HOW many times throughout the course of our adult lives have we seen signs warning “Enter at Your Own Risk,” liability waivers posted at the entrance to a high-intensity amusement attraction, cautions that theatrical or movie experiences may present images that are “too intense for young viewers,” and other disclaimers for the benefit of attendee safety?
With the advent of the Internet, we are seeing more and more unsuspecting and eager people misled into paying their hard-earned money to get a “quick” education or certification, believing they will be an event “professional” tomorrow. It is disconcerting to many in the event and meeting management industry to receive a rash of e-mail “pushes,” errant “pop-up” offers or highlighted sites when utilizing search engines touting the “sexiest and hottest new career.” Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP, author of the book “Professional Event Coordination,” recently forwarded me a link stating:
“If you can:
- Write down a list of tasks
- Delegate them to others
- Read at a 9th grade (or better) level; and
- Get along with people
… then you have all the skills you need to successfully manage your event business! If you've got a mere $40 to invest and just 90 minutes of time to see what I'm talking about, you can turn it into $20,000 a month or more with your own event and party planning business!”
Needless to say, people within our industry who have seen this link are not only incensed, but have asked the poignant question, “What can we do to raise the bar in public and professional perception about our industry to dispel this dumbed-down myth?”
SAVING BAD APPLES?
Silvers, originator of the EMBOK (Event Management Body of Knowledge) Project and four-time ISES Esprit award-winner for Best Industry Contribution, states: “The status of event management as a profession is in progress. The development of a profession includes defining a body of knowledge including theory and skills; developing ‘good’ or ‘best’ practice guidance standards and ethics by those working in the occupation; disseminating these through education, training, and associated certification or qualification programs; and sanctions imposed on the unqualified or substandard performers. It is the last item that our industry as a whole has neglected. There is no mechanism, other than market rejection, to remove those who do not understand the scope and responsibilities associated with event planning, which jeopardizes the credibility of those who are qualified and responsible.”
If you are a member of ISES or other organizations such as MPI, your membership mandates an ethical responsibility as professionals for the safety and well-being of attendees at your events. Yet there are also those who purport to be professionals at some very surprisingly high-profile venues, associations, nonprofit organizations and corporations who have yet to grasp the magnitude of responsibility we assume for attendee safety in our professional endeavors, and to discern what truly is and isn't a “successful” event.
Some savvy organizations pay lip service to professionalism by incorporating such language into their ethical statements of responsibility, yet without adhering to safe standards of event management and execution. In many instances, inexperienced employees find themselves accidentally catapulted into the role of planner by the nebulous phrase “other duties” in their job description, versus actually pursuing the industry as a career path. They then hold the safety of sometimes thousands of event attendees in the palm of their hand. Ill-equipped and unprepared, they are soon treading water in the deep end of the event management pool.
How many of you live in markets where someone who owns a venue decides it would be a great idea to run their own certification program, turning out ill-prepared graduates into the field as “certified event and/or wedding planners”? This setup creates dual revenue streams, as these operations collect tuition, pay no salaries and then expect their “graduates” to bring all their business to their facilities utilizing venue “partners” to work off a straight nominal commission structure. All the while, they are misleading clients by advertising “free event planning” when in fact they're taking undisclosed commissions and/or markups from their venue “partners and tenants.”
Recently, an event took place in the Midwest garnering much negative publicity, which in turn brought a flurry of intense discussion on major industry bulletin boards. An organization marketing an event where attendees paid $30 to enter an art museum to sip martinis and graze at food stations has undergone a great deal of scrutiny as to whether or not it exercised prudence in the planning and execution of the event.
Official sponsors paid fees to showcase their food as wholesale and retail beverage houses brought high-end vodkas to be sampled at the event, hoping it would give them branding exposure. Local bands performed throughout the night, featuring their talents gratis. This appears on the surface to be a big moneymaker for the organizer with minimal out-of-pocket expenditures. But the local newspaper had a field day with follow-up writing on what an “event disaster” this was. In contacting the organizer for rebuttal to these claims, calls were not returned by the organizations at press-time.
Apparently, as the young, upwardly mobile 30-something attendees pounded martinis, vendors ran out of product, so sponsors began pouring straight vodka for the balance of the evening. Brawls ensued; priceless statues were not only fondled, but fondled and photographed with camera phones, while other guests were purging what they consumed around and about the facility. It was also reported the event attendance exceeded safe occupancy.
Many conflicting stories between the venue and organizers have created a chasm of confusion, all documented in the media, resulting in the erosion of the image of our profession as a whole. The organizers have deemed this event a whopping success, dismissing negative publicity as over-dramatization, and plan to do it even bigger and better next year.
A MATTER OF DEGREES
Legitimate educational institutions offering certificates, associate's degrees, bachelor's, master's and even Ph.D.s are all over the country with stringent academic criteria endorsed by ISES and/or MPI. Looking at the job posting boards through our industry outlets and other internet vehicles, we are seeing more and more that CMP, CSEP and CMMs are becoming “preferred” in job postings.
While this may sound like alphabet soup to the outside world, our profession is in need of a “push” to let our clients, peers and strategic partners know what our profession, continuing education and certifications are really about. As fellow professionals, we each share in the responsibility of shouting from the rooftops as we educate others that, “If we stand for nothing, we'll fall for anything.” Our message targets prospective future planners, fellow professionals, suppliers and, as always, our clients. Speak up and speak out — or enter at your own risk.
Gloria Nelson is president of Winnecone, Wis.-based Gloria Nelson Event Design. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]; www.nelsoneventdesign.com.