Defining the Meeting Professional (Who We Are, Where We Came From)

What was your reaction the first time you said you were a "meeting professional" and the response was “Oh, you’re a party planner?" Not that there’s anything wrong with being a party planner; social events are often a component of what we do. It is however a fraction of the whole of who we are and what we do. And as many of us have said in interviews and to each other, even our families and friends don’t fully understand what we do!

Does meeting planner or event planner, conference coordinator or meeting architect, or meeting or exhibit manager or designer sound better? More, is it understood?

Even in our own (Meetings? Convention? Hospitality?) industry there is no agreement on the term(s) to use to refer to what we are or do.

“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ” ~~ Michael Crichton (thanks to Goodreads quotes for this).

From what tree do we come? In this and future blogs, we’ll explore more about our “tree” to help us consider the steps we can take and education we need to become more professional and to gain the recognition for the complexity of what we do—that I hope will take us beyond negative media coverage and congressional hearings.

I remember when former U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, spoke at a Meeting Professionals International (MPI) meeting in Atlanta years ago. He said a meeting professional had to have been around to plan the Last Supper! There’s no documentation, but of course he had to have been right.

To prepare to write this blog I relied on history of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), our industry’s umbrella organization. Thanks to Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, CIC’s Chief Executive Officer who sent two documents showing some of the history.

I talked and emailed with industry veterans and MPI founders, Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham (link to interview), and with another MPI Founder and MPI’s second executive director, Doug Heath; industry attorney Jonathan Howe, Esq.; and DeWayne Woodring, long time Executive Director of the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA).  

In the first of what Karen sent—written in 1953 and the second, an updated version in 1956—both titled “Group Business Unlimited! … from 20 rooms to 2,000” it is written:

After many years of exploratory study and informed meetings between those concerned with group business problems, the Convention Liaison Committee was formally organized in 1948, as a coordinating group made up of three or more representatives of each of the following organizations:

With the general goal of coordinating the best interests of the organizations represented, the Committee has set for itself the following objectives:

  1. To bring about a sympathetic understanding and acceptance among these organizations of the responsibilities of each to the other.
  2. To create a sound and consistent basis for handling convention procedures and practices through a program of study and education.¹
  3. To conduct educational and other activities of mutual interest to the participate organizations.”²

This appears to be the first “Manual” preceding the one titled “Convention Liaison Manual” first published in 1961. I have a copy of the third and fourth editions of the latter manual.

From the initial “Group Business” Manual to the 1961 manual, the industry realized that in addition to those who supplied the industry there were customers. In “Group Business," the skills needed focused on sales and marketing skills and building relationships among the venues and CVBs.

In the edition of the CLC Manual I have, the skills began to incorporate more about areas (site selection, housing, air transportation, function room setups, and all of four pages on contracts (Compare that to the APEX Contracts Panel report!) of expertise needed for those planning meetings and conventions.

In “Group Business," “he” and “him” predominate; in the early CLC Manuals, it was “he/she." In the former, illustrations are only of men; in the 1956 version, a few illustrations include women, and the cover of the early Manual shows what may be one woman in the lower right hand corner.

In conversations with many of those who served as early or earlier than I—I served on the CLC Board of Directors in the early '90s, thanks to Doug Heath, who, after my noodging about so few women representing an industry that even then, on the meetings side, appeared to have a majority of women, appointed me to be one of MPI’s 3 representatives—was told that in the early days, the meetings were really more about entertaining the industry associations' delegates and providing gifts to them. Though there was some of that in the first years of service, we did delve into bigger issues with speakers about music licensing and the ADA.

It’s a brief start to the history, to which I will further detail in coming blogs. More, in addition to what Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham have to say about their histories and skills needed then and now, we’ll look at skills needed today and into the future for those who call themselves “meeting professionals.”  

Add to the history in the comments. Ask questions about where we came from and spread the word of the history of our industry (At the recent CMP Conclave, I asked in what year CIC was founded and the answers didn’t go back far enough!).

¹ The CMP—first known as the Certified Meeting Planner—designation was not instituted until 1985. This Committee had, other than ATAE and, in 1956, the addition of the National Association of Exhibit Managers (the forerunner to IAEE), no organizations representing customers so it made sense that the focus was on hotel operations.

² In 1956, a fourth objective was added: “To acquaint the public with the fact that conventions are essential to industry and to the economy of the community and the nation.”

Like all my blogs and additional content, the views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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