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Planner profiles.

Jim Daggett normally gets to work at five in the morning. Jane Hynes doesn't wince at 4:30 a.m. Joan Eisenstodt remarks that she doesn't "always stay sane. There are moments when I truly lose it." And Cathy Brown reads since time management books to relax. Bananas? If you shrugged, you're probably a meeting planner too.

Besides too little sleep, how is a meeting professional's day defined? What does success look like? How do you get there? These five interviews represent five facets of the association meeting field: an association meetings and education division, a convention center, an association management company, a hotel convention services department, and an association meeting consultant.

James R. Daggett

"Make the registrants happy" is certified meeting professional Jim Daggett's criterion for designating priorities at the Society of Critical Care Medicine, Anaheim, California, where he is director of programs. "It's an excellent program if the attendees don't realize the heartache the staff went through" to make it happen. "That means we're up at 3 a.m. to stuff binders if that's when we can do it," Daggett says.

"Like most planners, I have a hard time delegating. I'm frustrated when something's not done as I'd do it." Daggett says he tends "to run on adrenaline," and he starts the day "usually at 5 or 6 a.m. to take advantage of two or three hours of peace." He and the program's staff of five work a four-day week, "but then it's travel or programs on the weekend. I lose myself in ASAE and MPI [Meeting Planners International, Dallas]. That's play for me. Speaking is vacation for me." Daggett laughs and adds that hiss boss "constantly sends me memos about burnout.

"Thank God I've got the staff I have," he exclaims. "Everybody works as a team, and that makes it real easy. No, I don't want to say that. It makes it possible."

After five years in association meeting planning, six in corporate, and six in hotels, Daggett believes "association planners are very fortunate: The majority of associations know key need a professional. But they've go to get beyond coffee cup counting. Get into programming, marketing, and member trends. Too many planners just do site logistics," he grumbles. "We don't have to be low on the totem pole: We're responsible for incredible resources. Look at that as a power base," Daggett admonishes fellow planners, "and treat this as an entrepreneurial business."

Make that point - politely - with hotels, too, he recommends. "Say what you're looking for. You'll get frustrated with hotels used to dealing with secretaries, not a certified meeting planner. Do everything in writing," he adds. "The days of handshake contracts are over, but handshake addenda are not: It's scary when you get into a shouting match."

Jane F. Hynes

Managing association conventions as event coordinator for the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Boston is "very labor intensive, but rewarding in every aspect," says Jane Hynes. "I work with meeting planners for a year to a year and a half. We become family, and I'm honestly sad to see them leave."

The challenges for Hynes with each new convention are personal and practical. "You really have to mold your personality to the group, while also making sure your facility works and your staff does well." Hynes says a big hurdle is reassuring people the convention center's three floors will work logistically. "With the [American] Public Works Association last year, for example, the show is all equipment that weighs tons, and it's on the second floor." Conveniently, Hynes had learned what her floors would bear and how to distribute the weight during the elevator contractors' show.

Says Hynes, "You have to anticipate, be prepared to compensate for the planner's lack of planning." Resourcefulness is key. Recently a client claimed she had sent her show management materials by Federal Express for Saturday delivery. "We didn't receive them," Hynes relates. "She insisted I get the boxes in by Sunday, so I called every Fed Ex office in the book until I found a dispatcher who would drive over to the warehouse and pick them up." She sighs. "The planner is always right."

Another month, "when the plastic surgeons were here," Hynes says, a laugh lurking in her throat, "they claimed they had ordered pigs' feet from food services for an experiment in cutting out ears. Food services said they hadn't ordered. I called up the Sheraton and begged them for pigs' feet." She ran next door to pick up 25 and deliver them to the session.

Hynes can handle it. "My next big challenge is the Produce Marketing Association, getting rid of 85,000 pounds of trash at the end of the show. But I've had some experience with that."

Catherine Brown, CAE

Anthony J. Jannetti, Inc., Pitman, New Jersey, where Cathy Brown is vice president of meeting services, is an association management company. Brown produces 70 meetings a year for 22 different groups. She's enabled in that charge by working "for a true entrepreneur who believes it decentralized management," Brown affirms. "He lets the vice presidents run their divisions."

During her 10 years at the firm, Brown - who chairs ASAE's Conventions and Expositions Section - has pruned and fertilized her skills and affiliations to suit a special meeting niche: health care. In 1989 she received her nursing degree and CAE designation. "As a nurse working with nursing associations, I understand what they need to achieve in course content. Belonging to a nursing association, I keep up with the profession, so I sound intelligent when I talk to a board," Brown remarks.

Belonging to the group she serves delivers a particular satisfaction. "It's exciting to watch new leaders develop and grow. I contribute to nurses' personal development. It's quite rewarding."

Demarcation of roles is an issue for an association management company. Brown's priority is to "help the client understand that our role is to augment staff and volunteers, not threaten." Still, "We say our biggest competitor is the association itself: We help them grow and then they hire their own staff. I've learned it's a double-edged sword because our responsibility is to help, but we don't want to put ourselves out of business."

Collegiality over territoriality is a lesson Brown also endorses in the association-hotel relationship. "We don't see our hotel counterparts as colleagues. We don't understand what they have to achieve, and they're between a rock and a hard place in his economy. We planners have to understand that everyone is in it for the long term and develop relationships," Brown asserts.

"Professional associations [for the meeting industry] help develop partnerships between the hospitality industry and executives. Everybody needs to be educated, and it really helps when we can be educated in the same room."

Education is also Brown's bailiwick. She's spent 7 of her 10 years at Jannetti in school. This year, "I'm just auditing a finance course. School is a diversion," Brown says. Taking time for school is a way to combat the street of the job. "Time management is a personal interest."

Geoff Dirksen

The convention coordinator at Washington, D.C.'s ITT Sheraton Washington Hotel doesn't mention he's a serious amateur juggler. (Joan Eisenstodt reveals that, in tones of admiration and envy.) It's a splendid qualification for the job.

Certified meeting professional Dirksen's favorite convention was for La Leche League International, Franklin Park, Illinois. "The hotel was bedlam," he recalls. "They had 2,200 attendees, all breast-feeding women. We had 2,100 infants 1-5 years old, 1,700 children 5-11, 1,200 teens, and fathers." Child-proofing the hotel meant "filling in gaps in all the glass railings, no glass in the sleeping rooms, and plugging up outlets they could stick fingers in," Dirksen explains with good humor.

In addition to "dealing with 29 different committees for the convention," Dirksen says, "at the same time the Washington Hilton had a fire and closed, so the Sheraton took in the Campus Crusaders for Christ, too." Juggling comes in the line of duty.

Dirksen chose meeting planning after a long stint as sound engineer at the Washington Cathedral, Washington, D.C., because "it's one of the few areas that makes use of the mind in a logical, precise way and also deals with a lot of different people. You can see a project from inception to completion, and it's your product. You walk away clean at the end."

Dirksen sees technology as planners' biggest challenge. "Communication is changing between the convention services manager and the association planner. Before we wrote a letter; now we send a fax. At Sheraton, we're heading toward e-mail," he remarks. "The challenge there is to separate electronic communication from person-to-person talk. We don't want to get lost in the electrons and lose touch."

Despite thinking more homogeneous communication "will be easier but less exciting," Dirksen has been honored for his contribution to an in-house manual and training program standardizing the convention management departments of every Sheraton property. "We've put 175 convention managers through training so far," he says. "So now the meeting planner knows to ask for the convention service manager and knows what that means." Working on the program has been gratifying, Dirksen owns, "but the best part was talking to those 175 people."

Such standardization - and analogously, certification - is a telling trend, Dirksen holds. "More people see convention services as a profession now, not just a route to something else. That [MPI's] certified meeting professional program now includes convention service managers speaks volumes on how we're seen in the industry. That was little revolution," he says. "We're no longer the little sister of sales."

Joan L. Eisenstodt

At her 25th high school reunion, people told Joan Eisenstodt they remembered her as a kindergartner marshaling her classmates. She was the kid saying, "You go here, and you go over there." "I've always liked to organize," Eisenstodt deadpans.

She does it well. Eisenstodt was honored as MPI's meeting planner of the year in 1991. She is president of Joan Eisenstodt Associates, Washington, D.C., and she is vice president of the committee planning ASAE's Management and Meetings Forum '92 (previously ASAE's Spring Convention & Exposition). And she takes time to read: "All the industry trade publications, the business magazines, the daily paper, if I travel then USA Today and the local paper, and I try to watch the evening news." Her voice is sometimes almost breathless, as if she takes the air only between projects.

The 10-year-old firm plans meetings for nonprofits, "mostly public interest groups," Eisenstodt adds, "education, arts, housing, women's organizations. They find me by word of mouth." Why that focus? This is a way to make a contribution and also do meeting planning."

Besides an avenue for community service - "lots of pro bono work," she notes - Eisenstodt's clients bring her a strong sense of community. "I have wonderful clients," she says. "When my father died, one of them made matzo ball soup, put it in zip-lock bags, and sent it to me overnight."

Of her association planner peers, Eisenstodt thinks "many are not good about self-education. Reading the news is important because if you don't know what's going on, you can't do your job. If you don't know about a strike in Canada, you also don't know how mail and air travel will be affected.

"Lots of planners are narrowly focused. They see their jobs as logistics," Eisenstodt continues. "To work with vendors you need to ask what they need from you and how they make money - what are the implications for your negotiation?

It's her understanding of and commitment to the industry that earned her MPI's award. She knows because she's served on the awards committee before. "I'm humbled and embarrassed by it," Eisenstodt says. "I do good work for the sake of good work. But we all want recognition," she acknowledges.

She enjoys the honor and exploits it with good humor: "I was with a client recently talking about long-term plans, and I finally said, |Doug, you have to do it may way because I'm meeting planner of the year.'"

Kristin Staroba is senior editor of Association Management. For more information on related topics or ASAE's Conventions and Expositions Section, call Barbara Silversmith at (202) 626-2789.
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Title Annotation:meeting professionals
Author:Staroba, Kristin
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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