SHARON CHAPMAN TOOK the CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) exam, initially, to establish her credibility in insurance meeting planning. “The insurance industry is one that believes in certifications,” says Chapman, CMP, meeting planner for Berkshire Life Insurance Co. of America in Pittsfield, Mass. After she earned the designation, which is managed by the Convention Industry Council, her company merged with New York-based Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America.

“I truly believe that if I didn't have my CMP, a New York company would not have believed that someone from the hills of Massachusetts knew what she was doing,” she says. “It's all about education, protecting your résumé, and protecting your future.”

Chapman is one of many insurance and financial services meeting planners who put stock in the CMP certification. “The value of getting a CMP includes personal pride, professional development, and respect from hoteliers,” says John Touchette, CMP, general director, meeting management/administration for John Hancock Financial Services in Boston. “Suppliers love working with meeting planners who have CMPs. I feel like convention services managers give me a little extra because they know that I ‘get it.’”

While Touchette didn't earn his CMP for professional credibility — he was already far advanced in his meeting management career when he got the designation in July 2002 — he thinks that in general it is a useful tool in a down economy. “I believe that having a CMP helps to get a meeting planner's résumé to the top of the pile when interviewing,” he notes.

Karyn Evans, manager, meeting and event services for Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America in Minneapolis, completed both CMP and CMM (Certification in Meeting Management, managed by Meeting Professionals International) programs.

“For me, getting the CMP was a great tactical tool in the earlier stages of my career, while the CMM gave me more of a global, big-picture perspective when I was in a more senior meeting planning position,” she says.

The reasons for pursuing professional designations vary, but one thing is clear: More insurance and financial services meeting planners view certification as a key tool in efforts to enhance their professional image.

Boosting Your Professional Profile

The CMP and the CMM are the two most well-known and well-respected certification programs for meeting planners. Despite a soft economy, the CIC, the umbrella organization that oversees the CMP, reports that a record number of meeting managers lined up to take the test the last few times it was offered. Nearly 8,000 planners and suppliers have earned the designation since it debuted in 1985, making it the granddaddy in the meeting certification field.

Rob Gingras, assistant director, conference management for Cigna, Hartford, Conn., got his CMP back in 1990, when there were fewer than 300 people with the designation. “Having the CMP doesn't necessarily add to your skills, but it gives you recognition. It says that you are more than a party planner,” he comments.

Three out of the six planners in Evans' department at Allianz Life have CMPs (plus herself) and the other two are working towards the CMP certification, she says. “It's not mandatory, but in our senior meeting planning job description I encourage going for both the CMP and the CMM.”

Interestingly, about 30 percent of all CMPs are suppliers (see sidebar, left). What's in it for them? “I like working with hoteliers who have earned their CMP,” says John Touchette. “It says they are committed to the meeting industry.”

CMM: Getting a Strategic Perspective

The CMM, a more costly program managed by MPI and aimed at the more experienced meeting planner, has been completed by 250 people in the United States (the program has a longer history in Europe).

Among the most recent recipients of the CMM certification, awarded her designation in August 2002, is Leanne Acton, director of conference planning/travel services for Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Horsham, Pa. Acton chose to go for it because she wanted to grow into a more strategic professional role. “When I approached my boss about the course, he was excited and said this was exactly where he saw my career developing — less logistics and more strategy,” she says.

Acton found every part of the CMM certification process beneficial. “During the entire process, I was challenged and pushed outside my comfort zone,” she says. Her most difficult but also most rewarding challenge was developing a business plan. “I had not written a 40-plus page paper involving strategy, marketing, statistical analysis, and financials in a very long time. I began my business plan by interviewing my company's senior management, top producers, and field managers, and knew it would be evaluated not only by MPI but also by my boss. But as a result of developing this plan, senior management now sees me in a different light. I'm not just a meeting manager, but someone who can contribute to the strategy of our meeting philosophy.”

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 7,990 1985
Contact: www.conventionindustry.org
CMM Certification 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 250 1998
Contact: www.mpiweb.org

Not a Panacea

Carol Krugman, who heads her own meeting planning company in Miami, has completed both CMP and CMM programs. “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.”

While recertification is intended to ensure that certified planners stay on top of new developments, 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.”

Karyn Evans disagrees that retaking a tactical test should be a requirement for recertification: those who remain active in the field, she points out, will continue to improve their planning skills. “The main point is to show that you are continuing to work in the industry,” she says.

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 has planned corporate and association meetings for 17 years. He thinks hotels, vendors, and planners all need to adhere to a set of standard practices.

Nevertheless, there seems to be little downside for planners who chose to pursue certification. As Evans puts it: “If you are looking to take that next step in your career and also advance your own professional development, I encourage planners to look at achieving either or both the CMP and CMM. It can only help you in the long run.”

Who Gets a CMP, CMM?

About 70 percent of CMPs are planners and 30 percent are suppliers, according to the Convention Industry Council, the organization that administers the accreditation. Of the planners, 39 percent are corporate, 26 percent are association, 22 percent are independent, and 13 percent are “other.” Of the suppliers, 52 percent are convention service managers, 32 percent are in sales, 8 percent are convention and visitor bureau executives, 3 percent are destination management companies, and 5 percent are “other.”

Susan Krug, former CIC vice president, says that CIC has “not done formal surveys” but the majority of employers pay the CMP fees for meeting planners. Most of the planners we interviewed for this article said their companies covered their CMP and CMM costs.

Meeting Professionals International says 41 percent of CMMs are independent planners, 32 percent are corporate planners, 10 percent are association planners, 16 percent are suppliers, one percent are “other.”

Studying Smart: CMP Study Tips

Passing the CMP exam isn't a walk in the park. Even experienced planners need to study — and study hard. First and foremost, says John Touchette, general director, meeting management/administration for John Hancock Financial Services in Boston, join an MPI study group. “Getting into a study group forced me to pace myself,” he says. “It also helped me to identify my weaknesses and what I needed to study up on. I don't believe I would have passed the CMP exam if I had not been part of a study group.”

Beyond that, here are some tips contributed by CMPs who have burned the midnight oil.

  • Study the CIC Glossary. While there are few glossary questions per se on the exam, it will help you to understand the industry terminology that is used in the questions. Be alert for international usage terms.

  • Don't pull an all-nighter the day before the exam. The knowledge won't sink in and you'll be more apt to fail the exam because you're so tired.

  • Plan to arrive with time to spare, and layer your clothes so that you are ready for any temperature extremes. Bring two or more sharpened pencils with erasers.

  • If you don't know an answer, even after re-reading the question, guess and move on. Sometimes there are flawed questions, and these won't be counted when the exam is corrected.

  • Look for the best answer to the question asked, not what you know from experience.

  • If you see a few feasible answers and don't know which one to choose, think chronologically. Which answer would have to happen before the others?

  • Think through numerical problems and try to prove the answer, just like you learned in fourth grade.

Further Certified Meeting Professional Reading:
Sea To Sky Meetings National Speakers Association Convention Industry Council
CMP on MeetingsNet