January 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Putting Certification to the Test - January 2000

Current Issue
January 2000
Karyn Larson Evans No glory: Karyn Larson Evans, CMP, was greeted with blank stares when she told potential employers she had achieved the Certified Meeting Professional designation

Putting Certification to the Test

Some swear by the CMP; others are skeptical.
Here’s why...

By Carla Benini

  When Karyn Larson Evans, CMP, interviewed recently for a corporate planning job, she found that, even at major corporations, she had to explain what Certified Meeting Professional meant. Yet when Bonnie Abramson, CMP, touting 20 years of planning experience, was searching for an association planning job, she was told she “wasn’t keeping up with the times” because she did not yet have the letters “CMP” after her name. Thom Egan, CMP, took the test not for career advancement, but for personal fulfillment. “Why do you climb a mountain? Because it’s there,” says the manager of special events and conferences for Fleet Boston Financial.

Since 1985, personal and professional aspirations have motivated 5,457 planners to get certified. So are 5,457 planners better off personally and professionally? Some CMPs gush with enthusiasm, eager to trumpet the designation’s positive impact on their careers and self-confidence. Others are less ardent, even wondering aloud whether certification is worth a planner’s time and effort.

Recent test-takers complain of inherent biases in the exam, administered by McLean, Va.-based Convention Liaison Council. Some say CLC has not effectively marketed the program, resulting in planners’ walking into CMP-ignorant human resources departments and working in environments where the designation neither is known nor respected. Although it might seem reasonable that those who have obtained the designation should command higher salaries, most planners say that is unrealistic.

Moreover, many who have obtained certification now are grappling with another issue: recertification. Should they bother or, as some propose, just keep “CMP” on their business cards?

Who’s telling the bosses?
Karyn Larson Evans was returning to the job market after having been laid off from a conference planning job at the Minneapolis office of Prudential Insurance Company of America, which reorganized in 1996. “I knew I had marketable skills, but I wanted that extra edge,” she says, so she got her CMP.

It hardly helped her job search. Human resources executives, including many at Fortune 500 firms, had never heard of the designation. “You have to explain its value and get their buy-in,” she says. Once that was accomplished, “most appreciated the fact that I had the CMP, but that didn’t necessarily mean they wanted to pay me more money.”

She eventually found a position as meetings and events manager for industrial supply company W.W. Grainger Inc. in Lake Forest, Ill. The sole designated meeting planner at a company of 15,000 employees, Evans works out of her home in Minneapolis. Even at Grainger, which had advertised that applicants carrying the designation were preferred, the HR representative who interviewed Evans did not know what CMP meant. Apparently, a Grainger executive had called a planner at another company for advice on what to require of applicants, then instructed HR to look for CMPs without knowing what they were.

As to the test itself, Evans is one of many who feel it favors association planners. Her CMP study-group leader, who works for an association, warned the mostly corporate students about the test’s bias. “[We] felt like we were at a disadvantage,” Evans says. “Most of the questions didn’t paint the true picture of what a planner does.” She says CLC should devise separate CMP exams for the two types of planners.

Although the designation requires recertification every five years, Evans says she will not likely go through the official process. Nonetheless, “I plan to leave [‘CMP’] on my business card,” she says. “They don’t have the CMP police.”

What will it do for me?
Acquiring the Certified Meeting Professional designation is a fixture on the list of career goals Kay Murray writes every year. The senior marketing events manager for FCW Government Technology Group in Falls Church, Va., is close to qualifying for it, and if she “really wanted to do it,” Murray says, she could take the exam with six months of study time.


Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International positions its Certification in Meeting Management program as a master’s degree in meeting planning. Launched in 1995, the CMM first was developed for the European meetings industry and only recently was re-engineered for planners worldwide. Today, there are 116 CMMs.

The weeklong curriculum consists of a series of seminars given by corporate and academic leaders. Students also must complete a take-home project and and take an examination. The cost for MPI members is $1,295; nonmembers pay $1,595. in the New Work Force and When Generations Collide: Marketing to the Generations. (843) 795-9095

The next CMM course is scheduled for Aug. 20-26 at Michigan State University in East Lansing. (972) 702-3070; www.mpiweb.org


For Murray, the advantages of becoming certified would be numerous. A passing grade would make her the only CMP in the company. It would distinguish her from the firm’s other four planners, who see her as a veteran and use her past meeting budgets and plans as boilerplates for their own events.

In addition to its professional benefits, attaining the CMP designation would be a self-gratifying accomplishment, a way “to pat myself on the back because no one else does it.” She adds, “I’m tired of not being recognized for the hard work I do. This would be something to do for myself.”

Still, she has reservations. For one thing, Murray worries about the exam’s emphasis on logistics. “I’m not sure if the CMP is just going to show that I know which tablecloth fits on a round.” And because meetings-related responsibilities are only part of her general marketing duties, Murray says, her boss thinks receiving a CMP is “going off on the wrong tangent.”

Furthermore, she sees little financial incentive to get certified. “I know they wouldn’t give me more money.” Murray also is put off by the fact that the exam is multiple-choice. “Does a multiple-choice test really reflect what I know?” she asks.


At a recent industry event, Bonnie Abramson, CMP, thought she had found a peer with whom to commiserate about the CMP application. Abramson, director of membership services for the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association and Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., had just finished her own application.

The woman said she had not yet applied but planned to take the test soon, although she had only been employed as a planner for a few months. Abramson told her, “I don’t think you qualify.” The woman then pulled out a business card, complete with the letters “CMP” after her name. She explained to Abramson, “I know I’ll pass it, so I just thought I’d put it on there.”

“It gave me pause,” says Abramson. “Why am I doing this when I could just put it on my card?”


No initials, no job
Bonnie Abramson, CMP, had spent 20 years planning events, including an annual Western Fairs Association meeting that drew 1,600 attendees. She was laid off by Sacramento, Calif.-based trade show company Capital Showcase in 1995 and spent the next two years in jobs outside the industry. When she was ready to return to planning in 1997, the “welcome back” was not so warm.

“At a lot of the associations I interviewed with, it got down to why I wasn’t a member of Meeting Professionals International or the California Society of Association Executives. Why don’t I have a meeting planning degree? Why hadn’t I gotten the CMP?” Abramson recalls. Soon after being hired for the entry-level position of director of membership services for the Sacramento-based California Hospice and Palliative Care Association and Foundation, Abramson decided to apply for the CMP exam.

The qualifying process proved to be a new source of frustration. In its CMP application, the CLC awards credit to applicants for belonging to industry associations and serving on boards, but the nature of Abramson’s job prohibited her from participating in such activities. “I can’t just take an afternoon off to be on a committee,” she says.

Getting certified presented financial hurdles as well. Abramson funded all her own educational endeavors, including a university course ($1,500) that she needed take in order to qualify for the CMP test. She also paid for a CMP prep course ($260), industry affiliations ($295) and test expenses ($75). Some of the burden was eased by a scholarship from the Birmingham, Ala.-based Professional Convention Management Association.

Odds seemed more in her favor when it came time to take the test. “I had an advantage being with an association,” she says. In Abramson’s opinion, “CLC bases its manual on association planners. Even if you know you never book a meeting more than three months out, you need to know the CLC ideal is six months out.”

Now certified, Abramson still has mixed feelings about the experience. “The CMP gave me some pride in what I was doing,” she says. “It’s a nice designation, and I worked hard for it. But I also worked hard in the business for 25 years, which has taught me a lot more.”

Just for me
“Finally! Now I can get it framed,” exclaims Elaine Odell, CMP, director of the event management department at Cahners Business Information in Newton, Mass., upon receiving her CMP certificate in the mail.

Odell’s résumé would prompt most people to ask why she took the CMP exam at this stage in her career. A planner since 1979, she created the events department at Cahners Business Information parent of Cahners Travel Group, which publishes M&C and supervises a staff of 12. She is the first in her department to attain the designation.

Odell admits being frustrated with the exam questions. “It was the most ambiguous test I have ever taken in my life,” she says. Like other planners, she found a heavy bias toward association planners and an inordinate number of questions regarding convention service managers. “It was not a good test for corporate planners,” she says.

But with the letters on her card, Odell is reveling in a new confidence. In fact, she insists a recent negotiation concluded in her favor because of her CMP status. “Having the CMP gave me the guts to fight,” says Odell, who figures she saved her company about $40,000 in that one contract.

Getting certified “validated all my years of experience,” she says. “I always admired people who were CMPs.”


As you know, your Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) expired on Dec. 31, 1998. You have invested a great deal of effort to achieve this designation&

These lines were taken from a reminder sent in July by the Convention Liaison Council to Bari Pollack, CMP, six months after her certification had expired. Pollack, director of event management for Secaucus, N.J.-based Cahners Travel Group, which publishes M&C, responded promptly to the notice, saying she wished to retain the designation even though she had failed to recertify in time. Pollack, who took the CMP test in 1988 and has recertified once already (CMPs are required to recertify every five years), has yet to hear back from CLC about how to proceed.

Following up is not a top priority for Pollack, who has some gripes about the recertification process. She complains that CLC asks for proof of attendance at professional association meetings, which means waiting for a card-punch after each seminar. “I do not stand at the end of the line at MPI to prove that I’ve taken all the courses. I’m impatient. I always have something else to do,” says Pollack, who would much prefer a system that allowed her to collect proof only once during the conference.

The emphasis should be on job accomplishments, not education, she adds. “I don’t think they’re wrong for wanting someone to be well-rounded,” but it is difficult to convince a company to pay for education, Pollack says. “Every year, I have to fight for the education in my budget.”



The wish lists are long from planners who want to see changes in the CMP designation process. M&C Colleen Rickenbacher brought their concerns to the attention of people who might be able to take action, including Susan Krug, CMP, vice president of McLean, Va.-based Convention Liaison Council; and Colleen Rickenbacher, CMP, vice president, event planning for the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and chair of the council’s CMP board.

On the study materials
“We are rewriting the Convention Liaison Council Manual,” says Rickenbacher, who concedes that the publication, last updated in 1994, is “out of date.” The new book will include chapters on technology and international meetings. As for the criticism that study materials sometimes have conflicting viewpoints, she says, “we will bring all the text in line. If there is a discrepancy, the CLC Manual will have the last word.”

On the application process.
“The form and point structure have changed,” says Krug. Applicants will have more options for earning qualifying points. Planners now can count more professional memberships, chapter memberships and associations that are not affiliated with CLC.

On the association planner bias
“In all reality, it’s not biased,” says Krug, adding that corporate planners might feel neglected because “a corporate meeting planner might not have to deal with every [aspect] of the planning blueprint. An association planner is more likely to deal with them.” The notion of creating separate exams for association and corporate planners is “always brought up to the board, but right now they’re concentrating on the exam they have,” says Krug.

On recertification
“We changed [the recertification process] in October to respect the more experienced professional,” says Rickenbacher. Less emphasis is on attaining formal degrees, while more weight is given to professional memberships and activities.

On marketing
“CLC’s mission is to promote the CMP,” says Krug. Planners can have a letter about the CMP sent to their supervisors upon passing the test. The council also makes available prefab press releases, making it easy for CMPs to notify people about their new designation. In the future, Krug says, CLC plans to focus on the corporate world and organizations not already reached through meetings industry marketing.

On the CMP’s future
“We are observing what other credentialing associations are doing,” says Krug. One trend is to offer examinees a computer-based test that could be taken at a local testing agency at any time. Examinees would not have to travel to faraway testing sites, and they could study at their own pace. Krug believes it will be at least two years before such an exam could be offered. Also, Krug would like to see the creation of an e-mail discussion group, promoted on the CLC Web site, that would enable study-group leaders to discuss class issues and study techniques


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