. With no constraints other than needing to incorporate a CMP logo, brainstorming commenced over coffee breaks and meals.

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Timeline: A Quarter Century of the CMP

1985

  • The Convention Industry Council administers the first Certified Meeting Professional exam on June 6 during a Meeting Professionals International meeting in Chicago.

1993

  • In December, the first non-North American CMP exam is held in Rome.

1995

  • In April, the first CMP Conclave is held at the Château Élan Conference Center, Braselton, Ga.
  • The CMP celebrates its 10th anniversary in June; 2,500 people have earned the CMP designation.

2001

  • The CMP program is audited to begin the process of making it global in scope.

2003

  • The Convention Industry Council International Manual is commissioned to transform the CMP into a globally focused program.
  • The first pan-Asian CMP exam is held in Singapore.

2004

  • The first pan-European CMP exam is held in Frankfurt, Germany.
  • The CIC launches the CMP Ambassador program to promote the benefits of the CMP program throughout the world.

2005

  • The CMP celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the number of CMP designees crosses the 10,000 mark.
  • CIC releases the first edition of the Convention Industry Council International Manual at the Conclave in Toronto.

2007

  • CIC makes the CMP application and the CMP Handbook available as free downloads.
  • CIC releases the “2007 CMP Report,” a research study on individuals’ motivations to earn the CMP designation, overall satisfaction with the program, and recommendations for its future.

2009

  • CIC adopts the Professional Convention Management Association’s CMP Online Prep Course as its official online study course.
  • CIC and MPI partner on efforts to expand the international reach of the CMP certification.

2010

  • The CMP celebrates its 25th anniversary.
  • The CMP application is revised to focus on professional experience and continuing education.
  • CIC hosts the first CMP Global Exam Day in February, with testing sites in Cancun, Mexico; South Korea; Singapore; and Italy.

2011

  • CMPs can now apply for recertification online.
  • CIC announces that computer-based testing for the CMP exam will begin in the second quarter of 2012.
  • The CMP Blueprint is revised in partnership with the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council and renamed the CMP International Standard.
  • In total, more than 15,500 individuals have been certified through the CMP program.