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The Meeting Planner Identity Crisis or “We Ain’t Got No Respect”

This is a topic that has been brewing inside me for sometime. Certain incidents bring this feeling of dismay and frustration. The most recent story about the IRS prompted me to blog about this.

Frankly, the general public, government and many other entities don’t understand :

  • The importance of holding meetings, events  and conferences.
  • The importance of hiring as staff or outsourcing qualified planners
  • The importance of the learning outcome of these events
  • The importance of not going for the bottom dollar, but the best value that meets the objectives of the meeting
  • The importance of not necessarily going with “this week’s flavor”

The following news items, in particular, irk me:

  • Recent stories about the GSA’s many site visits
  • Recent stories about the IRS videos

Here’s why. Let’s start with the GSA. Clearly, they over stepped their bounds, which means that there was absolutely no oversight. This does not mean that it’s wrong to go on a site visit to determine the best venue for your meeting, but it also does not mean that everyone  on staff needs to go. They also don’t need to go for as many visits as the press reported.

However, very often, a second visit to the selected property is generally a good idea in order to do a walk through with vendors to be sure that all is understood. Again, the entire department need not attend.

This also doesn’t mean that they can’t stay in decent hotels. Many of the personal perks those in charge received are not any different than corporate folks receive.  However, from my sparse knowledge of government contracting, many of those perks could be looked at as bribes. The planners should experience some of the activities that the group in which the group will be participating.

Conference attendees usually receive branded items from sponsors, but it sounds like the GSA paid for all of them and there were far too many. Definitely not needed. OK, maybe everyone needs a conference bag and an agenda. Of course, branded sponsor items, once again does not look very good in these cases.

There’s nothing wrong with team building. Even government workers need that, but are these team building programs chosen with purpose or are they chosen, because they sound like fun. I don’t know the details for the bike building team building program, but most of those are a prelude to a charity donation. Was this one?  If so, it’s not a bad idea. The press could have jumped on only part of the story.

It does seem like a high planning fee from the outsourced company, but if that company is on the GSA list, then they had been vetted long before the conference and selected from other GSA suppliers.  I won’t detail how being a GSA contractor works, but it is a very different way of contracting.

Was there an actual purpose for the conference? What were the outcomes to be developed, if any. This is something that needs to be addressed, before the pricing and the silly perks. Did the conference result in better work flow for the GSA? Better team spirit? Better understanding of what the job of the GSA is? More efficiency?

Let’s go to the more recent IRS fiasco.  That Star Trek video must have been fun for them, but what was the purpose? Was it a team building exercise? Did it have a message for IRS employees? That’s not in the news. Probably a video did not need to be produced. There are tons of less expensive team building programs and ways of introducing teamwork concepts.

The bottom line on all this, is the meeting planner and all the folks that work with them to produce a conference that is worthwhile have been hurt badly. This profession has never been properly respected by the public or government anyway. Most people think that it’s easy to do what we all do and not worth paying a person or a company for this, or if they do outsource, there is concern on spend.


Our industry needs to and MUST find ways to educate our Federal and State Governments as well as Corporate America on the value of meetings and in particular the value of a good qualified professional planner. Not until that happens successfully will government or corporations have meetings that are valuable to all stakeholders. Not until then will the profession of meeting and event planning be respected.

What would YOU do, to help to change the perception of our industry? What should WE, as an industry do?