As the economy went south back in spring 2001,
Donna Patrick found herself unemployed but holding what turned out
to be a very valuable ticket: admission to Meeting Professionals
International’s Certification in Meeting Management program, which
was to be held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., that
In April that year, Patrick took a new job as assistant to the
vice president of global marketing for Santa Clara, Calif.-based
Medtronics Vascular, a medical technology company. She passed the
CMM program, which focuses on teaching planners how to make
meetings and themselves a strategic force in their organizations.
Since then, Patrick, a 14-year veteran of the industry who now
holds both the CMP and CMM certifications, has been promoted twice,
most recently to manager of corporate meetings and events.
Developed in 1995 by an MPI task force in Europe, the CMM
originally was offered overseas to educate members of the European
meetings industry on the integration of events into the strategic
plan of an organization. MPI then worked with professors at
Michigan State University in East Lansing to refine the focus for
senior meetings professionals, bringing the program to the United
States in 1998.
The certification is for anyone working in the industry. “A lot
of people think this is just for planners, but it’s not,” stresses
Marsha Flanagan, MPI’s vice president of professional development.
“The curriculum imparts business skills strategic-thinking skills
not meeting planning tools. The skills can help a supplier be
better support for the meeting planner.”
To date, 318 industry professionals have earned the
designation. And demand is growing. Since applicants who have been
accepted have two years to go through the CMM program, MPI keeps a
running list of prospective CMMs, currently at about 80 people.
Passing the CMM is a five-part process. First, professionals with
at least 10 years’ experience must submit an
application, along with a nonrefundable fee of $75
for MPI members and $125 for nonmembers. The form, which determines
eligibility, asks for information on other certifications the
applicant holds, plus formal education, professional education,
work experience, international experience, contributions to the
profession (such as speaking at industry conferences and serving on
industry association committees) and “additional/exceptional
qualifications,” including references.
The information is evaluated purely on a points system;
candidates can score low in one area and high in another and still
qualify. Applications are first vetted by Lisa Contreras, the
professional development specialist for the CMM program, then they
are reviewed by MPI’s 14-member CMM advisory board.
Once accepted, candidates sign up to attend a residency
program, two of which are held each year. A maximum of 48
people make up each CMM class. The cost is $1,800 for MPI members
and $2,200 for nonmembers, plus travel expenses. The next residency
takes place in Dublin, Ireland, next month.
From Oct. 29 to Nov. 3, 2005, the program will be held in
Whistler, British Columbia, along with MPI’s other intensive
seminars for professionals of all levels, Institutes I, II and III.
“We’re not merging content,” says Flanagan, “but people will be
able to interact at food functions.”
Before heading off for the weeklong schooling, however, there’s
advance work to be done. The preresidency
curriculum includes a reading list, plus completion of a survey
regarding prior knowledge and session expectations, as well as a
psychological questionnaire. Candidates also are teamed with other
applicants to work online on a case study from the Harvard Business
School, learning to apply return on investment theories and other
business tools; this group continues to refine their case study
during the residency portion, culminating in a presentation at the
end of the program.
The residency also includes seminars on topics such as
strategic thinking, negotiation, marketing and risk management.
After the residency, candidates are given an open-book,
open-notes exam to complete at home. It is due a
week later; most candidates take about eight hours to answer all
The final portion is a postresidency business
project, due about nine weeks after candidates return
home. Applying the business skills learned during the residency
week, students are required to devise a strategic business plan for
either a new venture or a current situation.
Donna Patrick devised a process for making her events
department a more valuable resource for Medtronics, then
implemented her business plan once she received her CMM. “More than
three-quarters of the employees use us now,” she says. “Before,
only about a quarter did.”
Those who have attained the CMM eventually will have to renew
it every five years, but that process is only now being defined.
The renewal details should be available sometime in the next year.
This might miff those who attained the designation early on.
According to a planner who received her CMM with one of the first
classes, she was told, “Once we became a CMM, we were always a
However, the renewal process will be relatively simple, says
Elizabeth Zielinski, CMP, CMM, president of Fairfax, Va.-based
Meeting Horizons and a member of the CMM advisory board. She says
people will merely have to demonstrate they still are active in the
Not for CMPs only
Industry veterans who aren’t certified meeting professionals are
welcome to apply for the CMM. Eric Rozenberg, CMP, CMM, managing
director of Brussels, Belgium-based Ince & Tive, a third-party
planning company, received his CMM in 2000 but didn’t get the CMP
a more logistics-based designation administered by the McLean,
Va.-based Convention Industry Council until last year.
“CMP is a building block,” says MPI’s Flanagan. “But we do
encourage people to get the CMP, and it does add extra points to
the application process.” She adds, however, that just having the
CMP doesn’t count for much if the applicant isn’t ready to jump
beyond working on meeting logistics: “If you’re at such a tactical
level, even if you’ve been a planner for 25 years, you won’t
qualify for the CMM.”
While the CMP is not required, many CMM candidates have long
held the CMP designation. Mary Power, CIC president, views the two
certifications as companions. “We look at the CMM as our older
sibling,” she says. “We start meeting professionals out, and the
CMM takes them about three steps further, with the big-picture view
of the meeting planning process.” She adds, “The next logical step
after the CMP is the CMM, and there are many people who have both,
because they serve two different needs.”
Clearly, a serious commitment is required to complete the CMM
process. During the weeklong course, in particular, hand over your
day-to-day responsibilities and don’t try to keep in close touch
with the office, those who have completed the program advise. The
agenda is packed and there’s little downtime. Also, block some time
out of the office to get the business plan in on deadline.
“Don’t take that call; really use the time to be there,” says
Rozenberg. “The more interaction you have with your CMM colleagues,
the more you will learn.”
This was the hardest part of the process for Rhonda Marko, CMP,
CMM, DMCP, president and CEO of Destination Nashville, who holds on
tight to the controls of her destination management company.
“Making the decision to take a week and go sit in a classroom was
very difficult,” she says. “But would I do it again? In a
Alissa Hurley, CMM, adds that candidates should not
underestimate the sheer amount of work involved. “Don’t pursue the
CMM just to have the designation alone,” says the business manager
for Microsoft, Maritz Canada, who is based in Mississauga, Ontario.
“You truly have to believe in why you are doing it and in the
strategic value of meetings. Otherwise, the work involved will be
The business skills learned in attaining the CMM can be
advantageous to any profession, but the designation still is known
only within the meetings industry. “I get recognition from
colleagues but have found it means nothing for anyone outside the
industry,” says Louise Felsher, CMP, CMM, senior vice president of
event marketing for the Wilkinson Group in Burlingame, Calif. “And
it’s a shame, because the CMM really identifies industry
And, even though the program started in Europe, it’s still
growing slowly there. When Rozenberg passed the certification in
2000, he was not impressed by the level of information on
international meetings, but he says MPI has listened to feedback
from people like him and has enhanced that part of the program.
Rozenberg also points out that the concept of certification is
not widely accepted in Europe. “People just wonder what the letters
are on the business card,” he says.
An advantage many CMMs experience, however, is the
real-life implementation of the business plans they devise. For
example, as a result of the plan she wrote for the CMM, Destination
Nashville’s Marko redesigned her company’s structure. During the
CMM program, she says, “I saw there was another way that might be
better.” In the first year after receiving the designation and
implementing the new plan, Marko’s sales increased more than 100
Alissa Hurley, who now sits on the CMM advisory board, says the
program prepared her for the move to her current job with
Microsoft/Maritz. About a year after attaining her CMM, she says,
“I came to Maritz and was given more budgetary responsibility and a
larger team. I have more strategic input in this role.”