Category Archives: Meeting Planning 101

Professionalism Includes Speaking Up

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Professionalism Includes Speaking Up

There’s a lot on my mind.

The impetus for this edition of Friday With Joan included news stories that made me wonder why I could find little about stances and actions taken in the meetings industry.

And when I’m talking about the meetings industry, our industry, I’m also referencing the individuals within it. How easy it would be to add our voices to the millions of others.

Coinciding with the start of the Jewish New Year, a time of reflection and renewal, I’m no doubt doing what is considered to be, at least around a family table, not easy.

I’m talking about politics and religion.

Stay with me. It’s about policy and actions. It’s about understanding our industry’s impact around the world, and the impact we could have if more acted.

Why Are We Talking About Religion?

The start of the Jewish New Year plays in because the liturgy always gives me pause.

This year, at the Reform Judaism service in D.C. sponsored by the Sixth & I Synagogue we heard from—in words and song—our usual and special thought-leaders, David Altshuler and Doug Mishkin, with the added joy of hearing Rabbi David Saperstein whose passionate leadership in areas of social justice for people and planet has inspired many.

(If you are not familiar with any of them, and in particular Rabbi Saperstein, who has spent his life as an activist and moving others to action, I hope you will read more at the links).

Chuckling as I write: yes, dear Gina Glantz and GenderAvenger, this year, other than the Torah reader, it was all men leading the service. It isn’t always, I promise.

In fact, the senior rabbi for Sixth & I is a woman who leads a different service

The words of and conversations with thought-leaders—and others in our industry who are listed in greater detail below—led me to think about the issues in which I wish more would speak up. Issues that impact meetings, tourism and all of hospitality.

Here are just some of those issues that I believe require not only words, but action.

Issue No. 1: Inclusion

Years ago, I chaired the first task force on diversity for Meeting Professionals International (MPI). The industry’s associations have had committees, task forces and other efforts to discuss diversity. Now, I’m told, the focus is on inclusion.

When U.S. President Donald Trump insulted Baltimore—a city near and dear to my heart—and the Honorable Elijah Cummings, the person who represents much of it in the U.S. Congress, with what seemed to me and others racist stereotyping

I wanted our industry to speak out.

Oh I didn’t expect, although I hoped, we might discuss racism (and other “isms” of exclusion) in our industry. I hoped that the voices of other DMOs (aka CVBs) would speak for Baltimore as they did in support of Las Vegas when former president Barack Obama said not to go to that city (or even have lavish meetings).

Something our industry still references to this day.

Baltimore’s government and its DMO (Visit Baltimore) did a great job of countering the insults by taking out full-page ads touting all the great attractions and people of their city.

Where were the voices of our industry in support of Baltimore? In talking with some in the DMO community, I learned that it was really up to Baltimore to defend itself.

I still don’t get it.

If our focus is on “economic impact,” the words said about Baltimore certainly could have an economic impact. And to insult a sitting esteemed Member of Congress who is African-American just seemed to be, well, not inclusive in thinking or actions.

How about we hit some issues squarely and have industry discussions about the “isms” as we look again at inclusion? How about we defend the people and cities in which we meet and the diverse populations who attend and serve our meetings?

Issue No. 2: Ethics

The news from Las Vegas, about which Jeff German, investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal, has written and tweeted extensively, has both ethical and legal implications. Lawyers will work out the legal. We can look at the ethics issues.

The latest, although not the first of its kind, news from Las Vegas is the use of airline vouchers by Las Vegas CVA staff and about the perks the LVCVA Board received.

There is much more to be read as this moves forward. The links will get you started.

If you want to learn more, follow Mr. German on Twitter.

Why is this an ethical issue? In researching, I learned more about the accreditation program of Destinations International. It is a lengthy and involved process.

Those DMOs that achieve accreditation are bound by a code of ethics.

As a customer who believes strongly in the work of CVBs and DMOs and those who work for them and thus for us and their communities, I know the importance of the actions they take and the perception of the governments that oversee them.

If we believe that our industry should be perceived as professional, we must act ethically. We must ask those with whom we work of their ethics policies and disclose our own.

And then we must abide by those policies.

Whether you choose to call out unethical behavior is an individual choice. Consider it.

Issue No. 3: Climate

As young people lead the way on September 20 for a world-wide day of climate strikes, I tweeted and posted elsewhere in social media asking who had organized strikes.

More specifically, I was reaching out to the EIC member organizations and asking: Which hotel owners or brands, which DMOs, which chapters of industry groups, had organized strikes or gave employees time off to join in demonstrating in support of fixing our climate?

Note that if you think this is the effort of children only, and this dissuaded you from joining in, realize that there are plenty of those who are much older that are joining this fight.

I was heartened to learn from 21c Museum Hotels representative Kelsey Whited, Public Relations + Influencer Manager, the following:

“We did not take any actions specific to #ClimateStrike such as allowing time off for employees to participate, but we hosted free and open to the public screenings of Anthropocene: The Human Epoch at four of our locations, scheduled to align with the timing of the Climate Strike, which were well attended. More information here.

Though not currently on view, The SuperNatural is a traveling 21c Museum Hotel exhibition that will open at 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City this spring 2020.

(If your hotel or DMO or other hospitality/tourism/meetings company participated as an entity or gave time off for #ClimateStrike actions, please post below and/or write to me via email at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and send me photos if available for possible use).

The reports are frightening.

Even if you prefer to think that this is “just” cyclical and it will correct itself, for those of us booking meetings even a year out, paying attention to the implications right now of drought—which can lead to catastrophic fires, lack of available food or potable water—is important.

Then there’s the cycle of storms and hurricanes and the ensuing devastation they cause on and to places like Puerto Rico, Houston, much of Florida, the Carolinas, and the Bahamas. This has to be considered for the, again, business case for our industry.

In Europe there is #flightshaming—companies are restricting plane travel for many. If meetings can’t be held virtually, then employees are to take buses and trains.

Is there such an effort in the United States? Do we not see the implications on planet and business of these changes?

These businesses closed and participated in the #ClimateStrike.

Patagonia, with a mission that supports the environment, ran a great ad.

Our industry could have planned and done the same.

There’s time for GMID to take action for April with ads or even combining art and creativity for making our voices heard like these murals in San Francisco.

Climate issues are not going away!

Wait, We’re Not Done Yet! More on #ClimateStrike

In an article linking to a blog post explaining the company’s position, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario wrote, “Our customers are demanding we act—this generation of youth is not backing down and neither should we. Sharing this common challenge gives us hope.

“We need to step up, to move forward with optimism and American innovation and ingenuity to invest in solutions and fight the fight of our lives to save our home planet.”

H&M will help you recycle your clothing. That seems a pretty easy step for a chapter of an industry organization to collect clothing—slightly used or new for those without, used for recycling by taking it to H&M. Make it another CSR project.

Shawna McKinley provided specific information about climate issues that are impacting U.S. meetings destinations like Las Vegas where heat is causing people to not go outside.

Definitely read this article from The Guardian:

From the article: “The coroner’s office in Clark county, which encompasses Las Vegas, often records heat as a contributing factor to accidental deaths.

“There are hikers succumbing to lethal temperatures in the surrounding desert and heat-related deaths in cars and homes when occupants forgo cooling.

“Roberts has seen homeless people with post-mortem burns from collapsing on hot streets.”

It goes on to say: “Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the United States, its temperatures having risen 5.76F since 1970. A June study of coroner data by the Las Vegas-based Desert Research Institute found a correlation between heatwaves and heat-related deaths in southern Nevada, both of which, they say, are on the rise.

“And a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report warns that without global action to reduce carbon emissions, the city will probably experience 96 days of heat above 100F by the end of the century, including 60 days over 105F, and seven “off the chart” days that would break the current heat index.”

Where were we as an industry with banners and signs to let people know we understand the implications and are willing to act? Or were we still focused on patting ourselves on our collective backs because we’ve eliminated paper handouts and plastic straws at meetings?

And that the hotels we use have implemented “green washing” by asking us not to have our rooms cleaned—which has economic implications for staffing and in fact, does little to be sustainable—or switching from small bottles of amenities in hotel rooms?

Paul Salinger, a corporate marketing colleague, wrote:

Greta Thunberg—We all admire her, I admire her. The big question for all of us is how can we help her and let her go back to school, back to having a childhood.

“What actions are we all taking? Yes, she is addressing political leaders, but she is really addressing us all. Did you walk/bike today over driving?

Did you skip flying just one time this year, even if it meant foregoing another conference or event or speaking engagement or vacation? Are you pushing the company you work for to move away from fossil fuels and to clean energy? Did you donate to an organization that is planting trees on a massive scale to help capture carbon?

“Did you write your legislator at any level demanding action and change? Etc., etc., etc. Less conversation and admiration and more action!

“If you’re not doing something to help, then how dare you just sit back on social media and admire her. Get to work people!”

What Does This All Mean? Why All the Politics?

Maybe this blog is my form of tashlich (alternatively, tashlikh) for our industry—the casting off of sins or transgressions** for the new year.

Maybe by writing this and asking others to comment (although some were unwilling to go on the record—see Susan Sarfati’s comments; she was willing and wonders the same as I) I am hoping to start this new year by prodding our industry to do more and better.

Perhaps Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), sponsored by Meetings Mean Business, an arm of U.S. Travel Association, will mandate that education and voter registration be part of every single event rather than celebrations.

Perhaps days of action could replace the GMID celebratory parties. We all are grateful to those groups that band together to present education.

In talking with some who have created that education, they concur: more education, less partying, will bring our industry forward on issues.

What I want is for my—our—industry to educate and move people to act in the interest of our industry, our world and our planet and its people. I want to ensure that all of those reading this will think about what we can do, beginning with registering to vote.

Roger Rickard and I concur on this one even though on some issues we disagree, politely!

How will you join me?

*Thanks to Those Who Inspired This Content

I am grateful to, and inspired by, those with whom I communicated as I researched the content for this blog post and the Friday With Joan newsletter content.

I’ve been stewing about issues that impact our world and thus our industry.

My frustration with a lack of attention to, and action, about many issues, some of which I included in this blog post, by our industry associations, companies, and individuals that can influence issues that impact meetings, tourism, and all of hospitality; who could write and speak, and encourage action (registering to vote and voting, for example), is great.

Among those, in no particular order, whose voices and ideas helped me think:

  • Zoe Moore
  • Patti Shock
  • Paul Salinger
  • Nancy Zavada
  • Shawna McKinley
  • Susan Sarfati
  • Paula Stratman Rigling
  • and Roger Rickard.

My invaluable colleagues—who represent different positions and areas of interest in our industry—provided ideas that may lead to suggested actions, some of which are included in the blog post. Others are referenced in the article related to this blog post.

And to Tony Cummins and those in his class at Richland College for their ethics discussion with me the week of September 30, I am especially grateful. Students in hospitality have lots to say and need to be at more tables in discussions.

Just as Greta Thunberg inspired many millions of young (and not-so) people to work to make a better environment, hospitality and meetings students are needed as we talk about the issues. They will carry on this industry’s work.

OK. Ready? Join the discussion here, in agreement or not, and in your workplace, in industry organizations and at the chapter level, in your homes and communities.

**Susan Sarfati suggested a different form of thinking of tashlich—that is an action of doing a responsible action versus casting off of sins. Like doing something for lent versus giving up something, it is a better way of thinking for me.

 

Planners: Get the Respect You Deserve!

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Planners: Get the Respect You Deserve!

Do you ever feel like you are caught in a time warp?

In discussions among meeting and event planners on social media and face-to-face, there are things being said that have been repeated for as long as I’ve been in the meetings and hospitality industry, which is a very long time!

We use our left brain (logical) and right brain (creative) sides to create budgets, meals, decor, select speakers and develop education. We use both sides of our brain to negotiate contracts worth thousands to multi-millions of dollars.

Our brain is crowded with figures and facts that allow us to communicate all that’s needed to co-workers, committees, management and business partners. And we do not give ourselves credit for the amazing brain power we have and use.

Stuck in the ‘Cost of Coffee’ Loop

When serving on the ASAE Meetings and Exposition Section Council in the 1980s, the cost of coffee and other items to support meetings was discussed at our meetings.

There was always a request for comparison of what “deals” the rest of us were getting for our meetings. I knew then like I know now that:

a) you can’t compare apples to wrenches because every meeting even at the same property—even your own meetings in different years—may be differently priced.

…and b) too many factors impact costs.

[Related Content: 4 Keys to Greater Success As a Hospitality Professional]

The charges for coffee and the cost of food and beverage were the subjects of the August 2019 Friday with Joan content, which included a blog post and more.

And as long as I’ve been in this industry, and at those Council and other industry meetings where I met with colleagues, the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield (“I don’t get no respect”) have been echoed by planners.

I’ve taught about it, and for Meetings Today, written directly about it and included the subject in a blog post about reading and this one among others.

Meeting Planning Is More Than Rocket Science

I have frequently said that what we do is more than brain surgery or rocket science because of the complexity of all that goes into planning meetings and events including budgets, content and learning, safety and contingency planning, and so much more.

Despite years of discussion on the topic and various industry association initiatives, we seem to still “get no respect” or at least not the respect we truly deserve.

That being said, I think we are part of the cause of the (perceived?) lack of professional respect for meeting and event planners individually and collectively.

[Related Content: Not Your Elevator Pitch—Your Story!]

Despite the goal of “achieving a seat at the table” that Christine Duffy, then with Maritz and now CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, made part of her platform as MPI President (2005-2006), and all the work done within our industry to promote the profession—including Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID)—we are clearly “not there” yet.

I think our profession and work are not understood, partly because few are documenting their accomplishments and/or taking credit for what they do.

GMID is celebrating in the industry while externally we’re not known.

Sometimes You’re a Leader and Other Times ‘You Are Like A Hostess’

To wit: recently written in a social media group of industry professionals:

What I find frustrating about being an event planner is that on one end of the spectrum you have high-level responsibilities and on the other end of the spectrum you are like a hostess at a restaurant. Does anyone else feel this way?”

[Related Content: Lifelong Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility!]

It was followed by responses including this:

I have felt like this for years and yet I wonder if I do it to myself sometimes. I am shy about taking credit and in fact feel uncomfortable when I receive it in a public setting.

“I am also not great at setting boundaries and will do whatever it takes to ensure it is a flawless event. I need to learn how to “toot my own horn” and help others do the same.

“I’m not sure if that will address the perception by some that what a planner does is trivial. There may always be those people who believe that in which it says more about that other person than the planner. I think also learning how to communicate on the level of the CEO, board members, etc., and then consistently doing it helps too.”

To the group and to the person who wrote the response above, I asked: In addition to what you wrote above, why do you think this is? Is it that our profession is, we think, mostly women? Is it because women are taught to be demure and self-effacing?

One response: “Yes, unfortunately, I believe that to be true.

“And also the way men in power see the [role]l. if they don’t understand it, they see it as ‘if I don’t know how to do it, it must not be that difficult.’”

Getting to the Root of the Problem

I reached out to Robbie Nance, administrative associate, office of medical education & academic affairs at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

I met Mr. Nance in 2018 when I facilitated a class on meeting planning for the American Society of Administrative Professionals, where he was one of few men in a class of more than 125, a percentage that mirrors events for those with titles reflective of meeting and conference responsibilities.

[Related Content: Defining the Meeting Professional]

Curious to see if titles mattered, I asked him what he thought was the level of respect he received from those with whom he worked. An edited version of what he wrote to me:

I feel respected by my colleagues. I do not feel respected by those in upper management. While they tell me, “You’re more valuable than you know,” and “Without you this office wouldn’t run,” on a daily basis, telling and showing value are two different things.

I am a male in a typically female-held position.

“But I am also a male in a predominantly male field.

“More and more I feel that the lack of respect I receive is related to my age—I am 30, the youngest in my office with the average age of those I work with in the 50s.”

[Again, this mirrors many who hold titles related to meetings].

A Respected Meeting Planner Shares Her Secret

I asked Margaret Moynihan, who retired in 2015 from Deloitte & Touche, if I remembered correctly that she had—years ago at an industry meeting—explained her professional success by documenting all she did. She wrote:

When I began my career at what became Deloitte & Touche in 1975 as a secretary, I was asked to assist with a series of 3 meetings. My responsibilities included registration, proofreading BEOs, checking room sets and communicating to attendees.

“After these meetings I was offered a job in the newly-forming meeting planning group. I made sure I did everything to get the job done even if it was not part of my job description. As time passed, I would document (on a steno pad!) the savings I accomplished meeting by meeting.

“The documented savings included negotiated sleeping room rates, F&B, AV and meeting room rental. I also documented cancellation fee negotiations. 

Once a month I would report these savings to my manager. I prepared a mid-year and annual report. [Emphasis is Joan’s]. If I was quoted in a trade magazine or was asked to be on a panel—this was also part of my report.

[Margaret was a member of MPI’s Greater New York and WestField Chapters, served on and was honored by the MPI Board and was Chair of the MPI Foundation Board].

“I read every publication that dealt with negotiations and meetings. Soon I became the ‘go to’ person on almost anything to do with a meeting. I learned early that no one was going to ‘toot my horn’ factually better than myself. [Emphasis Joan’s].

“After meeting negotiations, I moved on to airline, car rental and corporate card—documenting [my progress] every step of the way.

“It was extremely satisfying to document my accomplishments.”

Margaret was rewarded with promotions that reflected her senior role in the organization, retiring as “Director” which was equivalent to “Partner” with the same benefits except the ability to vote on firm issues. When Margaret retired, in the U.S. there were approximately 120,000 employees, 5,000 partners and 1,600 directors.

Other Ways to Track Your Accomplishments

Robbie Nance also documents his accomplishments albeit not in a steno pad:

There are a number of ways I make sure they know what I am doing. My office is directly outside my boss’s door—he enters my office to get to his, allowing for constant communication (communication is the key to everything right?). Being a small team, I am ever mindful that if one of us were to get hit by a bus it would be a big deal.

So I take the approach of trying to include a senior level person from time to time so that someone knows what I do in the event something tragic would happen and I do my best to note steps taken to complete a task in an effort to make a running manual of what to do in the office. I also keep a desk calendar, so that when I am away, anyone can see what I do on my desk without having to access my Outlook calendar.”

Margaret Moynihan and Robbie Nance, with different titles and at different times in our industry, are both examples of those who know their value and who did show and who now continue to show their worth. Why is everyone not doing so? Let’s change things.

6 Steps to Get the Respect You Deserve!

1. Record all your accomplishments regardless of how small you think they may be. Saving 50 cents per meal may not sound like much until you add up the savings for a year.

2. Report all you’ve done and compliments received—from dollar savings to compliments from those who attend your meetings for the great education they received.

3. Ask business partners to write to your managers about how you worked ethically and professionally with them, including examples of what you did that exceeded their expectations—from site selection to management on site. Just as we planners write thank you notes, asking for specifics, in writing, from partners will help you gain status.

4. Serve on committees and boards of industry organizations and learn from those experiences. Then document how you have used those experiences to enhance your work. It’s tough to get the time and money to participate professionally.

Showing ROI will promote you and the activities.

5. Be visible in the industry. I always ask for people to interview for articles just as these people were. Be a subject matter expert and a person with knowledge so that you are asked and can volunteer to respond to requests from journalists and bloggers.

Then post the links so others see you.

6. Toot—nah, BLOW—your own horn.

Instead of saying “aw shucks, anyone can do this—it’s not rocket science or brain surgery,” show how you helped 100 or 500 or 10,000+ people learn, travel and stay safe from harm as you created and implemented plans for your meetings and events.

Take what Margaret Moynihan and Robbie Nance said to heart and do as they did (I’m pretty sure, having met Robbie, he too will gain more recognition).

Parting Words of Wisdom on Respect and Self-Worth From Jamie Triplin

Serendipitously, Jamie Triplin, a published author and strategic communications consultant, posted some excellent words of wisdom right as I was finished writing this blog post. With permission, I post what Jaimie Triplin wrote.

May it serve as a reminder to us all to feel and show our worth:

Life is too short to walk around feeling unappreciated—personally and professionally. If you truly know your worth, you’ll never have that problem.

“Life should be lived based on the value you place yourself.

“If you feel low, you’ll accept trash behavior from your environment.

“I don’t know about you, but, I’m of high value.”

Some Additional Strength to The Bahamas

It is impossible not to think of the people of The Bahamas who have lost everything.

We tweeted from @meetingstoday a link to World Central Kitchen, the organization formed by Chef José Andrés, that was on-the-ground and prepared to feed people.

There are many verified organizations to which you can donate to help the people impacted by Hurricane Dorian. We hope that you will, if you have the means to do so.

We all know that a “tourist destination” like The Bahamas is dependent on our support. Just as we helped those in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, we hope you will donate to help others. No matter how much respect we receive, it’s important to be kind.

 

You’re Charging How Much?!: The Case for Smarter F&B Budgeting

Originally published Meetings Focus.

You’re Charging How Much?!: The Case for Smarter F&B Budgeting

Food and beverage (F&B) can make or break a meeting or event. And certainly, the complete absence of F&B can set in motion kvetching like you haven’t heard since the last time you managed a meeting without it. Just try to have a meeting break with no coffee!

I’ve been in this industry a long time. Years before my own company, Eisenstodt Associates, celebrated its 38th anniversary on June 1 of 2019.

Planning meals has never been my favorite thing to do. In fact, I would place it among my least favorite things tied to the involved process of planning meetings and events.

Guessing what others would want to eat on a given day is a nightmare especially when we are planning months out and have no idea what will be fresh, what will be available, and what factors impact what a chef can best prepare.

Or what an audience will want to consume.

Key Considerations When Planning F&B

In planning events where food and beverage elements play a starring role or for when any sort of F&B is offered, we must consider, at least, the following key items:

  • Group demographics
  • Availability of food and beverage
  • Chefs’ abilities and specialties
  • Religious practices
  • Allergies and food and beverage sensitivities*
  • Accompanying meeting and event activities
  • Service provided
  • Meal and item costs
  • Service charges and taxes**

*Tracy Stuckrath is a prolific writer and speaker about allergies and sensitivities. You can learn more about her and read additional insights about F&B on her website.

**These are likely to change if we are booking six months or more from the planned event.

Not only must we consider the above items related to F&B, we must convey all this information in our RFPs for meetings and events.

And we must clearly state that in order for us to respond appropriately and then create a contract, we need full and complete information.

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Coffee’s Cost Per Gallon

In all my years in this profession, there is rarely a month—or even a week!—that goes by when the cost of a gallon of coffee is not discussed.

As in, “Why does a gallon of coffee cost x?” Lately and frequently again on social media, the cost per gallon discussion has reared its head.

(We used to look at the cost of “dry snacks”—potato chips, peanuts, pretzels—when those were considered the budgetary best for cocktail receptions without “real” food!).

The discussions have been accompanied with questions about the amounts billed for taxes, service, and ancillary fees, on top of per plate or per person costs for various F&B offerings.

Other popular topics of discussion related to F&B include:

  • the number of, and charge for, servers for buffets, continental breakfasts or breaks
  • bartender and, if cash bar, cashier charges and minimum numbers to serve and the minimum hours we must contract
  • the administrative fees now added to food and beverage (F&B) events

Nothing in the discussion seems to change.

Calculating the Cost of a Gallon of Coffee

I looked back at 2012 menus*** from a contract negotiated for a client’s 2016 meeting.

At that time, a major Las Vegas hotel at which the meeting was booked charged $70.00 per gallon of Kona coffee plus 21% service charge plus 8.1% tax on both the coffee and on the service charge.

If one calculates that, and assumes 20 cups per gallon, it’s about $4.57 per cup.

In emails with James Filtz, interviewed here, I asked about the cost of coffee.

He said “In 2014 coffee at The Venetian in Las Vegas was $86 per gallon. Today it is $100 per gallon. That’s about a 16% increase.”

I checked with the same unnamed Vegas hotel above for their current prices. The price of coffee at the major Las Vegas hotel previously contracted, came out to $95.00 per gallon, with a service charge of 23%, tax of 8.5%, and the service charge taxed slightly over 4%.

How does that compare to what a cup of made-at-home coffee using a Keurig costs, considering the purchasing and labor that goes into how a hotel provides coffee?

Is it cheaper for each guest to run back to their rooms, use the in-room coffee maker (if there is one and the condiments are to their liking), and the time it takes for them to return for valuable networking?

I found this about Keurig, where the cost per cup is measured on a 5-6 ounce cup.

***A Pro Tip Regarding Food & Beverage Menus

Most hotel menus are now electronic.

When you negotiate more than a year out with an escalation clause on food and beverage, the menus from which you are negotiating will no longer be live on the website.

I recommend printing them out—on post-consumer paper—and attaching to the final signed version of the contract and saved as a PDF in your files and saved with the printed contract and menus and other policy documents on paper.

Otherwise, you have nothing from which to gauge prices.

Hidden—and Not So Hidden—F&B Costs

Hotel owners and management companies want to make money. Now more than ever. We want hotels to be kept up—that is, furnishings to be clean and updated.

I hope all or most of us want people who work in hotels, especially those who provide service, to make “livable” wages—though I’m not sure even $15.00/hour in most markets is “livable.”

Or is it “not on my group” mentality among meeting and event planners that is the issue—you know, charge other groups what you need but negotiate my costs to what I want to pay?

My meeting and event clients have almost exclusively been not-for-profit groups for whom budgets are tight. Yet, as chef and humanitarian José Andrés says:

“I realized very early the power of food to evoke memory, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

If we skimp on food or beverage, it reflects badly on the hotel, caterer or our group.

The Power of F&B at Your Meeting or Event

Food makes memories. Food brings people together. Harrison Owen, back in 1985, knew the power of breaks on the overall experience of learning at meetings. We know the power of available food and beverage to make or break a meeting or event experience.

See what three planners interviewed had to say about what’s important to them and their questions about costs. When will we budget differently and realistically and think about what the two NACE officers have to say when we plan and negotiate meetings?

Oh, and don’t miss the “bonus section” of the August 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter: I had the pleasure of dining with Tom Sietsema, food critic for The Washington Post, at a José Andrés restaurant. Read more about how noodging can pay, the ethics of dining with a food critic and Sietsema’s “go-to” food when he’s not on-duty—one of my favorites too!

Hospitality Education Must Change to Include All Life Events

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Hospitality Education Must Change to Include All Life Events

Meetings and conferences are not going away. However, many people who are going into our industry are looking for something different to learn and in which to be involved.

We need to expand what is taught in hospitality schools and elsewhere in our industry and to think about components of life events that need professional planners—dare I say “Party Planners” (thank you Debbi Presley for your insights and for founding Party Planners Network)—and the intricacies beyond the usual “rates-dates-space” and décor.

The industry needs to teach skills that are not the usual and include, if one isn’t born with it, how to be empathetic or show empathy and how to ask better questions.

Those of us involved in planning meetings know it all begins with goals and objectives, demographics and budget. It’s the same for life-cycle events.

When planning life-cycle events we need to learn to:

  • Ask better, deeper questions that are not able to be answered with “yes” or “no.”
  • Use resources in and outside our usual contacts, such as reaching out to “Death Doulas”—those who offer medical and emotional support to those who are dying.
  • Learn the intricacies of cultures.
  • Guide our clients to events that will fulfill their needs.

Nowhere are these skills more important than in planning life-cycle events. Though one can certainly see that these would all prove useful in regular meeting planning as well.

The May 3 Friday with Joan newsletter looked specifically at end-of-life events, spurred by this article about celebration-of-life events from The Washington Post and by deaths of three friends and my own personal involvement in planning a life celebration for one.

End-of-life events and other life-cycle events require at least as much planning and care as a meeting or convention. The timeframes may be different; the attendance lesser and the setting more intimate. Still we need to be taught to consider how to help others.

Sharron Bonner of Bright Ideas Events, an active International Live Events Association (ILEA) member, said when planning life-cycle and especially end-of-life events one needs:

  • Compassion and understanding for human emotion/connection to the event
  • Flexibility in deadlines because of grief
  • Listening ability directed toward the family or loved ones to talk about the deceased
  • Ability to add intimate personal touches about the deceased to the event

Everything Sharron and others said seem to fit all life events.

Is It a Party or a Celebration?

We also have to consider if these events are parties.

Or are they celebrations? The definitions are so similar that I found my own biases against the term “party planner” changing.

Even in Judaism, sitting shiva after a death is, in addition to a religious observance, is often a celebration of the person’s life. I always value those times, though with tears frequently shed, we hear stories never told and laugh and eat. Oh, and food!

Always plenty of food which seems to be cross-cultural. Isn’t that a party?

I asked those who teach full-time in hospitality if they had ever considered planning and managing weddings? This confirmed what I’ve found in my own teaching: many who have side businesses and start their own full-time businesses or study hospitality want to do this.

A few ILEA members who provided input for this article said that there are more who are becoming interested in end-of-life events though it is not necessarily their focus.

The Many Variations of Life-Cycle Events

Instead of just focusing on wedding and “special event” planning, which rarely includes other than weddings, life-cycle events, I think the industry needs to teach more about how to plan more broadly and help students understand all the possibilities for event planning.

These include:

Reveals or Baby Showers

Helping someone determine which of these types of events is best for them is tricky.

Before I’m accused of being “politically correct” in discussing this, well, in addition to hating the term “politically correct,” in the hospitality industry it is our responsibility is to know the right questions to ask and terms to use with those for whom we are planning life events.

This article “Gender Party Reveal vs. Baby Shower” describes what could be the same and could be different for “reveals” and “baby showers.” Not addressed here are families of one or two dads who may be the pregnant person nor does it address adoption.

If you’re not familiar with “reveals,” read more here in the guidelines from Parents magazine about “How to Host a Gender Reveal Party” from the perspective of the parent(s).

Planning a party for people who are opting not to declare a gender for their child who prefer their child to determine their identify at a later date requires more thinking.

The term these parents may use is “theybies.”

For those advising what is the best—reveal or baby shower—useful articles included:

Birthdays

For most of us, the first and then the 5s and 0s are often marked by parties, and yet, for those who observe birthdays and want a fuss, any year is worth celebrating.

Each biological or chosen family will form its own traditions.

Sometimes birthdays—especially surprise parties—can be painful events. I always felt awkward opening presents in front of people, pretending great glee when I might not have felt it! As an Introvert—child and adult—it was and sometimes still is exhausting to be around lots of people for any more than an hour.

Parties for me should be limited in scope and numbers.

Know your clients and their preferences. Seek out answers to the personalities and preferences of those for whom a surprise party is thought to be a good idea.

Graduations

“In my day,” which I write with a chuckle at how old that sounds, we waited until high school before celebrating graduation. For many now, graduation from pre-school, kindergarten and each year of grammar school is celebrated. For many families, graduation is a very special occasion especially if the person graduating is the first in their family to graduate from any school or waited until they were older to return to school and graduate.

Just as there are guidelines for all kinds of parties, our industry needs to teach more about the sensitivities of cultures and graduations. A search turned up many resources of cultural graduations being celebrated. This one was especially interesting.

With a focus on inclusion and diversity, the more we teach and learn the better.

Age Events

Beyond birthdays, cultures and religions have different celebrations.

In Judaism, there are bat, bar and b’nai mitzvahs, usually at age 13, though as this article from Tablet Mag shows, one can achieve the learning and celebrate at any age.

In Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Central and South American cultures, Quinceañeras are very special occasions for coming of age of young women.

Similar coming-of-age events are held among other cultures.

As our world becomes more diverse in its makeup and more people move about to live or work, our industry could teach “inclusion and diversity” much more broadly than it has so that those learning become familiar with others’ life events.

Engagement, Marriage and Divorce

Planning weddings is still the goal of many who enter hospitality.

Marriage has changed and now there are many specializing in same-gender marriages. Is our industry teaching enough about the language and customs to consider?

Divorce parties? Yes. Touchy ground depending on the circumstances of the divorce and those invited to attend. You can as I did search to find more information.

Why not expose those studying hospitality to all options for parties and events?

Retirement

A question often asked by colleagues: What’s the best way to honor a retiring CEO, board member, colleague or co-worker? With so many Baby Boomers either choosing to continue working or retiring, it is best to consider the person and the circumstances of their retirement—was it voluntary or forced?—when planning.

This article, simply titled “Retirement Party Ideas,” from U.S. News & World Report was the most thoughtful article I found about how to plan a retirement event.

Good Industry Learning and Teaching News

Mercyhurst University is planning a course that will include end-of-life events and hopes to partner with a funeral home to help this become part of the curriculum.

Read this related article for interviews with Peter Zohos of Mercyhurst University, Andrew Smeltzer of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons and Debbi Presley, founder of Party Planners Network.

Special thanks to Lynn Spachuk—a birth doula and death doula—for her invaluable guidance and to Marq Few, a birth doula and death-doula-in-training, for his thoughts.

And an extra special thanks to Fran Solomon, founder and board member of HealGrief, who helped me with my own grief over the death of friends.

Closing Note From Joan: None of the resources cited are endorsing any products, publication, person or service as a result of its use or citation.

Please add resources and comments below or send to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com.

(I can also publish comments anonymously at your request).

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Judy Flanagan, CMP, CMM, of Haddonfield, NJ, who died April 22, 2019. A CMP, CMM, and a past president of the MPI Philadelphia Area Chapter, she is missed terribly by many friends, family and colleagues.

May her memory be only for a blessing.

Are There Stupid Meeting Questions? It Depends!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

blog post and also share your “silly” or “stupid” questions in the comments below.

We won’t judge and the more examples we see from each other, the better!

*If you’d like to be among those asked for your input for future newsletters, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with your name, your title, employer, years of experience, and any topics about which you know lots and/or have strong opinions about.

I would to help get your thoughts included, attributed or not.

Hearing experiences and opinions of a wide-variety of current and retired industry practitioners is a value to readers and to me.

**Participants at meeting or events are still called the “audience” or “attendees,” which means we really don’t want them to be involved.

***If you’d prefer your comments posted unattributed, please email them to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post without your name or identifiers.

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

Original post Meetings Today

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

I’m frustrated with the meetings industry.

If I had written the final version of this blog in December 2018*, before my cousin Gayle** sent me the book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, my written frustration and anger toward OUR industry—that can’t seem to change—might have “burned your eye.”

As I thought about the state of the meetings industry and read Ms. Lamott’s book, I calmed a bit. “Stop the anger,” I thought. “Be nice” and write calmly. And as a colleague said to me years ago and others have said more recently, “be patient—it takes time to change.”

This was all before the 2019 Meetings Today Trends Survey results were released.

I read the numbers in print and digitally and was even more livid, especially at the question asking if planners had a written security and disaster plan in place for their event(s).

28% of respondents said they were “working on it,” which really is a “no.” And those planners who actually responded with a “no” totaled 44%.

That’s 72% of planners who said “no”!

Then I read the summation of some comments Tyler Davidson, Meetings Today’s chief content director, compiled. My cranky anger rose again.

Should I write a cranky blog or a “nice” blog?

I chose to focus on trends where the numbers and some comments were to me most troubling. I then reached out to industry and industry-related or former industry colleagues to respond to a few questions to check my own levels of exasperation and get their input.

[Side note: I’m a Myers-Briggs “P” if that helps you better understand my position].

These colleagues read the numbers and the comments on specific topic areas and responded. Their comments are the sidebar (or “Part 2”) of this Friday With Joan blog post.

If in editing their remarks, we’ve changed their intentions, we apologize and hope they’ll add to the comments here or there. I insist you go and read through those responses.

[Editor’s Note: Scroll down to the section of this blog post labeled “Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward” for links to all of the responses].

A Startling Lack of Risk and Contingency Preparation at Meetings and Events

My greatest frustration was around risk and contingency preparation. The numbers tell me that about 70% of those responding have no plans because “working on it” is still a “no.”

In preparation to deliver a short awareness of risk and contingency planning program for an industry association recently, I heard what I always hear from clients and colleagues:

a) we don’t have time or money to develop a plan; b) the hotel (or convention center or other venue) will take care of any risks; c) our security team has it well in hand; and my all time favorite, d) nothing bad has ever happened at our meetings so why bother?

These and other excuses for not planning to protect people, property and reputation astound me. Not an expert in security, I am a long-time practitioner of developing plans and enacting those plans for risks that include threats to people, property and finances.

If even the following issues—not going back as far as 9/11 or 2005’s Hurricane Katrina—are not in the collective front-of-mind thinking, what sort of tragedy or disaster will actually inspire others to stop, process what is going on and make change?

Could it be:

  • Shootings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Mother Emanuel Church and Pulse Nightclub?
  • Mass murder at a Las Vegas concert for which the FBI has found no known motive and about which there’s been no answer about how a room service cart could have been left long enough in a hotel hallway to install a camera to see who was approaching.
  • #MeToo acts of sexual assault or harassment about which I’ve written and spoken, repeatedly quoting and linking to the website of Sherry Marts for procedures.
  • Alcohol served liberally at meetings—at industry meetings—seeing no harm in the contribution it makes to potential illness, violence and death.

Brad Goldberg, Tyra Hilliard and Ken Wheatley concluded that developing common language, using those trained in security, and rethinking and planning are the best ways to be prepared.

While I agree with those strategies, they are far beyond what most in our industry consider.

And That’s Not at All Where My Frustration With OUR Industry Ends

The other issues and responses I found puzzling in the survey were those about:

  • What worries industry colleagues: yes, we still get no respect and we are doing little as an industry to change that by hosting Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) events that include and thus visually represent the same issues criticized by the non-industry media and governments: people drinking and having a good time versus conducting education and teaching industry colleagues how to lobby government segments;
  • Whether there will be a CSR component to your meeting when individuals and organizations, including many DMOs, have encouraged and supported us to make these parts of every gathering to support awareness and to give back;
  • Events and activities that you’ll conduct, which clearly didn’t include a CSR component and, really … golf is still a big part? (See what John Chen has to say).
  • Sustainable meetings where there is still a belief that digital versus printed materials are the most they can do even when that takes away from education (people learn better when they write versus type) and doesn’t take into account the energy used to charge devices and the electronic waste from those who continue to upgrade their devices. When sustainability is far greater when it comes to people and the environment.

In the week before I wrote the final version of this blog, I met with a retired hotel colleague and his husband, who asked me if I still loved what I did. I hesitated.

As we talked, it was clear that I felt—feel—great passion for the work I do. That includes this industry and the changes I believe that meetings can make in the world and the changes that can be made and made-to-stick in this industry. My frustration increases with the lack of overall change in how we operate and deliver content.

And as it is said, “nevertheless, she persisted.”

To people who tell me to have patience…

I wonder how many years it takes of actively working in an industry where others, including those who provided responses for this month’s newsletter, continue to work hard, speak and teach to impact change—for change to stick.

You Can Get Angry and Maintain a Strong Voice

I wrote this blog post in a way that was a combination of “nice” and cranky because of inspiration from Cindi Leive.

Her “Brief But Spectacular Take” on PBS Newshour on 1.28.19, crystalized it: I’m angry and I’m tired of “making nice,” equivocating about how angry I am.

So, to you, Cindi Leive, I add another dedication for the ability to express the anger I have expressed in the past only to be chastised because “angry women” just aren’t OK in our world. I have learned I can express my anger and still maintain a strong voice.

Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward

These are the colleagues who responded to my questions:

I invite you to join us here, in the blog comments, in a discussion about what you think we can do to make change stick. That way in 2019 or 2020 the responses to the Meetings Today Trends Survey questions will reflect that we’ve actually made a difference.

And please don’t still be “working on” your written disaster plan when that time comes!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

*At lunch in December with colleagues who asked me how I was, I used a “not-for-a-family-publication” word to say I was THAT ANGRY at how the industry just doesn’t change or keeps reinventing the wheel around diversity, inclusion, women’s empowerment, meeting design, risk and contingency planning, negotiations and contracts, ethics and on and on.

I was cranky, angry and frustrated to think so many of us had spent so much time working hard to move things along and they did and then BOOM, full stop until the issues are raised again and VOILA! It’s all fresh again and history is not considered or built upon.

And then … we are stuck.

**This blog post is dedicated to my cousin Gayle. And Cindi Leive mentioned later in the post. And, my editor, Eric Andersen, who is truly remarkable and “gets” me!

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be … Planners!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ... Planners!

Did you know early in life that you wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe you did—depending on your age and family or other influences in your life.

As the school year begins, and for some of us, a new year with Rosh Hashanah, it is a time of reflection or even, for some, declaring a major. It is a time of renewal as the leaves turn. And many are considering what now or what’s next in their careers.

And I, having discovered yet another parent-child duo both in hospitality, began thinking about that song: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys.”*

Although I’d never heard the song in its entirety, the title always made me smile. Then I read the lyrics and thought how apropos for our industry! (Do note that clearly some part of me wanted to be a cowgirl … and perhaps a detective—thus the garb in the main photo for this blog post from my early years!).

Liz Erikson Marnul, an industry icon and someone I’ve known for more than 35 years said “You should really tell people how you got into this industry.”

I was surprised somehow that she didn’t know.

Other than the very early years of wearing clothing that seemed to reflect two possible professions, I thought I wanted to teach—I loved “playing school”—and then I considered social work. If I had had “school smarts” rather than being a life-long learner who learns by reading, observing, discussing and practicing a craft, I might have been a social anthropologist or, because I love words and how they fit together, a lawyer.

As a meeting professional, and in the areas in which I’m involved now in our profession, I think that I have been able to incorporate some of my passion for those areas.

As a child in the ‘50s, I put on street fairs to raise money for polio research when the boy next door was diagnosed with polio. In grade and high school, I helped organize events. Later, I helped plan and run city-wide ones and national events for a museum and then for an organization.

After dropping out of full-time college after a year—even working while in school didn’t provide the financial resources, and the learning by sitting and absorbing lectures and spitting back information was not my learning style—I worked a variety of jobs: ad sales at a newspaper, bookstore sales, in the family poultry business, and as a teacher’s aide. Until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978, I didn’t know there was a profession for what I was doing.

What influenced me? Did I truly fall into this profession—this industry? Was it pre-destined? Was I, in a past life (if you’ve followed me for any time, you know one of my favorite films is “Defending Your Life” on which John Chen and I based a discussion) was I one of “those” meeting participants who, at a bad meeting, said “Sheesh, I can do this better”?

My parents, of blessed memory, worked in various professions including sales; some cousins were lawyers; others teachers. One branch of the family founded a successful chain of restaurants and though I visited that part of the family, I don’t remember that they influenced my choice of profession. Unlike those interviewed there was no one to guide me into a hospitality career.

In conversations with many who choose to go into our industry, I hear the influencers are still the love of people, travel and details.

Those already in the industry are seeking more fulfillment, whether it’s moving away from logistics only or putting a spin on logistics or finding a way to better serve customers.

If love of people, travel and details were the main reasons to be a planner, I’d not be in this industry. An introvert, I like people in small doses; a mobility disability has made travel a greater challenge, and details? If it’s contracts and words, yes. If it’s meeting logistics, not so much anymore.

When I read the articles linked in the additional reading, none of them applied.

There are studies to show why being an entrepreneur may run in families. The number of self-employed people in various professions—lawyers, doctors, small business owners—prevalent in my family is evidence. And there are lots of teachers among my first cousins and a niece. There was also a rabbi—a profession I once considered and as Rod Abraham, an MPI Founder, said about me when he introduced me when I received an award, I was a “rabbi”—a teacher.

I’m grateful to have learned how those interviewed—parents and children, sisters, and a granddaughter—were influenced to go into and stay in the hospitality industry. There are others not interviewed (Steve and Adam Ferran, Patti Shock, Vanessa Vlay and Michele Koch Hansen among them) who I hope will share their stories in the comments section below this blog post.

I hope, as you consider what now and what next, you will think about your Strengths[yes, capital “S” because it refers to a specific tool], and read Barbara Sher’s marvelous books (in particular, “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” and “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) to learn more about yourself.

I think this industry has opportunities (careers in eldercare for example) galore that we are only beginning to discover and certainly one where there aren’t enough people (hospitality law); and areas of privacy and technology for use in learning and serving customers. The sky isn’t even the limit, is it? Some will need to be the pioneers to plan the hotels and meetings in space!

Keep this story in mind too: an actor who has had great roles also needed income to keep going. He took a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. The story is inspiring. If you want to start in a position or as a volunteer that others think are “below” you, do it anyway.

Experience is what gets us where we need to be. And the more broad our experience is, the more we show our desire to work, the better our chances are, regardless of lineage, to find the job or next job that is best for you.

As you read these stories of careers intentional and unintentional that brought people to our industry, I hope you’ll reflect on the influences and influencers and then share yours.

This is an industry that can make a difference in how people learn, work and serve others.

What’s next in your future?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 09.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

3 Professional Development Obstacles (And Ways to Work Around Them)

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

In June 2018, I had the privilege of going to Duke University to speak at the Duke Special Events Planner Council’s Education Day. Those in attendance included people who plan meetings and events across the Duke system—for the medical and law schools, museums, hospitals and more.

Accompanying all of the planners in attendance at the event were local vendors who were showing their wares as well as learning with the planners. I so appreciated their participation in the education!

I had been asked to present a program on professional development. I began with this wonderful quote from the late author, Doris Lessing: “That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”

As they arrived that morning each person was given a box of crayons. To set up the day, I had asked that Sunni Brown’s TED Talk on doodling and learning be viewed ahead of time. My initial gift was that of permission to doodle and thus retain more of what was learned.

As I began, after lunch, I asked those in attendance to reflect on what they had learned so far and what they hoped to get out of the afternoon. It was gratifying to hear that both the Sunni Brown video and the programs that morning had made an impression. And, as I do, especially for after lunch programs, I brought Peppermint Smencils™ to wake up brains and spinners on which it is printed “more than brain surgery.”

The messages were to ensure that a) you need to continue to stimulate your brain and b) what we do is more than brain surgery!

What I talked about there stimulated the thinking for this blog. There are so many professional development needs and so many obstacles that we face:

  1. Time – There’s never enough time to keep up on “real” work and continuing education. Although professional development should be considered a regular part of each day by one’s employer, we know that’s not the case, especially when there are deadlines.
  2. Resources – Even though we have access to the world via the internet, there are competing priorities and the time it may take to find those resources can be a hardship. In many cases, budgets (personal and academic or company/employer) may not support professional development. Attending conferences is expensive*.
  3. “Circuit” Overload – Although we may make time and have resources, we all have other obligations; all of us are overloaded. Keeping up, let alone getting ahead, is not easy.

*[The Duke Planners are fortunate to have colleagues who care enough to continue to find and present ways for them to meet and learn].

And still I think that we can do better. I suggested then these action steps to help overcome the professional development obstacles and offer them to all reading this:

  • Make time to learn.
  • Ask more questions, request resources.
  • Lurk or participate in online groups and activities.
  • Take an improv class to open yourself up to new avenues of thinking!
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Pat yourself and each other on the back.

Among the resources I provided were two great local-to-Duke ones: Daniel Mayer at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, N.C.—a place of wonderful programs and art to stimulate brains a la Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (see resources on the accompanying portion of the newsletter), and inviting Gentleman Cartoonist Keith Knight of the Keef Chronicles and (th)ink™, located near Duke, as a guest speaker to talk about the intersection of art, policy and social justice. In each of our communities—and accessible online—are so many resources we forget can help us think differently.

(Both Dan, a long-time friend, and Keith, a friend of newer acquaintance, and I had dinner together while I was in Durham. Stimulating conversation and superb food and ambience and service at Gocciolina where we each paid our own checks. The conversation was stimulating and far-ranging. It in itself was education!).

So why this blog and the not usual interview sidebar to the blog? It’s summer.

It’s a time when many say they are going to read more. Magazines and books suggest “summer” or “beach” reading. Not all of us get that opportunity.

So I offer some reading and viewing suggestions to help you think, make you laugh and to help you achieve professional development, despite the obstacles.

I welcome your input below or on the reading suggestions page, or if you’d prefer to email me directly for my eyes only or for me to post anonymously, do so to FridayWithJoan@aol.com.

Good reading and thinking!

Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along

Originally posted Meetings Today

Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along

If you were looking for a job or negotiating the conditions under which you’d work, of these, which would you not want?

  • Fair and equitable wages/salary.
  • Working hours and conditions to meet your needs and those of your family.
  • Vacation time (and time to use it).
  • Overtime compensation (whether in dollars or “comp” time).
  • Protection from sexual and other harassment by management, coworkers, customers or members, and vendors.
  • Job security against outsourcing.
  • Training for new technology and assurance your job would not be outsourced to a robot.
  • Training to keep up with changes in your job responsibilities.

As I finish the edits for this blog for the June 2018 edition of Friday With Joan, we wait to see if the Las Vegas hotel companies, including Caesars, MGM and others, will settle with the Culinary Workers Union whose contracts expire on May 31, 2018.

Editor’s Note: On June 1, a tentative agreement was reached with Caesars.

99% of those in the Culinary Union eligible to vote, voted to strike if their contracts were not renewed to include or expand upon many of the conditions noted above.

If they walk out, 50,000 workers who serve meeting-goers, business travelers, tourists and sports fans will not be on the job, and easily 100,000 people in the families of affected workers will be impacted. In addition to many of the items noted above, these workers also want to share in the profits of the hotels and casinos for whom they work and of the tax benefits afforded corporations from the new U.S. tax bill.

In fact, one need only look at the salaries of the casino CEOs in Nevada to see the discrepancy in what is being paid and wonder why the contracts have not easily been settled. In one article, one of those who voted to strike was quoted as saying:

“I don’t want to go on strike, but I will. The company is more profitable than ever because of the hard work we do, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure we have a fair share of that success,” added MGM Resorts International guest room attendant Adela Montes de Oca.

My research causes me to wonder if planners do not want decent wages and working conditions, including safety from harassment, for our supplier partners.

Or do we not see as “partners” those who change our sheets, prepare and serve our food, wash the dishes, make the drinks, and do the work that enables meetings to happen?

I talked with a former hotel concierge who loved the job at which they’d worked for years, and who saw others being treated badly by management, owners and guests. In attempting to organize for better conditions, this person was penalized.

Thankfully, the now former concierge went on to do work that is helping others achieve protection in their jobs.

I talked with and read about many who faced hardships in the last strike in 1984 and who know that by voting to strike now could be endangering their livelihood.

Hockey fans wonder if the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals [yes, I have a favorite!], all part of the players’ union, will cross picket lines, even informational picket lines, if a walkout occurs.

[Follow @meetingstoday on Twitter for updates on the strike].

Our industry overall (meetings and hospitality), and as reflected in some of the comments in the Q&A, has seemed anti-union, or at least anti-union for their meetings. I find it ironic that the overall industry, and some in particular, have not spoken in support of the Culinary Union workers. Some of the ironies I’ve noticed are noted below.

Irony 1: Some hotel brands have cut commissions for some third parties/independent planners who work on commissions about which I’ve written.

There are now at least two groups organizing, in essence, for collective bargaining for those third parties not affiliated with what have been called the “favored four,” the larger companies whose higher commissions will last a bit longer.

These two organizations have not yet spoken out in support of the Culinary Workers.

Irony 2: Industry associations say they are putting “teeth” into anti-sexual harassment policies. To the best of my knowledge, these organizations did not stand behind the Seattle initiative for “panic buttons” for hotel workers or sign on to the UNITE HERE-supported #HandsOffPantsOn ordinance in Chicago.

There has not been industry-wide support for this demand from the Culinary Workers Union to protect its members and others in the industry from being sexually harassed.

Irony 3: Our industry touts the contributions to the economy of tourism, travel and meetings but I’ve not seen support by industry associations for unions.

In particular, I have not seen support for the 50,000 people whose lives are made better and who can move toward financial stability who are part of the Culinary Workers Union.

Interestingly, studies show that Millennials are supportive of the labor movement. Maybe we have to wait for them to move into management for this to take hold.

Or, as with previous movements, it’s possible they just need to start voting.

UNITE HERE’s Side of the Story

Look, I know that UNITE HERE has angered planners and organizations because of the calls to planners and to organizations’ boards of directors encouraging some groups to not book properties or cities where the contracts with union labor are in dispute.

Like others, I have questioned the practice and wondered if it were the best way to reach out to planners and organizations.

I asked Levi Pine, Boycott Organizer from UNITE HERE, who though not an unbiased party, is someone who has given me reasons to trust him, how to explain this. This is a portion of his response, edited for length and clarity, and in some cases paraphrased.

We always attempt to communicate with meeting planners first, by phone and email. When we do reach that person, we try to convey the seriousness of the labor dispute and make a follow-up plan with them about relocating their event.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to find out who the meeting planner is [suppliers will verify this], or hard to find accurate contact information.

“And, even if we can find the planner, often they try to cut off communication with us. Thus we have reached out to other organization staff or sometimes boards of directors.

We know there are many who want to support workers, and even more who would be upset to arrive at their event and be faced with a labor dispute especially if a hotel or DMO had not informed the group, or the planner had not asked, in selecting the site and contracting, what labor issues were on the table.

“Groups have chosen to relocate their events to avoid a boycott. Some organizations look back on a decision to relocate as a real defining moment that demonstrates their integrity.

“When customers use that form of economic advocacy, it really does have a big impact. Boycotts have contributed to settling good union contracts that helped workers.”

[Joan’s note: oh the many gray areas of and the other discussions of boycotts for reasons of laws passed and commissions changed. We do need much more discussion].

“We suggest that groups incorporate the strongest protective language in event contracts to protect themselves and their events against the unforeseen.

“Our lawyers have written language that incorporates protections against various forms of a labor dispute, and that is available here.

“Meeting planners should [during site selection and after for groups booking far out] check the list of hotels and labor disputes at www.fairhotel.org. If you don’t find a property on the “FairHotel” list, a labor dispute is possible there. Planners can also call a FairHotel representative for the most current news on hotel labor disputes.

“Meeting planners can reach a representative at 773.383.5758.”

Making the Case for Unions

So yes, I’m pro-union. No one in my family of mostly self-employed people were, to the best of my knowledge, members of unions.

Maybe it was the Pete Seeger songs played or the general attitude about respect for all workers or the neighbors who were part of unions at the General Motors plants in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, that made me aware of the importance of organized labor.

Maybe it’s because without the Labor Movement, children might still have to work, and hours would be far greater than 40 per week [yes, I know you work more than that—imagine if you had a union representing you to help you!], or the conditions under which those in the U.S. work would result in more Triangle Shirtwaist Fire disasters.

I’ve been self-employed for nearly 40 years and with my own company 37 as of Friday, June 1, 2018. I had to negotiate for salary and working conditions before I was self-employed, and for fees, expense reimbursements, specific work and conditions, since I became self-employed. Having an organization to support me and others might have resulted in a better standard of living and conditions for us.

So what do you do if the Culinary Workers in Las Vegas, or any other workers where you have a meeting booked, do walk out or if you learn that there may be a walkout or informational pickets taking place?

In 2011, this Meetings Today article explained what planners could do in the event of a strike. While some references may be dated, it still is relevant and important to consider.

Consider this too: Become a FairHotel Partner just as others are, and negotiate the Model Protective Language provided here into your contracts just as you are considering the language we’ve come to call the “ASAE Clause” regarding non-discrimination.

Take time to read the second part of the Friday With Joan Q&A—featuring one of the FairHotel Partners—to understand more.

I am grateful to those with UNITE HERE and with the Culinary Workers Union (Levi Pine, Jeremy Pollard, Rachel Gumpert and Bethany Khan) among those who first helped me research the #HandsOffPantsOn Ordinance in Chicago, and for the #MeToo blog here at MeetingsToday. I’d also like to thank Christine Busiek, CMP, of INMEX, for information.

I stand with you, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 (and those workers outside the union as well) in solidarity. I hope the contracts are settled and that your families—and our industry—will not suffer.

Additional Reading

Following are links to the growing concern about technology and robots taking hospitality jobs. Planners, don’t assume your job is not at risk!

Already with the ability for automated site selection, why would our jobs entirely not be among the 6% that may be automated by 2021?

A Final Note From Joan: If you are someone who would like to be on my list of those to be considered for expressing opinions on a variety of Friday With Joan and Meetings Today Blog subjects, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with the subject line “Blog Interest” and in the body of the email, your expertise and issues about which you care about that relate to meetings and hospitality. Let’s get in touch!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the June 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 06.01.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Are You on the Right Side of Ethics?

Originally posted The Meeting Magazines

Let These Meetings Industry Pros — and Your Conscience — Be Your Guide By 

Every industry faces ethics challenges, and meeting planning certainly is no exception. Something that looks like an incentive can be intended as a bribe. Planners are offered so many things so often that the right thing to do can be confusing, especially for novices.

Experts say several factors contribute to ethical lapses and quandaries including: not enough ethics education opportunities; industry guidelines are unclear about specific, ethically ambiguous situations; some planners, particularly those who are independent, have tighter budgets and may count on FAM trips, frequent flyer miles, hotel-stay points and other perks to defray expenses.

No wonder planners face ethics challenges as a routine part of their jobs.

According to Joan Eisenstodt, founder of Washington, DC-based Eisenstodt Associates LLC, a meetings consulting and training firm focusing on ethics issues, “I think our industry is far less ethical than it ever was because of high turnover, the complicity of vendors, younger and newer people who aren’t members of industry organizations, and because many people believe they are underpaid and overworked and are ‘due’ the perks offered.”

Sometimes the right ethical choice is clear, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the decision is ethically correct but gives the appearance of being unethical or at least inappropriate.

Ethics Education

Eisenstodt believes that more ethics education is needed to make planners aware of potential issues, especially those that fall into gray areas. “We need far more education now than ever,” she says. “I think ethics needs to be on the agenda of every industry organization at every national, international and chapter meeting. If a national organization or chapter does one ethics program every few years, they believe it is okay.”

Karen Kotowski, CEO of the Events Industry Council (EIC), offers a different assessment. “I think we do a fairly good job, particularly for the CMP community,” she says. “Our Events Industry Council Manual 9th Edition is the primary study resource (for the EIC’s CMP certification) and covers professionalism, ethical behavior, best practices, and how to develop and implement a code of ethics for your own organization.”

The EIC has an enforceable CMP Code of Ethics, which says that planners shouldn’t use their “position for undue personal gain and to promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.” In addition, the code says planners should “actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”

Questions about the EIC standards are included on the organization’s CMP exam. According to Kotowski, “CMPs are required to read and agree to abide by the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct on their initial certification application, as well as every time they recertify.”

The EIC can remove certification from planners who violate the standards. “The process ensures a CMP receives due process and the procedures are consistently enforced if a complaint is made,” says Kotowski.

Ethics Violations

Kotowski adds that the most frequent violations involve people who use the CMP designation after they fail to recertify. “A more infrequent, but equally serious occurrence, has been occasions where someone uses the credential who never earned it,” says Kotowski. “We can’t ensure ethical behavior. We can encourage, educate and enforce it if need be.”

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has its Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct, which asks members to “avoid any and all conflicts of interest and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.”

The PCMA principles also ask professionals to “refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.”

Some industry ethics experts say that industry standards provide general guidelines but aren’t uniform, are infrequently enforced and don’t cover many specific ethics challenges that planners commonly face.

According to Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM, CEO and master strategist at Bernardsville, New Jersey-based Strategic Meetings & Events, “If the industry were more strategic in how we planned and came together to form unilateral goals, standards and practices, we would be seen differently, treated differently, and better behavior on all sides would result.”

Knowing Ethics Codes

But many planners aren’t familiar with industry standards. According to Eisenstodt, “I think if you asked members of the various industry organizations when they last read the code for the organization for which they are a member or hold a certification, you’d find that few have.”

Unfamiliarity with ethics standards is especially common among numerous people who plan meetings but aren’t trained planners. “I think that the gap in awareness, if any exists, may be with those non-professional/part-time planners who are asked to plan a meeting, but it is not their day-to-day job,” says Kotowski.

Kotowski believes that untrained, part-time planners are even less aware than professional planners of potential ethical pitfalls. “I would urge those non-full-time planners to use our EIC manual as a desk reference for these practices and to become more professional in performing these activities that may not be their full-time job,” says Kotowski.

Lamagna agrees: “Those who plan meetings aside from their full-time responsibilities often make the wrong decisions as they are not exposed to guidelines and ethics codes. The bigger problem is that the industry is too segmented. If we had a universal platform to stand on or required a licensing procedure for this role, then we’d eliminate enormous amounts of unethical behavior.”

It’s also difficult to curb unethical behavior because suppliers and vendors may have inadequate ethics standards or none at all. Suppliers may not be clear to planners up front about the intention of their perks and gifts.

According to Eisenstodt, “The piece of this that is not addressed is whether the vendor or supplier is complicit in any unethical behavior and, if so, how should it be addressed. Having seen clients fire planners who violated ethics codes with the complicity of vendors, and seeing the vendors continue working for their companies, means we have no real standards across the industry.”

FAM Trips

Knotty ethics issues can result from FAM trips — expense-paid trips that hotels, venues and CVBs offer planners to acquaint them with properties and destinations.

Some planners accept FAM trips with no intention of ever considering the destination for a meeting. That’s not ethical, says Lamagna. “If you know your client base will never go to a destination, don’t accept the invite. These trips cost money and are investments in future business. Be respectful of that. If you don’t have business to share at that moment, but believe you may in the future, then consider going,” says Lamagna.

How can planners who want to do the right thing ensure that personal biases don’t influence their recommendations?

Lamagna offers the following advice: “I always repeat the mantra, ‘it’s not about me’ with every component of a program from menus to gifts, flowers or wine selection. I remind myself that I am not the audience. I base my recommendations on the group’s goals for the meeting, personality of executives and guests, budget, tolerance for travel, etc.”

While FAM trips are a problem, some experts believe that other ethical problems are more common.

Perks and Gifts

Says Eisenstodt: “I think FAM trips are the least of our concerns. They happen less frequently. I think the issue of prizes at trade shows/hosted buyer events and even the hosted buyer events themselves are of far greater concern as are the gifts given, the undisclosed commissions, the hidden fees and so much more.”

Indeed, many ethical issues stem from perks, rewards, points and gifts offered to planners or that they rarely request. Suppliers such as hotels and venues as well as CVBs bombard planners with perks such as hotel nights, airfare points, spa treatments, five-star dinners, limo rides, tickets to sporting events and concerts, and trips for family and friends.

It can be difficult for planners, especially novices, to decide when it’s ethical to accept freebies. A perk may also be a bribe, or at least give the appearance of one.

Organizations, corporations and event stakeholders know that planners are offered perks. Still, not revealing the acceptance of the gifts could be unethical if the offerings favorably impact a planner’s recommendation or decision about a property or destination. Even if a reward doesn’t influence the decision, non-disclosure could give the appearance of being unethical if the perk is revealed later.

Lamagna offers the following advice for dealing with perks, points, rewards and gifts. “We give any gifts we receive to the client,” she says. “For instance, a property awarded us a watch after the event. We had them send it to our client’s CEO. If you are upfront with the client and they are okay with you accepting points, use them as a perk for employees.”

Gray Areas

Many planners perceive some perks as gray areas. Here are two examples:

A hotel, vendor or other supplier offers an expensive dinner at a swanky restaurant: “Five-star dinners should not be the norm,” says Lamagna. “That said, if a relationship has developed with a vendor who takes you out to celebrate or as a thank you, and you can separate that from ‘owing’ them something in the form of business in the future, then that may be okay. Nothing should ever be expected, done in excess or abused.”

A hotel offers a room upgrade: “Accepting upgrades while on a site visit is not unethical but it is inappropriate,” says Lamagna. “Upgrades offered onsite during a program should also be declined because the meeting is not about you. You are staff, not a guest. We put into our preshow notes that no one from our team is ever to be upgraded so there is a clear path for everyone to follow.”

Should a planner who has accepted points and perks not recommend the hotel even if it is a good match for the meeting? Why? “When you have to start asking yourself these questions you are blurring a line,” says Lamagna. “Focus on the client’s goals and best interests, and be transparent in your behavior. That eliminates most challenges.”

Eisenstodt agrees that transparency is the best course. “Destination, venue and vendor salespeople have quotas to make, and we all have been begged to get contracts signed,” says Eisenstodt. “We have an obligation to know and disclose the criteria on which we base decisions. Discussing with an internal or external stakeholder the selection criteria means that one can be more objective, and show the objectivity in the decision-making.”

The need for ethical behavior among meeting planners grows as more join the events industry. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of meeting and convention planners will continue to grow 16 percent through 2018 — faster than the average for all occupations.

Expert Advice

Planners can take the following steps to increase awareness about ethics:

  • Experienced planners should serve as ethics mentors to new planners, and newcomers should seek advice from experienced peers.
  • Talk to a boss or coworker about a situation when the course of action isn’t clear.
  • Put the best interests of stakeholders and clients first.
  • Be aware of how actions might be perceived and interpreted even if they are technically ethical.
  • Planners facing an ethical dilemma should ask themselves how they would feel if their actions were posted on social media.
  • Corporations that lack their own codes of ethics should create such standards.

Corporate Ethics Codes

According to Eisenstodt, “Most corporations, if not all, have codes of conduct/ethics.  Of the corporate planners I know, all have said they are asked once a year to do an online evaluation of ethics issues. I have helped clients write specifics, using their overall codes, for their meetings departments so that individuals knew, for example, the value of gifts or meals or entertainment they could accept.”

Kotowski offers advice on what the corporate codes should cover. “It would include their own specific practices and standards regarding how they interact with their clients and conduct their business,” says Kotowski.

The codes also would cover company-specific “financial practices, how they report their activities to the client, transparency in billing practices and expectation of employee interactions with vendors and suppliers,” says Kotowski.

Hold Peers Accountable

Planners should know and abide by ethics codes and hold their peers accountable for doing the same. Suppose a corporate planner finds out that a peer within the same company has acted unethically. What steps should the planner take?

Eisenstodt offers the following advice: “It is generally thought that one should approach (not report) the person thought to have acted unethically based on the company’s code and say something like, ‘I think you did X and it seems like it might be in opposition to the company’s code of conduct in section Y,” says Eisenstodt. “Please tell me a bit more so I can understand how to apply the code to my own work.”

Eisenstodt advises that planners talk to human resources when in doubt about what to do, or use the company’s anonymous reporting system. “Use what works best and most comfortably for you. If the person believed to have acted unethically holds a certification, determine what you need to do and how to report the information to (the certifying organization). Do that only when certain of the information.”

According to Lamagna, corporate planners have a duty to report ethics violations. “There is no middle ground with ethics,” says Lamagna. “Once you know something is happening that is unethical, it is incumbent on you to share the information. If you are unsure and it is not your responsibility to follow up, share the concern, not an accusation, with the appropriate person and then step aside.”

The right ethical decision isn’t always clear, and planners may see the same situations differently. However, it’s crucial that planners approach issues with a knowledge of ethics standards and a willingness to make the best efforts to apply them.  C&IT