Tag Archives: EIC

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

Marriott Planner Clash: What’s Commission Got to Do With It?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Marriott Planner Clash: What's Commission Got to Do With It?

In Houston and Puerto Rico people are still homeless and without power. Though I have no statistics, I imagine some of those people are in the hospitality industry.

Flu is spreading around the United States and killing people; many cities are without shots or medicine or IV bags, the latter made in Puerto Rico.

Among those getting the flu are workers who don’t get paid sick leave and some, no doubt, work in our industry or the wider hospitality industry.

There is talk of war with North Korea that few take seriously.

Housekeepers and others in hotels are demanding “panic buttons” in cities where they are not currently mandated because of the attacks that are real and were documented in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue and also noted in the January 2018 edition of Friday With Joan.

Wildfires, drought, floods and other natural disasters; refugees crowded into camps; the United States proposing to deport hundreds of thousands of people among whom we are certain are people who work in hospitality jobs.

All of these people and issues occupy my thinking.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s examine the extensive industry energy and conversations that are focused on Marriott’s reduction of commission from 10 to 7 percent for those who work solely or partially for commission from hotels.

It’s a greater amount of energy than I’ve seen directed toward the other issues.

First, some background and a disclaimer: I founded my meeting planning/consulting business, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, in 1981 after working for an art museum, then full-time part of the year for a not-for-profit in D.C.

During off-time from the not-for-profit employment, I did contract meeting planning work for organizations in and outside D.C., my home base.

In all but one instance since then (when a client had already negotiated a rate with a rebate that would off-set fees from a third party and then hired my company), I have been paid hourly or daily or project fees from clients.

How did I determine what the source of payment would be?

When I started Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, I talked with others—there weren’t many “third parties” or “independent planners” in 1981—and all, except one, with whom I spoke said they worked on a fee-for-service payment system.

It was a model that made sense to me and didn’t present a conflict of interest, which proved to be a smart move in light of recent (and previous) events.

This blog post is not intended as legal or business advice.

It is opinion based on 40+ years in our industry and additional research. It is also based on my experience testifying as an expert witness in industry disputes and in a dispute in which I was directly involved, a situation where, had I not been paid fees versus commissions, there might have been a very different outcome.

Here’s that story, illustrative of the commission versus fee dilemma:

In 1984 I was a defendant in a case that involved a canceled and relocated meeting, the site selection and contract negotiation for which were done by an in-house planner at the time the site was selected. The judge found that, though the suit was against the group, me individually and my company, I had nothing to gain because I was not receiving commission or higher commission as a result of the move of the meeting.

Thus the cases against me and against my company were thrown out.

Because of that and other experiences, I have, for years, on the issue of commission paid to third-party/independent planners or companies from hotels and other industry suppliers, which is certainly not a new concern for our industry, engaged in discussions.

Most recently, on the issue of the Marriott commission structure change, the discussions have been across social media, in interviews by numerous industry publications—including Meetings Today for which I write regular blog posts that are featured in a newsletter—and in conversations with people on different sides of this issue including various third-party models, attorneys, hoteliers and DMOs.

In fact, the discussion around the “agency” model of commission pay versus fees has been one on the list of futurists and others as a model that is not sustainable.

It even contributed to the demise of many travel companies.

AND I get it—the anger and frustration … why a cut in one’s projected income is a blow, in any situation. And while I understand the anger, I think that we are long overdue in discussing the model and even more overdue in showing how our segment of the hospitality industry has changed and why the commission model as we’ve known it may be outdated.

Our industry has no standards of how one is to be paid; it has been left to individuals and their clients to figure out. Right, we cannot discuss specific fee-setting amounts. But the equity or appropriateness of commissions for varied levels of services is verboten except in private conversations … in hushed tones especially when it is verified that someone will pay higher guest room rates or other costs because others received commission. Thus we each negotiate the scope of work, time and fees with clients directly.

While the voices are loud over a change in commission for some, I also know that no one has fought for those of us who work for fees—who conduct training (being told that instead of an appropriate honorarium we should “do it for the exposure”), select sites, design meetings, negotiate contracts and provide site management—to be paid what we’re worth by clients versus depending on room pickup to determine what we earn.

Though I know I’m not alone, it appears others that share my experiences and views on the problematic commission payment model for third-party planners are a minority.

Or at least, other than in a few examples I’ve seen, many are not speaking up.

My objections to the Marriott commission brouhaha and boycott center on these key points:

1. Not all third parties are equal: I’ve seen the work of many who do site selection only and in fact, do only “lead generation,” and who are not providing other services such as contract negotiation, meeting management, on-site management, etc.

I know that not all third parties have contracts with their clients and thus are not protected or even smart in how they work. I know because I’ve seen it—and been told by many—that people are in for a quick buck for even just recommending a property and expect to be paid and have found that being paid by hotels is a far easier way than doing more, such as contract negotiation.

(An incomparable example from years ago on an industry listserv: planners would post asking for recommendations of properties and third parties would copy the request, put it on letterhead and send to hotels as if it were their client and expect and receive commission for the lead generation).

Of course, it’s not all and yet, it seems to be a growing number. Without standards of operation or adherence to industry ethics policies (see point 5), there is no regulation on how people operate.

2. Legal and tax implications: As noted above, in the lawsuit in which I was involved as a defendant and in ones in which I’ve testified, commission can clarify or cloud the outcome. If it appears that one is making more as a result of a commission because a meeting cancels and moves or one hotel is selected over another because the commission is greater, it can if not in fact, in appearance, be a conflict of interest.

In talking with a third party that accepts commission and then rebates some or all to the client, I was curious about the tax (and ethical and legal) implications for both parties. The initial recipient of the (usually) larger amount is taxed on that amount. Those to whom a portion of that amount is rebated, are taxed on the lesser amount.

It’s not “free money” in any case.

In talking with Josh Grimes, Esq., an attorney on the group side for our industry, he said: “In terms of the boycott, I suppose that planners can do what they want.

“But if they are going to ignore Marriott [properties] in favor of other properties that pay higher commission, then planners may have an ethical and legal (i.e., remember Sarbanes-Oxley – SOX – accountability rules?) obligation to let their clients know that they aren’t going to evaluate properties solely on the basis of what’s best for the client, but that planner compensation will also be a factor.

“The client ought to consent to this different way of sourcing properties.

“I remember the days when I did SOX presentations, when planners rejected any notion that some might choose one property over another based upon the amount of commission paid. I was told repeatedly that professional meeting planners would never let commissions be a factor,” he added. “It appears that something has changed.

Lastly, I fear that with the deadline of March 31, 2018, for contract signing (when Marriott will pay less commission to some third parties than they had been), there will be rushed, bad contracts. Is there anyone still in the industry who doesn’t know what happens when contracts are rushed?

“Do-overs” are not easy when the terms are not well vetted.

3. Professionalism: Some have said that by paying some third parties less it means we are not well-regarded as professionals. C’mon! We have, sadly, never been.

And though platforms of various organizations have demanded we work harder at getting a “seat at the table”, by demanding commissions versus the seat, we are demeaning ourselves into commodities not professionals.

4. Boycotts: When a number of groups, including some of the clients with whom I work (and PCMA pre-emptively for Texas), said they would boycott cities or hotel companies or cancel meetings over the anti-transgender aka “bathroom bill” or other like civil and human rights policies and laws, there was much pooh-poohing that we were hurting cities, hotels and workers who were most impacted.

Somehow the “Say No to Marriott”—or #SayNotoMarriott if you’re on social media—boycott movement that is entirely about finances is acceptable.

In the case of the principle of cutting commissions to all but a few companies, it may in fact be principle. It is not being positioned as such.

5. Ethical implications: One of the organizations at the forefront of the protest about this change in commission amount does not have an ethics policy for its members though I, a past Chair of ASAE’s Ethics Committee, offered to help write one and the offer was refused (If I’m incorrect and one was created, my apologies. I couldn’t find it. Please provide the link in the comments).

Excerpts from major meeting and event industry organizations’ ethics policies could impact how the boycott of one brand is perceived:

The CMP Code of Conduct/Ethics is similar to others. In the CMP Code it says:

“As a recipient of the CMP designation by the Events Industry Council (‘Certificant’), a CMP must pledge to…

“Never use my position for undue personal gain* and promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.”

MPI’s Principles of Professionalism says this in the first section:

Avoid actions which are or could be perceived as a conflict of interest or for individual gain*

PCMA’s Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct has among its principles:

  • Respect the policies and regulations* of those organizations with whom I deal.
  • 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.*
  • Avoid any and all conflicts of interest* and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.

Emphasis is the blog author’s.

There are also ethical and business implications for those cities and properties marketing higher-than-Marriott’s new commission and the “woo-hooing” of such offers on social media. How sustainable will this be?

Will these offers be applied across the board to all third parties? What about groups that have internal planners and want a discount that would reflect what a commissionable agent would receive? Or want a rebate to equal what others might receive?

Or an internal planner who doing the same work a third-party might do believing they are due perks for the work?

I think the waters are being muddied even more with these offers.

6. Do what you say: I’m mainly looking at the third parties who have always maintained that they do not book based on what they make in commission and instead book based on what is best for the client. If one rules out an entire company—or is it the ownership of hotels or the management companies as well as the brand?—because the person or company booking isn’t making enough, then can this be true?

7. When other hotel brands or owners follow suit: What then? Will there be a boycott of all brands? Will only brands—or owners of particular hotels who agree to pay the highest commission be considered?

Can a sustainable business model for brands and owners be groups who use a commissionable agent plus a housing company that receives a share of the room rate plus groups who want rebates to off-set their costs plus concessions that, in fact are not “free” but have a dollar value? When and where will it stop?

I understand economics and earning a living and the arguments in favor of the “trickle-down” effect as it relates here—those who don’t earn more can’t employ others or spend more to grow the economy. But where then, is the outcry for a higher minimum wage for those in our industry, especially for back-of-the-house workers and servers?

Some have cited the new U.S. tax laws and Marriott’s profitability as a reason they should pay third parties more or at least what they were paying. Why should commissionable agents receive more than those doing the, literal, heavy lifting in hotels? Or is it that some want everyone paid and the owners and brands to take the hit?

Could Marriott have handled this differently?

You betcha! IF instead of a letter sent without, it seems, warning, there had been conversations (which it appears there were not or at least not that anyone is disclosing) with large and small third parties to discuss this.

IF owners (where is AHLA’s voice?) were saying what we think they must be—that they are demanding greater ROI, would that matter to the protesting voices?

Or is this back to let them take the hit—they are getting tax breaks?

IF this had been applied across the board and not exempting four companies, who have allegedly been granted an exclusion from the commission cut until 2020, would it have been more palatable?

IF those 4 companies said “whoa—let’s do this across the board versus just for some” because “what’s good for all is best for the industry” would this have been more acceptable?

Is it that those who are contractors for some of these companies, especially among those exempted, and groused before about their smaller share of total commission and now will get even less, adding fuel to this fire?

Is a boycott for financial reasons for oneself now Kosher?

Really. I am trying to understand all the different viewpoints … and how the focus is so much on this issue and not on, say, Puerto Rico and the suffering of so many including many in our industry. I’m seeking answers and ethics versus rancor.

I know this is a tough topic and that you may want to contribute comments and prefer to do so anonymously. Comment below and if you prefer to comment anonymously, please send your comments to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I promise to add to the discussion here and to ensure your privacy by, as always, not disclosing your identify to anyone.

Finally, here are some additional resources for planners to consider when confronting issues of ethics, payment and more:

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/306/how-to-network-and-ethically-do-business-in-a-relationship-industry

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/288/ethical-negotiations-an-oxymoron

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?
http://www.meetingstoday.com/newsletters/friday_with_joan/2016_08_05.html

Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Magazines/ArticleDetails/RegionID/0/ArticleID/28848

Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/191/is-our-industry-corrupt

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/280/when-laws-and-meetings-intersect-go-stay-or-boycott

Contracts: Accommodations (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4093

Contracts: Critical Clauses (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4091

9 Universal Truths About Our Industry

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog.  Sidebar refers to that publication

Universal Truth 1: “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.”

This Yiddish saying is widely translated as “Man plans and God laughs,” or further considered to mean, “Humans plan and the universe laughs.” Sounds like a universal truth about what we do for a living as meeting and event planners, doesn’t it?!

Most of us in the meetings industry consider ourselves to be so detail-oriented and precise. How could anything ever go wrong after countless hours of preparation, right?

I’ve always wondered about the influence of the universe on meetings and events. I mean, really—what about the storms that pop up when you’ve planned the perfect outdoor event? Or the client who, after you’ve done so much work on selecting a site for their meeting, changes the whole program? And I wonder if there are “universal truths” for what we do in an industry* we all refer to differently.

First, I had to gain a better understanding of what a “universal truth” is.

Truth is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and places. In this case, it is seen as eternal or as absolute. The relativist conception denies the existence of some or all universal truths, particularly ethical ones (through moral relativism).”

— Quoted from the “Universality (philosophy)” Wikipedia entry.

My reading about “universal truths” was extensive and you, I hope, will search more and consider what the term means for and to you and in your life. Through this blog, I’ll share my personal and professional universal truths; in this month’s Friday With Joan sidebar, you’ll read how many more “universal truths”—from here, often abbreviated “UT”—there may be for our industry, including what our industry is called*!

For most Friday With Joan newsletters, interviewing others is pure delight. Especially for this one, interviewing many of whom I’ve known and learned from and with for many years, gaining their perspectives of our UTs from a broad industry* was even more eye-opening, and allows us all to see possibilities that might not have occurred to us before.

This interview provides background and thoughts that you might not have known about me and may be of interest whether you’ve been in the industry for years, are new to the industry or are just starting to consider it.

Q1Why write this now?

Joan’s (JE’s) response: If you’re reading this on May 5, 2017, publication day, I’m just days away from a “major” (to me) birthday … which means either a “0”, a “5” or a “9”. With this blog post and a Friday With Joan newsletter coinciding with the occasion, and knowing I’ve lived certainly more than half my life and that of that life, more than 45 years have been spent in the meetings industry*, the editors and I thought a bit of Q&A, with sources unidentified, would make for a fun sidebar—if you can put names to each of the categories and send to me, I’ll award a prize for whomever gets them all right or at least the highest percentage overall!—and here with me might show the diversity of paths as a guideline to others.

More, I see our broad industry changing in many ways, such as with the growing belief that technology will solve all of our problems. Tech advancements impact everything from how we communicate and meet to the ways we deliver information, allowing connections we never imagined, except for in our “Buck Rogers-admiration days.”

Instead of paying travel costs for our speakers or to better accommodate conflicts in schedule, we might choose to bring them in via hologram. And it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that robots might one day staff the front desks at most, if not all, major hotels, resulting in the loss of an important entry-level role in hospitality. See the sidebar for more on the importance of the front desk to many careers.

Despite all of these “advancements” in hospitality and meetings, there are still a number of UTs that I believe will continue to hold true in our industry, regardless of technology.

Q2: In considering what a UT might be, it occurred the reasons given to the question “Why do you want to be a meeting planner?” might contain an answer. What is said and has been for years among those asked: “I love people. I’m great at details. I love to travel.” Are those then the universal truths of our industry?

JE2: I didn’t want to be a meeting planner and I tend to be uncomfortable in large groups of people. I’m good at word details but not all meeting details (I can do it but don’t love it), and travel? Feh! Born in Dayton, Ohio, to working-class and working outside-the-home-parents (now both of blessed memory) and into a neighborhood first economically and religiously diverse, and later, partly through my parents’ efforts, racially diverse, I am the proud product of public schools. A curious child who loved to read, an empathetic child and teen who wanted to fix the world, the options that I thought were open to me professionally were teacher, nurse, secretary, wife and mom.

Pictured below: One of my favorite pictures of myself back in the early days.

Q3: What do you think set you on the path—or destiny—to meetings and events?

JE3: I first organized events in the ’50s, creating street fairs to raise money for polio research when a neighbor, one of us who were in the test group for polio vaccines, contracted the disease. In high school, my activities included YWCA Y-Teens and statewide conferences of other young women, and the Dayton Junior Human Resource Council.

Later, stints as a volunteer for public television, where I was responsible for coordinating solicitation of items for on-air auctions, and at an art museum where we held museum-wide visual and performance art events, clearly put me on this still-unknown-to-me path.

Q4: What about formal education after high school?

JE4: It was expected I would go to college. I applied to only two schools. Accepted at both, I chose Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, because (beloved to this day!) James Payne, my high school speech teacher recommended it. He wanted me to go into theatre and Drake had a great drama department. Financially it was impossible: I typed papers and did others’ laundry to earn money to pay tuition. More, educationally, at Colonel White High School in Dayton, I’d been spoiled by Mr. Payne in speech who pushed me to be a better teacher and trainer; by Lenore Clippinger (now of blessed memory) who allowed me and others to sit on the floor of her English Literature class—my first exposure to learning in a different setting; to the still amazing and beloved Civics teacher, Stanley Blum, who put our chairs in a circle in class and invited us to his home to talk about current events; and to the artist, Bing Davis who allowed me to sit in his art room instead of the boring-row-on-row study halls. I thought college learning would be interactive and involving, experiential … not memorizing facts to spit back for tests.

It was not a good fit. I quickly learned that I was a life-long learner—that my curiosity and love of reading would ensure I was educated more if it were not in a school setting.

I learned later, of course, that meetings were one more form of “classroom” setting and decided I’d work to change those settings. For his work in this area, I’m grateful forever to Paul Radde, PhD, for his research and the book “Seating Matters”.

Universal Truth 2: The influences of your day-to-day life will give you clues about your passions and how you can use them.

Q5: Then what?

JE5: I moved back to Dayton to work at the local newspaper in advertising, at my old elementary school as a teacher’s aide, and volunteering for a nationwide organization as a spokesperson for optional parenthood on radio and TV and in organizing conferences with the likes of Hugh Downs, Isaac Asimov, Stewart Mott, Ellen Peck and others as guests. Exposed to a bigger world, I decided to leave Dayton and move to D.C. after just one visit to our nation’s capital. I’d interviewed for and didn’t get a job as a volunteer coordinator prior to moving. I moved to D.C. July 1, 1978, with no job and no apartment but a place to stay for a short period of time.

While interviewing for jobs (hearing “you have too much experience” for this entry level position; “you have too little experience” for this senior level position) I volunteered at the association at which I wasn’t hired. I spent time in the newly designed by I.M. Pei [who just celebrated his 100th birthday] East Wing of the National Gallery to cool off and to, just as I did in Bing Davis’ class, gain inspiration from art.

One day, the executive director at the association where I’d not been hired as a volunteer coordinator, called me in and suggested I was a “meeting planner,” a term I’d never heard, and offered me an opportunity to help them design and execute their 10th anniversary with an expanded annual meeting. I said yes.

Universal Truth 3: Read and learn. Resting on one’s educational laurels is not enough especially in a world and an industry* that changes and is changed minute by minute by internal and external factors.

Universal Truth 4: Listen to what others see in you. They are often right and will provide opportunities.

I eagerly embraced this opportunity and discovered, through a colleague from earlier volunteer experiences, the existence of MPI—then “Meeting Planners International,” oddly headquartered in Ohio just miles from where I’d left for D.C.

At my second Chapter [PMPI] meeting, me, a strong MBTI Introvert (an INFP), hugged the walls until the late and dear, Bill Myles, chair of the membership committee greeted me with “Hi! You’re new here. Want to join my committee?”

Universal Truth 5: Say yes to opportunities to volunteer to expand your network of people, ideas and learning. Take advantage of all that there is in the industry and your community to do to meet and expand skills in a safe environment.

During the next years, I joined other committees, was elected to the Chapter Board, to the Chapter Presidency, to the International Board and became involved in PCMA and GWSAE (once our local affiliate of ASAE).

Yes, it was hard work. Remember: this was still when we used typewriters, telephones and answering machines! (Isn’t it fun to make oneself sound ancient?!).

Oh, and I started my own consulting company in 1981, in the corner of my studio apartment, with an IBM Self-Correcting Selectric Typewriter, a filing cabinet, desk, phone and answering machine.

Universal Truth 6: If you come from an entrepreneurial family, which I did, or seek out entrepreneurs, learn from them and their experiences.

Understand how you work best—with others or alone? Collaboratively sometimes and at other times, quietly alone? Being a consultant—the term “independent planner” is still used by some; “third party planner” by others but not a term I favor—and working on one’s own is not for everyone. And it’s not necessarily the answer to what to do between jobs.

It should be a commitment to you and your clients.

I have always worked hard at learning more and becoming stronger in specific areas. As an example—in 1984, a client, my company, and I, individually, were sued because the client canceled a meeting. During this experience, I learned more (thank you, Jeff King, Esq., at the time the attorney for the CLC now EIC) about legal issues. That led to opportunities to testify in the industry as an expert witness which I continue to do.

Universal Truth 7: Our industry and the contractual issues with which we deal are complex. It is best to learn more and have an attorney on call to assist. This truth is not going away.

Q6: We know you as a trainer/teacher/writer/mentor as well as consultant. How did that happen?

JE6: Opportunities presented themselves to write, teach, facilitate process, and work in ways that I never considered when I first fell into—or was predestined to be in—this industry*. With each opportunity came a fast-beating heart and uncertainty that I could really do what was asked. I’m not sure what drove me though as I look at my Strengths, I think they show clearly who I am and why I do what I do. Were it not for Bob Dolibois, Tony Rutiggliano, and Dave McCann, Tyler Davidson, Mary Parish, and Eric Andersen, I’m not sure I’d have moved so deeply into the areas that clearly fit me. Thank you all.

Q7: You’ve been recognized by many with awards and other honors. Did that propel you to keep doing more?

JE7: I’m smiling—one of my first national honors was from MPI as “Planner of the Year.” On the night I received that, an industry veteran came over to me and said “Well, I guess you won’t volunteer more now that you’ve gotten the honor” implying I did what I did for recognition. Nope, that was in 1990 and 27 years later, I’ve not stopped!

The honors have been appreciated—CIC (now EIC) inducted me into the Hall of Leaders; PCMA as Teacher of the Year and, much later, PCMA’s Foundation recognized me for lifetime achievement recognition as an educator, to date the only non- full-time academic to be so honored. The International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) honored me twice—first with the Pyramid Award for contributions to education and then with the Mel Hosansky Award, an honor I treasure because Mel was such a mensch and great industry writer and publisher. And HSMAI included me in the first class—with Jim Daggett, Keith Sexton-Patrick, and the late and wonderful, Doris Sklar of Pacesetters. There have been others and yet, I don’t work for honors. I work because I believe in ability to bring people together to solve problems, learn and enhance their lives.

Universal Truth 8: If you volunteer only for resume credit or a potential honor, think again. Consider what you can contribute back to strengthen our industry and how we are seen and what meetings do to strengthen the world.

Q8: So now what? You’re at an age when many—in other fields—retire. In fact, a friend of yours, a CPA, was required by what was once one of the “Big 8” accounting firms to retire at 62. Why haven’t you and will you soon?

JE8: Oh there are days on which I’d like to “retire”—to read and discuss what others are reading; to stay in bed a bit later and not have deadlines for contracts and presentations; to not travel with all the ensuing hassles now that I have some health issues that make it all a bit harder. But why retire when there is still so much to do in this industry and the world? Why retire until we stop setting chairs in straight rows and while there are still all male panels at industry events? Why retire when there are laws (like in North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere) that impact the rights of those who come to meetings and work in our industry and communities? When climate change must be fought because some of our favorite cities for meetings are sinking?

As I looked at those who I randomly chose to interview for the sidebar, I was surprised at the ages and the lack of full retirement of only a few, even the oldest who is nearly 90! We need history to not repeat and we need future thinking to move us ahead. Perhaps, then…

Universal Truth 9: Together we can change the world through gatherings of people and to do so we must have those who are committed to coordinating the content, technology, venues, and all aspects of those gatherings be they meetings, marches, rallies, special events, tradeshows, or just a meeting of two over coffee.

*You’ll see that some call this the “hospitality industry,” others “the meetings industry,” and depending on the segment in which they work, tradeshows or exhibitions.  My preference is “meetings and hospitality” because that’s where I am and what’s understood. I wonder if we need a new term that encompasses some universal truths!

What’s your Universal Truth about your work and our industry?

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