This is the first in a two-part series.
U.S.-based meeting planners can learn a thing or two about creativity from their overseas counterparts, even though they enjoy advantages in other areas, a corporate planner based in The Netherlands contends.
To get an idea of how similar – and how different – work life is for meeting planners on the other side of the Atlantic, Travel Market Report spoke with Alise Long, CMM, manager, corporate events & meetings for DSM, a life sciences company in Heerlen.
Long is responsible for organizing meetings and events for the company’s managing board as well as various other departments.
She recently conceived and led the organization of a global event involving all 22,000 DSM employees at its locations worldwide.
How does The Netherlands compare to the U.S. in terms of professional recognition for planners and their professionalism and sophistication?
Long: We are catching up. We use a lot of knowledge and examples from the U.S. and MPI. Because of globalization, we are becoming more international and sharing knowledge across regions.
From what I have seen, the U.S. systems are more advanced – for example, registration, ROI, SMMP systems. These systems are now starting to get attention in Europe.
Thanks to globalization at DSM, I am now exposed almost every day to different ways of working on other continents. This is giving me more exposure to the knowledge of professionals in other countries.
What are some differences globally that you see in meetings?
Long: In my view, Europeans are more creative with their meetings and events.
As a simple example, our starting point with finding a suitable destination and venue is determining whether it will provide our guests with the right feeling and the right experience, and not with how much it will cost.
While processes and systems in the U.S. are more advanced, planners there might learn from Europe and Brazil about creativity and experiences.
And let’s not forget about Asia, which has an advantage because materials and labor are much cheaper. There you can do more within your budget. On top of that, the service mindset is, in my experience, the best in the world.
Who are meeting planners in The Netherlands? Is there a typical pathway to becoming a planner?
Long: Similar to the U.S., planners in The Netherlands typically have worked in a communications, marketing or hospitality function prior to moving into meeting planning.
Most planners I know have a degree in communications, marketing, hospitality or tourism management. There are a few planners who started out getting involved in event management as an executive assistant or secretary.
How did you get started?
Long: After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in hotel management, I joined a friend to establish a company specializing in protocol and etiquette in The Hague.
There I began organizing meetings and events. Our clients included foreign missions, Dutch ministries and the Dutch royal family.
How has the profession evolved in terms of the nature of the job and the role?
Long: The recognized value of the corporate meeting planner has significantly increased in Europe over the last decade.
Interest in the CMP and CMM designations is growing. However, they are not as well-known or financially valued in Europe as in the U.S.
Because there is usually only one corporate planner in a business or area, and because this is a highly specialized profession, you have to take ownership of your own career development and cannot rely upon a personnel manager or department head to provide much help or direction.
MPI really fills the gap here with networking, education and development opportunities specific to planners.
How has the role of planners evolved at your own company?
Long: Within DSM, we have begun to connect our in-house planners so that we can network, develop and collaborate.
We have seen our role becoming more important for our company because of the increasing importance of meetings and events to connect with internal and external stakeholders.
This means we have to think and act more strategically to keep pace with the demands of our client colleagues.
How has your own job evolved?
Long: What I do today is not what I was doing nine years ago when I started. My job and responsibilities are much broader now. They have become much more global and strategic. My function description has been rewritten three or four times since I joined the company, each time with positive results.
How important has MPI involvement been for you?
Long: An essential part of my professional development has been my membership and involvement in MPI. I became a member in 1997 after attending MPI’s European Professional Education Conference in Amsterdam.
Participation in the MPI network and attendance at MPI education events continue to be extremely valuable to me both professionally and personally.
How does pay for meeting professionals compare?
Long: In a lot of companies there remains a misperception that meeting and event planning can be accomplished by a secretary, assistant or part-timer. This unfortunately has a negative influence on how the value of our profession is perceived.
Next time: Long discusses top trends affecting planning in the Netherlands and the impact of technology.