Cover Story: Initial Success

The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation was created in 1985 by the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Since then, the number and variety of professional certifications and designations those in the meetings industry can earn have blossomed, but what are the real benefits of earning one? Is a certified meeting professional better than the average event organizer?

"My CMP is a personal achievement for me, one that shows my commitment to my chosen career, and hopefully shows others that I am dedicated to being the best I can be," says Vicky Betzig, president and owner of Brookfield, WI-based Meetings Industry Consulting, adding that she prefers to work with other certified meeting professionals when possible.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that a CMP is a better planner (or supplier)—but that they learned a body of knowledge, demonstrated direct experience in 27 areas of meeting planning, and passed an exam," Betzig adds.

Planners generally point to the personal benefits achieved by going through a formal certification process. The extensive exams required by the organizations that offer such designations push even experienced planners to learn new parts of the industry, and the certification gives a boost to new planners entering the industry who are looking to build up a knowledge base. Here's the lowdown on what these designations mean—and what they don't.

Branding knowledge

For Gloria Nelson, Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) and head of Winneconne, WI-based Gloria Nelson Event Design, certification designations tell the meeting planning community two things about the designees: "It's a sign of personal commitment to professional growth, and it's a symbol of accomplishment showing those we work with we have successfully garnered our respective designations," she says. "It has not only enhanced how I am perceived by the marketplace, but has also opened up doors for writing and speaking within my realm of expertise."

Meetings industry attorney Tyra Hilliard, in Washington DC, jokes that she'll need a bigger business card after earning her Ph.D., to be officially known as Dr. Tyra Hilliard, Esq., CMP.

"Why bother with the 'letters'? Because it reminds me that I set a learning goal and achieved it," she says. "Same with the CMP—and I'm sure with the CMM, CAE, CEM, or any of the other certifications."

Earning a designation intended for meeting planners can also be of benefit to suppliers, even though "70 percent to 80 percent" of what a planner does has nothing to do with the facility, Betzig says. Earning a planner designation means meetings industry suppliers understand their clients better.

"Most of our clients have no idea what the letters mean. The point is: I do," says Pat Ahaesy, CMP, CSEP, and partner in corporate event planning company P&V Enterprises in New York City. "By studying for both the CMP and the CSEP, I learned a lot about other disciplines. This has helped me greatly to understand what they do, and in turn makes my working relationship with them really great."

The designations serve as a sign to others in the industry that a certain level of knowledge has been reached.

Certified Chaos?

The sheer number and variety of certifications has led to some competition, and confusion, over which is the most necessary or beneficial to planners. Betzig says when the CMM debuted in the United States in 1998, she felt pushed to earn it, but says she didn't because she didn't feel it applied to her career goals. While the CMP focuses on logistical aspects of planning a meeting, the CMM has a focus on application of the knowledge and the strategic role a meetings manager has to his or her company.

"I am a logistical meeting manager. While I consult and can work with clients to improve their attendance, their bottom line, their ROI, and the execution of their meetings, I am not very strategic—and I'm okay with that," she says. "Where would we be without those of us who are good at the logistics?"

The certifications can also give an insight into the popularity and maturity of the industry itself. When Kevin R. Johnston, CEO of Atlanta-based Advantage Event Group, sat for the CMP exam in 1990, "there were not many of us around," he says.

"At the time, the term 'meeting planner' had not become a recognized job title by the Department of Labor, and many of those in the profession had not aspired to be [planners], but had grown into the position within their company or organization," Johnston says.

Now that industry designations abound, having a designation in your title or having multiple designations has become commonplace. "A few days in class, and a checkbook, seem to be the first two prerequisites," he says.

"But for the many who have worked for years and achieved the right, myself being one of these, they wear their certification/designation with pride and with respect for the others that also share their passion," Johnston continues.

The CIC reports that more than 13,000 individuals in 35 countries and territories have earned the CMP designation. Harvey Paul Davidson, of Westfield, NJ, a member of the inaugural CMP class of 1985 and a "CMP Emeritus," took the exam for many of the same reasons planners continue to seek out certifications and designations today.

"I was aware the body of knowledge was greater than I knew then and it would be necessary to learn more about other aspects of meeting planning if I was to continue to be successful and advance. I felt assured in what I was doing, and passing the exam would help prove that point and it would indicate to the suppliers I was doing business with that my meeting requirements and negotiations would be based on established standards," he writes on the CIC website.



CMP – Certified Meeting Professional

The Convention Industry Council awards this designation based on professional experience and a written examination. Considered the foremost certification program of today's meetings, conventions, and exhibitions industry, the CMP program recognizes individuals who have achieved the industry's highest standard of professionalism. CMPs must be recertified every five years.

To apply:

CMM – Certification in Meeting Management

This designation offered by Meeting Professionals International began in Europe. As the first university co-developed professional designation (with the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University), the program blends a traditional educational framework with a hands-on, interactive setting. CMM candidates take part in an intensive four-step process that includes pre-residency, residency, examination, and post-residency components. Pre-residency involves active participation in an MPI learning group using online technology and a variety of reading assignments; residency includes a four-and-a-half-day full-immersion course and examination; and finally, there is a post-residency business project.

To apply:

CAE – Certified Association Executive

The American Society of Association Executives awards this certification to designate association professionals who demonstrate the knowledge essential to the practice of association management. The program, founded in 1960, comprises a written test and 75 hours of broad-based qualifying professional development within the past five years.

To apply:

CEM – Certified Exposition Manager

The International Association of Exhibitions & Events offers the designation to those who complete a nine-part program within three years. The program is composed of seven mandatory courses and two courses chosen from five available electives. Advanced-level courses are also available for CEMs to continue their professional education and obtain recertification.

To apply:

CITE – Certified Incentive Travel Executive

The Society of Incentive & Travel Executives awards this designation to those who demonstrate their extensive knowledge of the industry and achieve its highest standard of excellence. To be approved, applicants must complete six steps within a year, including a three-hour exam, an original research paper, and earning 100 qualifying experience points.

To apply:

CSEP – Certified Special Events Professional

The International Special Events Society awards this based on education, performance, experience, and service to the industry. It reflects a commitment to professional conduct and ethics. To earn the designation, applicants must pass a written examination and earn 35 professional industry points.

To apply:



Check out these other certifications available for those in the meetings industry:

American Hotel and Lodging Association (

• Certified Hospitality Sales Professional (CHSP)
• Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA)
• Certified Hospitality Supervisor (CHS)
• Certified Lodging Manager (CLM)
• Certified Food and Beverage Executive (CFBE)
• Master Hotel Supplier (MHS)

Association of Destination Management Executives (

• Destination Management Certified Professional (DMCP)
• Accredited Destination Management Company (ADMC)

Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (

• Certified in Hospitality Sales Competencies (CHSC)
• Certified Hospitality Marketing Executive (CHME)

National Association of Catering Executives (

• Certified Professional Catering Executive (CPCE)

National Speakers Association (

• Certified Speaking Professional (CSP)

PMPN Meetings With Impact (

• Certified Medical Meeting Manager (CMMM)

Trade Show Exhibitors Association (

• Certified Manager of Exhibits (CME)

Originally published July 01, 2008

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