Ms. McCullough

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

The Gifts That Keep on Giving All Career Long

By Lynn McCullough, Director of Meetings & Association Management, CMA Association Management

As the holidays approach and another year comes to a close, it's only natural to reflect on what we have, or maybe more appropriately, what we have received. In the business arena, careers are enriched and rewarded in a variety of ways. For those of us in the hospitality industry, a person's successful career path is not enhanced and bolstered in a vacuum. Rather, it is a product of knowledge mixed with many varied and diverse relationships. For the Convention Services Manager (CSM), a convention bureau, hotel, convention center, or arena/special facility employee, one's career growth can be stunted without the receipt of a few "gifts." For those who have found ACOM (Association for Convention Operations Management), these gifts just keep on giving. Since its "The Season," consider the following gifts that organizations, like ACOM, provide 365 days a year:

Sharing Creative Ideas

There are many different kinds of meeting planners and hotel executives, but the cream of the crop are those who go above and beyond the call of duty to do their jobs with creativity. Getting together with your peers through organized events within the industry affords great opportunities to learn what your peers have done recently to really wow their clients. Beverley Totten, Vice President of Services & Membership at the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, says she and her colleagues try to show visitors a city exclusive; an up-close and personal look they might not have explored on their own. "We have arranged for private dinner parties underneath the Gateway Arch for a few different groups that allowed for a real one-of-a-kind experience," says Totten. "Guests can even ride up to the top of the Arch during this event. Rather than the traditional sight-seeing tour, we have been able to arrange events with a creative twist to really enhance the guests' perception of the city."

ACOM members share ideas on how to make a lasting impression on a regular basis through conferences, educational Webinars and Lunch & Learn sessions. Some members recently shared details on pulling out all the stops by taking prospects on helicopter tours of their city. Being able to network with some of the best creative minds in the business, members benefit from being active in their professional community.

Training

Who knew learning could be so much fun? The gift of learning through training sessions and educational workshops helps drive the industry's incentive to achieve and keeps us motivated. Like many industry organizations, ACOM offers an array of different ways for professionals in the hospitality industry to continue their education. Other than the educational sessions and speeches at the Annual Conference, ACOM members participate in Lunch & Learns and Webinars from the comfort of their own offices. Through these training methods, members are able to gain perspective to better understand our clients.

Marie Lou Coupal, CMP, of Queen Elizabeth Fairmont Hotel in Montr'eal, Canada said "For the CMPs to gain shared knowledge and get the best practices, the Lunch & Learns and Webinars are great for the whole team. For a minimum cost we can all come together in one office, and it gives us the credits we need for our CMP certification or recertification."

Insight

By participating in associations, meeting and hotel industry professionals can gain insight and perspective into their careers. As a different kind of education, this insight allows us to see what challenges our peers face and helps to continually raise the bar on the quality of service we provide every day.

"I am a firm believer that service is what makes or breaks an event. I consider myself as being part of an elite group of service providers who care deeply about our work," said Sandra Daudlin, DMP and Manager of Client Services at Tourism Toronto.

Mentoring and Relationships

Almost no one makes it to where they are without a little help from someone who has been there before. The gift of career mentoring is one that is most valuable, especially when making decisions about when to move on from a current position or when to pursue additional education, like the CMP designation.

Denise Suttle, CMP, Assistant Director of Convention Services for Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, had the experience of working one on one with a fellow meeting planner. Suttle worked with Katherine J. Smith, CMP, of the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine. "Kathy was a strong advocate of the CMP program and was a firm believer in the value of making a partner of CSMs at all hotels, CVBs and convention centers that she worked with," said Suttle. She continued to say, "When she worked with me on her Albuquerque annual convention, her utterly professional approach to every aspect of meeting planning, her onsite skills with managing staff, thoroughly documented history and precise event planning documents were a revelation to me. She inspired me to learn as much as I could about meeting planning, so that I could be a better resource for the planners I work with in the future."

Fun

Conferences are a time of sharing ideas and learning about industry trends, but they also present great bonding opportunities with peers through outings and sight-seeing tours. "Being members and attending events brings us all a little closer. Each event is always a memorable one," said Daudlin.

The fun factor is essential in this business and is an important component in making a lasting impression on clients, prospective clients and meeting attendees. Getting involved in associations and their conferences allows meeting professionals and hotel event organizers a chance to see the flip-side of the meeting. Gaining perspective on dine-arounds and sight-seeing tours combines work and fun, and jogs creativity for the next event or meeting to be planned.

Status and Opportunity

In this service-oriented industry, organizers who help run behind-the-scenes activities often deserve to have a spotlight shined on them when they make good and desirable things happen. Achieving a CMP designation helps project this spotlight for clients and peers to see, and is a satisfying achievement of status within the meetings community. The CMP designation can be attained by working hard, taking cues from your mentor, participating in association events, and doing well on the exam.

"My mentor, Kathy, was the one who inspired me to earn the designation and continues to be a source of friendship and guidance," said Suttle who is now a CMP. Many other ACOM members attribute their success to the CMP designation and feel that the sense of accreditation has opened many doors along their career paths that may not have been available to them before.

Networking

The value of working with others who face the same challenges you do, who have been where you have been, is immeasurable. Networking, or the recently coined term "intellectual capital," has proven to be one of the most important benefits of joining an association. Interestingly enough, intellectual capital is a very accurate way to describe the way those in the meetings industry network; a group of professionals come together to build relationships in order to ultimately increase their individual worth.

"Being a part of ACOM has allowed me to network with some of the best service providers in North America and dive into their best practices. Being a member of ACOM is like having 500 other people at your finger tips, that do the same exact thing you do," said Daudlin. "We are constantly in touch and it is fantastic to have this pool of expertise available to you."

Networking is equally, if not more, valuable to those just starting their careers in the meetings industry. Through job banks, career fairs and career guidance, college students who would like to pursue the meeting professional career path have resources to turn to for guidance.

While there are many gifts to be received from joining an association, one thing is clear: knowledge mixed with varied and diverse relationships is the key to a successful career. Through association participation, CSMs, convention bureaus, and hotel and arena facility professionals can obtain the best knowledge through working closely with their peers while reinforcing the customer service backbone of the hospitality industry. Whether your focus is ferreting out a housing issue to aid a meeting planner in avoiding hotel attrition issues, finding an off-site venue that meets the organization's needs without busting the budget, or creating an effective welcome program, we all work together to validate what sales managers propose to the client in the first place: "You've come to the right place!"

Lynn McCullough is the director of meetings and association management at CMA Association Management, where she provides leadership to association clients on both a national and international scale while overseeing all meeting planning activities and service offerings, ranging from Board of Director relations, strategic development, growth programs, management of association publications and websites, and event planning and management including promotion, programming, and logistics. Ms. McCullough can be contacted at 609-297-2235 or lmccullough@cmasolutions.com Extended Bio...

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