Certification: Are You Upping Your Game?July 1, 2016

What Planners Are Saying About the Broadening Options in Professional Certifications and Certificates By
July 1, 2016

Certification: Are You Upping Your Game?

What Planners Are Saying About the Broadening Options in Professional Certifications and Certificates

CIT-2016-07Jul-Certification_Trends-860x418“Higher ed” is alive and well in the meeting planning field as Meeting Professionals International (MPI) has renewed its education agreement with the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation to offer the Certificate in Meeting Management (CMM) program. With the 39 meeting and travel professionals who earned their CMM from the class held last November in Anaheim, California, the total number of holders comes to 1,128 worldwide.

Among those 39 professionals is Megan Tate, CMM, senior manager, finance and events with Petco Animal Supplies Inc. Like all busy meeting planners, Tate had to reconcile her commitment to education with the day-to-day commitments of her job. While she intended to obtain the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification and had been accepted to the program three times, she ultimately decided to pursue the CMM instead. “I found more flexibility in the CMM program, as you’re not studying for a standardized test. You can make it work around your life and work schedule, and that is an easier scenario for me,” she explains. In addition, “I’ve always viewed the CMM as the top-tier designation for the industry. And I think I was right in that after going through the program and experiencing the education, it’s top notch. You can’t get any better than that.”

“More and more I’m seeing companies asking for the CMP at a minimum, and now I’m seeing more asking for the CMM if it’s a more senior person. You used to never see that requirement.”
— Beth Quinn

Nevertheless, the CMP remains the more popular designation, as this certification has the broadest industry recognition and can serve as a precursor to the CMM, a certificate program with designation. PCMA has recently made it easier for planners to find study time for the CMP with the new CMP exam prep app, an add-on to the recently updated CMP Online Prep Course.

“A full online course is the right tool to prepare you for the exam, but when you are traveling, or even on your commute, and have a few moments to reinforce your learning, an app is the way to go,” said Deborah Sexton, PCMA president and CEO, in a statement. According to PCMA, the app allows users to access 500 quiz-type questions to test knowledge, organized by domain and as a scramble, and domain resources including chapter summaries from Professional Meeting Management, one of the recommended texts for the CMP exam. Users also have the ability to connect with other CMP exam-takers via the in-app messaging and message board.

“You study six months or a year, take the test and you’re done,” says Shana Hoy, CMP, CMM, event manager, Husch Blackwell LLP. “But for me to continue my education and stay current in the industry, the CMM was the obvious next step.”

CMM: Advanced Knowledge

Hoy, who also was part of the November CMM class in Anaheim, found a practical value in the advanced education the program affords. Topics include risk mitigation, business analytics and compliance, and strategic negotiation. “What interested me was that it was a higher-level analysis of what I do day to day,” she says. “I came away from the class with a lot of ahas and ‘why aren’t we already doing this?’ It was great information that I could really use in my day-to-day job.” A particularly valuable component of the course was leadership development and evaluation, “Leadership 360.” “They had professionals do an assessment of us beforehand, and we could take a look at (the results). That was really powerful,” says Hoy.

Participants also gain a “big picture” perspective on company financial performance. “We did a whole module on financial statements, how to read through that and glean insights out of the numbers that we were seeing and understand the health of the business,” says Tate. “That’s not something you generally learn in our industry, but it makes you stand out in your role if you understand those types of analytics.” Hoy adds, “You really understand what the C-suite is looking for and how to bring ideas to the table on improving the bottom line.”

Combined, the leadership training and education in company financials serve to prepare a planner to promote changes at the organizational level. “The irony is that as soon as I got back from taking the CMM, I had to reorganize my department. It gave me the business sense, and I would say the courage, to take it on,” remarks Tanya Zuckerman, CMM, CMP, senior manager, communications, live events for Bayer Crop Science Division.

Zuckerman wanted more planning support for better control over the organization’s 80–120 meetings per year that fall under its SMMP (those with 35 or more participants). Currently, Zuckerman is the only full-time planner and oversees a considerable budget. “That alone should shock an organization into making sure their leaders in the meetings area are educated and have business sense,” says Zuckerman, who obtained her CMP in 1996 and CMM in 2012.

Like Zuckerman, Tate also had been seeking to implement a change in her company’s meetings operations. She wanted to incorporate a “robust platform” for virtual and hybrid meetings, something that Petco had only “dabbled in.” Fortunately, in the final project for her CMM, she was able to create a plan for how the company would offer hybrid/virtual events for meeting requests as a formal option. “You have to pick a topic that’s a real-life scenario, not just something you’re dreaming up. And you have to prove why it’s a need in your current role and how you individually are going to be able to implement that,” Tate explains.

Both Tate and Hoy rave about the CMM’s professors, as does Beth Quinn, CMP, GTP, CMM, global travel and meeting professional with FLIR Systems Inc., who was part of the same class. The program “was not necessarily event specific, it was business specific, and so you were learning the financial side and honing your P&L skills. The woman who taught the finance side (Luann J. Lynch, professor of business administration, University of Virginia, Darden School of Business) was amazing,” says Quinn. “She made finance/accounting so interesting.”

Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate

On the student side, the CMM’s participants were very diverse, including corporate, association and independent planners, as well as business travel professionals. A newer certificate with designation from MPI is designed for a more specialized crowd: health care meeting professionals. The Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC) is earned after a four-hour training that also affords four clock hours toward certification or recertification of the Convention Industry Council’s CMP-HC subspecialty. MPI acquired the HMCC program about two years ago, and has since expanded its offerings to include health care webinars, the HMCC Refresher course, the CMP-HC Prep course, and now MPI-MD, a membership community for the health care meetings sector, noted Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI, in a statement this past April. “We anticipate the MPI-MD advisory council and community will be instrumental in shaping our health care meeting education for years to come.” (Also see page 10.)

Kathy Donovan, CMP, HMCC, associate director, global meetings management at Bristol-Myers Squibb, sits on the MPI-MD advisory council. She earned her HMCC in January. “It’s really relevant to working in the pharma industry and understanding the health care laws and compliance regulations,” she comments. “I’ve been working in pharma for about 12 years now, so I did have a very good understanding of it, but I think it was good to hear from other people in the room about how they’re managing it within their own organization.

“We work very closely with the transparency team in our organization, and I think it’s helped me better understand what they have to do when they go and report (under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act). When I’m in conversations with executives, I’m definitely more knowledgeable about the process and criteria than I was before.”

Donovan notes that it also was very helpful to hear from the suppliers in the class and that it’s easier to negotiate with hoteliers who understand compliance. However, there were quite a lot of suppliers taking the course, she says: “I would have liked to have seen the ratio of planners to suppliers be a little more equal. I would have liked to talk to the planners more about how they’re working in their companies and what type of reporting they have to do.”

MPI Academy

MPI’s new MPI Academy, which encompasses all of the organization’s learning and professional development opportunities, began offering CMP-Healthcare Certification Boot Camp last fall, and will launch the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate Refresher in October. The latter is a webinar designed to keep HMCC recipients abreast of constantly changing health care meeting compliance regulations, cross-border compliance and other health care trends. Endorsed by Saint Louis University, the refresher is required every two years to maintain the HMCC and related seal of endorsement.

Toward helping planners prepare for the CMP Exam, the academy offers a Meeting Essentials program designed for novice and mid-level professionals.

In addition, the MPI Academy has expanded the menu of certificate programs well beyond the CMM and HMCC, to include the following:

Sustainable Meeting Professional Certificate. The SMPC is built around learning and using the Sustainable Meeting Planning Program (SMPP), the only sustainable meeting planning tool independently certified by iCompli Sustainability, a division of BPA Worldwide, the premier sustainable meeting planning audit firm in the U.S. for ISO 20121 and APEX/ASTM compliance.

Sustainable Practitioner Certificate. The SPC Program is an interactive training session that covers the basics of sustainable meetings, how to create a sustainability policy, measurement, reporting and more.

Meetings and Events at Sea Certificate. Presented in partnership with the Cruise Lines International Association, this certificate course is an interactive session that “explores the advantages of hosting events on cruise ships compared to traditional venues,” according to MPI.

Meeting Fundamentals. Granting six clock hours toward CMP certification credit, this certificate course covers basics such as how to create meeting blueprints, develop meeting budgets, prepare requests for proposals (RFPs) and conduct site inspections.

Planners’ opinions on this “proliferation of certifications” vary. Some feel it dilutes the value of having certifications. “I think it diminishes the status of having just your CMP when you can be certified in every area,” Donovan says. “When I first got my CMP, I was (part of one of the earliest classes) and I thought it was really special. You really had to study and go sit for this exam, and it meant something when you got it.”

Similarly, Tate observes, “There used to be a time when having these professional designations held a lot of weight, that you had a long tenure in your profession, that you had invested the time and effort to achieve these certifications. And now there are so many of them that you can achieve in such a short period of time without a lot of effort that it can be hard to (distinguish) the ones that are really valuable from the ones you can get in a day.”

Other planners are less troubled by the proliferation of certifications and certificates, and see the value in the varied, targeted education that’s being offered by MPI. “I would say that any way that we can share information and educate is a positive thing,” says Hoy. “There’s a large gamut in our industry, from administrative assistants to full-time planners. So I think providing an opportunity for education is never a negative thing.”

Zuckerman adds, “If you have a need in a specific area, I think anything they can offer to help educate and grow people in their positions is beneficial. I don’t think it takes away from the CMP or the CMM.”

Meeting Fundamentals Debate

Zuckerman also sees a valuable niche for Meeting Fundamentals, which is the most controversial new certificate program in that it is essentially a general certificate in meeting planning after a mere six hours of education. While she handles all meetings of 35 attendees or more, there are many employees in the Bayer Crop Science Division organization who plan smaller meetings, and Meeting Fundamentals might be useful for them, she suggests, as long as there is no pretense that it is on the level of the CMP.

Similarly, Donovan says that she can see some of her team members finding value in Meeting Fundamentals, “because they’re in more of an administrative role, and to understand what everyone else is doing (on the team), I think would be a benefit.”

While Hoy and Tate agree that a relatively quick survey of the basics of planning can be helpful in some cases, they both question the conferring of a certificate for that level of education. “We talk so much in the industry about how we elevate our profession, and when you offer a certification that any admin or anyone who dabbles in meetings can accomplish and then you liken what they have achieved to what we do on a daily basis, it doesn’t help anybody,” Tate holds.

Whether the new certificate programs pan out in the long-term remains to be seen. GBTA’s Strategic Meetings Management Certificate (SMMC), for example, appeared quite useful and responsive to an industry trend, yet has been discontinued. “It was very purchasing-specific,” Quinn observes. “If you didn’t sit in a purchasing department and run your meetings program, that certification did you no good.” She believes that MPI’s CMM program also was struggling to draw registrants, and so it was consolidated with GBTA to also draw travel managers.

Travel Managers

Interestingly, it is much more common for travel managers to oversee both a company’s meetings and business travel than it is for a meeting planner to be in that dual role, Quinn adds. Perhaps that’s why travel managers tend to receive more respect in corporate America than do meeting planners.

“A lot of people think that if you can plan a 3-year-old’s birthday party you can handle a 200-person international sales meeting, and unfortunately in talking to people in other locations and other companies, (I see) that’s kind of proliferated across the board,” says Quinn.

However, the growing awareness of the CMP and CMM among hiring managers reflects an understanding of the profound skillset that meeting planning encompasses. “I review profiles on LinkedIn to see if I’m missing some education that companies are looking for. More and more I’m seeing companies asking for the CMP at a minimum, and now I’m seeing more asking for the CMM if it’s a more senior person,” she notes. “You used to never see that requirement, and I would say in the last eight years I’ve started seeing it more and more.”

That’s an encouraging trend for planners who hold CMMs, and for those who aspire to it. C&IT

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