Meeting Planners Struggle for Recognition

‘We are so much more than layers of specs,’ said one respondent to our Salary Survey who is seeking consideration from a boss.

Author: Michelle Russell       

event planner looking at tablet before event

The realization that it takes experienced professionals to pull off conferences and other events seems to take many people by surprise.

Michelle Russell headshot

Michelle Russell
Editor in Chief

Now that we’ve relaunched the Convene podcast with several new series, I’ve become more aware of other podcasts that have recently started up. One that caught my eye is “What It’s Like to Be…,” hosted by bestselling author Dan Heath, who interviews someone from a different profession in each episode, asking, he says, “countless nosy questions about what it’s like to do what they do.” So far, he has had insightful conversations with a stadium beer vendor, a couples therapist, and a criminal defense attorney.

I think it’s doubtful that Dan would bring a business event planner on his podcast. Not that the work you do isn’t interesting. It’s because, for the most part, event organizers continue to fly under the radar in the larger business landscape — you can’t look for something you don’t know exists. This was made clear to me several months ago when I read a Wall Street Journal article that rated U.S. convention centers yet lacked any event organizer input about their own criterion when selecting facilities to host their conferences, meetings, and trade shows. I assume that missing piece can be attributed to the fact that the Journal writers didn’t know about the people responsible for filling those centers with attendees and ensuring they have an experience that exceeds expectations. (See “Where Are the Meeting Planners?”)

I make that assumption because over the years, when I’ve been asked what I do for a living, I’ve seen a lot of blank looks when I say that I write for professionals who plan events. I end up having to elaborate, often asking if they’ve ever attended a conference or convention themselves. Nearly everyone has, but the realization that it takes experienced professionals to pull those off still seems to take them by surprise.

It’s one thing to be invisible to the outside world, but when you feel unseen at your own organization, that’s a whole other problem. So, it was disheartening to read how many respondents to our annual Salary Survey shared how they wished their work was recognized by leaders at the organizations they work for. When fed all the open-ended comments planners wrote about what they liked least about their jobs, Spark, PCMA and Gevme’s gen AI tool, determined that the frequency of complaints around lack of support and appreciation was moderate. A higher volume of gripes appeared in only two other categories — tops was workload and staffing, followed by leadership and management issues.

I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon for highly capable people to escape notice. What is surprising is that this lack of recognition, on top of all the additional stressors that a post-pandemic environment have placed on planners (see excessive workload and insufficient staffing, above), haven’t led to a mass exodus. This speaks to traits that seem necessary for this profession: resilience and pluckiness, not to mention creativity, organizational skills, relationship management, and budgetary prowess.

One respondent spoke to both the breadth of skills required by — and the general underappreciation of — the role when asked what, besides a raise or promotion, s/he would like to ask their boss for: “Consideration … and promotion to colleagues that every part of our work is experience design and real engagement. We are so much more than layers of specs.”

Raising the Bar

One other criterion The Wall Street Journal’s ranking of U.S. convention centers was missing, The Iceberg’s James Latham pointed out on LinkedIn, was any consideration of their sustainability initiatives.

Environmentalism is, however, front and center for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is setting out to make next year’s Summer Olympics in Paris its most sustainable event yet. Senior Editor Jennifer N. Dienst speaks with Marie Sallois, IOC’s director of corporate and sustainable development, to learn how those plans are taking shape in December’s cover and CMP Series story.

And French illustrator Serge Bloch’s whimsical drawings for our cover and inside the story manage to capture how sustainability is being incorporated in all aspects of the Games. I’m a little obsessed with them.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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