When Marriott announced in late January that it would be reducing group commissions, David Bruce, managing partner at CMP Meeting Services, rallied independent planners by creating LinkedIn and Facebook groups under the name Meeting Planners Unite, where members could share their concerns about the changes. Those groups grew quickly and so did Bruce’s intentions. Deciding that the voices on social media needed a more permanent home and more robust resources, the idea of founding an association for independent planners took hold. Now in the early stages, Bruce is convening informational calls to talk to independents about his ideas for the Meeting Planners Unite association and to answer questions. (The next calls are Friday, March 15, at noon and 1 p.m. ET. For information, email [email protected]) We talked to Bruce about his motivation and his vision for the group.
MeetingsNet: Hundreds of independent planners joined your LinkedIn and Facebook groups, but why do independent planners need an association of their own with all the other industry associations on the scene?
David Bruce: We have over 1,000 members of our two social media groups, and many of these are migrating over to the association. Meeting Planners Unite is the first group to lobby for the independent planner. Most other industry groups are influenced by the sponsors who donate to the organization. Meeting Planners Unite focuses on the betterment of the independent planner; from our lobbying effort to our charitable component, our goal is to keep the focus on independent meeting planners.
MeetingsNet: Besides commission cuts, what do you see as the biggest issues facing independents today?
Bruce: You must build your foundation before constructing the building. Make sure you have a strong foundation of financing in place before you take the leap from your current job to running a business as an independent planner. The lack of financial stability is the main reason why independents are not successful; they have a client or two to start with, but they don’t have the staying power when the economy falters or clients change directions.
You must understand business trends and react to them as quickly as possible. You can’t be stuck in one system or in one category of business. Our annual conferences [none scheduled as yet] will bring in business leaders who have a great understanding of how to build and sustain a business.
You must be able to loosen the reins and not be so independent. Any good team is comprised of many members who, together, form the basis of a good team. Our goal with this association is to develop the skills necessary to know when to work independently and when to draw from the experiences of others.
MeetingsNet: What do you see as the greatest challenges to forming a viable, new association?
Bruce: The biggest challenge was to decide what was lacking from the other organizations and how we would address those challenges. Meeting Professionals International, the Professional Convention Management Association, and the other great organizations each have their niche. We believe that our model will have its own niche and will become an organization dedicated to independent planners. We are first and foremost a not-for-profit corporation whose membership has the association as their spokesperson.
MeetingsNet: What does success look like for this new association five years down the road?
Bruce: The association will develop members’ business skills as well as lobby for the independent planner. As we continue to grow, different issues will surface, but the individual planner’s level of professionalism, both within the industry and in the marketplace, will improve each year.
Whether the economy is at a high point as it is now, or in a downturn, small businesses are affected by many factors. From a family member in distress to a natural disaster in their area, bad things can happen to even the best businesses. Our goal is to be there to assist members during these downturns, perhaps with no-interest loans, or outright gifts, or an offer to pay another member to handle a meeting for them during the crisis period. We also hope to start scholarships for college students who want to become meeting and event planners.
These two areas alone will be the focus of our business model for years to come. It will be the legacy that I leave this industry with and what will help sustain the industry moving forward.