Planning Goes Prime Time

Many senior execs underestimate the importance of meetings management, but this misperception may be changing for the better. Case in point: When NBC's hugely popular reality show The Apprentice came to a close in April, Donald Trump selected event planning as the ultimate challenge to give candidates for a $250,000 executive position at one of the real-estate mogul's companies. More than 28 million viewers tuned in to watch as the show's two finalists overcame various obstacles to put on a golf tournament and a Jessica Simpson concert, respectively.

"The fact that they said the words 'event planner' on the air" gave the profession some recognition, says Jaclyn Bernstein, president and partner of Empire Force Events, a New York City-based event planning firm that was featured on one of The Apprentice's episodes. "The chitchat about event planning definitely added prestige."

David Kliman, founder and president of The Kliman Group, a hospitality consultancy based in Sausalito, CA, agrees. "Trump is saying that if you can plan meetings well and not just be a logistician but also involved in strategy, chances are you can run an organization well," notes Kliman, who was promoted from meeting planner to senior executive at the Fireman's Fund insurance company before leaving to start his own firm. "[The show] raises meeting planners to meeting professionals."

Others, however, felt that the show portrayed the profession unrealistically. "Things like [winner] Bill [Rancic] losing the sponsor's signage, or the other team ordering breakfast without confirming it in writing from the F&B department—those are Meeting Basics 101," laughs Howard Givner, president of New York City-based meeting and event firm Paint The Town Red, which was also featured on the show.

Even so, Givner adds, smart planners can use the show's final challenge as a promotional tool with potential clients: "It shows how easily even highly qualified people can botch an event when they don't have planning experience." He recommends that planners do what The Apprentice's candidates did not: make a binder of all meeting-related documents (which, he urges, should be so comprehensive that an outsider could execute the event using them) and show it to senior executives. "They'll be blown away by all the detail that goes into planning," Givner predicts. "It's a good way to show senior executives all the work you do, so they won't take it for granted."