The meetings and events industry has struggled to build public perception that matches the reality of what event professionals actually face on a daily basis, even though the job as been listed by US News and World Report as the No. 1 and No. 16 top career in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Its overview of the role — “Do you fantasize about ensuring a conference hall is perfectly prepped for a politician’s town hall address? Why not consider a career in event planning? Without these strategists, the concert tours and award shows we love would never reach fruition” — underscores misunderstandings that still exist about what meeting and event planning actually entails.
The industry has undergone a tremendous transformation in the past couple of decades. What was once treated as an administrative role has become a director and even VP-level career choice. With degree programs available at many major universities, as well as rigorous certifications such as CMP (Certified Meeting Planner), CMM (Certified Meeting Manager) and Certified Special Event Planner (CSEP), the public is slowly becoming more aware that planning is a true profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in meeting, convention and event planning will grow 43.7 percent by 2020, adding 31,300 more jobs.
Even with this growth, industry professionals have no singular advocacy, public relations or marketing group, though Meeting Professionals International (formerly Meeting Planners International, as it attempts to shift perceptions) strives to fill the role. MPI’s public relations efforts have been more inwardly focused than outwardly focused, however. The result: Young people interested in a career in events are woefully ill-informed about what is involved, notoriously believing that event planning is a glorious jet-set lifestyle, traveling the world, being wined and dined by venues and suppliers, and planning fabulous parties they then get to attend.
There is a grain of truth to this perception — but only a grain. It overlooks the long hours, endless list of details, rush of deadlines, occasionally erratic executive personalities, high-pressure responsibility for managing hundreds of thousands of dollars, negotiating numerous contracts, mitigating risks, and a litany of pitfalls navigated on a daily basis. On top of this, the median planner income is $45,000.
Considering the desire within the industry to have a seat at the table with top executives, it’s surprising that more attention has not been paid to these misperceptions and the relatively low compensations for the level of strategy and stress required of meeting planners today.
There is no question that there’s high job satisfaction among planners — those who stick with it over time. The question is, as an industry, is there not more we can do to elevate public awareness, compensation and continue to improve the perception of our profession in today’s highly competitive market?