Planners vs. Suppliers: Why Can’t We All Learn Together?

Planners vs. Suppliers: Why Can’t We All Learn Together?

Unable to stay for PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2016 in Vancouver this week, I did speak at and attend the Event Service Professional Association's (ESPA) Annual Conference and was thrilled to be with colleagues and friends to discuss the operational side of meetings.

CSMs, or as we now call them Event Service Professionals (ESPs), are the lifeblood of what happens once sales turns over the contract and planners begin to put together the content and logistics of meetings. They’ve saved many a planner’s tush when the meeting specifications (“specs”) were completed on the plane to the meeting and turned in—even for meetings of 15,000, I hear—when the planner lands, sometimes a day before a meeting is to begin.

Somehow, the ESPs, with the respect and coordination of a facility’s staff, pull it off.

So why aren’t we learning together and talking about the issues that impact us? Oh, ESPA had a planner panel that I was unable to attend because I moderated the Student U. at PCMA. PCMA used to partner with ESPA with ESPA (previously known as ACOM) participating on the PCMA Annual Meeting Program Committee, and there were shared sessions. Having moderated some of those shared sessions, held at PCMA’s  Convening Leaders, I know the value. And they were always full, so great was the interest in how we could work better together.

Now, there is no partnership. Because there was one, and because some of ESPA’s members stay on to attend PCMA, ESPA still holds their meeting prior to PCMA. But no more is there an offer to hold joint sessions, which, for me and our industry, is a lose-lose situation.

But wait ... there’s more: locally (D.C.), and, I hear, elsewhere, meeting planners don’t want "supplier partners" at all the educational events held by industry association chapters. I’ve asked and heard it’s because our partners (maybe we need a new word?!) only come to sell to the planners. When I asked in a Facebook group of senior planners about having ESPs/CSMs as part of the group, there was the same strong opposition.

I’ve questioned that perhaps we need to help our partners learn to learn and to develop skills that go beyond “My name’s Julie and I work for X hotel. What meetings do you have to book?” I’ve been told that’s the role of the suppliers’ companies.

C’mon! Learning together in the same room, on topics that impact us all—which is what PCMA does at Convening Leaders because there is no tradeshow—helps us appreciate the needs of our partners and they of our concerns. Learning together helps us build relationships in what I hear is still a "relationship industry." Teaching others how to learn and how to network beyond selling and buying is something we can do and have an obligation to do. If we can attend a session like those Michael Dominguez of MGM does on how hotels make money, why can’t our partners learn about what we planners go through with changes.

And I’m not talking about those (horribly named) sessions about planner or supplier gripes! I’m talking about the sessions, like one I conducted for our local PCMA chapter about risk management. Sheesh, if our partners don’t know why having AEDs, for example, in their hotels is a planner priority, then how do we keep everyone safe? And it's not just PCMA. No one is partnering well on education. Hosted Buyer sessions are doing their best to kill partnerships and joint education.

Some of my best friends really are people who were and are suppliers (from sales and service.) Bill Reed, the new PCMA Chair, is a great example of someone who began on the service and then sales side and moved to the planner side. I don’t know that he’d be as stellar as he is had he not had the broad work and educational experiences. A corporate planner colleague only hired former CSMs to be planners in her department because of their knowledge of how hotels, conference centres and convention centers operated.

This is when I want to use the three letters that ask why we aren’t partnering and what the fear is. Instead, I’ll ask, what is keeping us apart and why? What are we afraid will be disclosed that is so secretive that we can’t sit and discuss it?

Why are we really not partners?

As with all of my blogs and commentary on this site, these views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Meetings Today and its parent company/publisher. Want to comment to me only or ask me to post a comment anonymously for you? Send me an email.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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