Inside the CMM

Everything planners need to know about the Certification in Meeting Management program

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 August.
    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.

Apply now
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 questions. 
    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 CMM.”
    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 industry.

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.”

Intensity ahead
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 heartbeat.”
    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 insurmountable.”

Outside recognition
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 veterans.”
    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.

Getting results
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 percent.
    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.”