Return to recovery: A teeter-totter ride awaits us

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Return to recovery: A teeter-totter ride awaits us

By MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM | Jan 4, 2022

The past two years have certainly been a classic teeter-totter ride, moving back and forth between lockdown and the return of face-to-face events. While various organizations have successfully produced face-to-face events over the past few months without incident, others still hesitate to return to in-person events.

From a risk standpoint, risk management and COVID-19 protocols to protect event participants remain a critical element of event planning and production. At the same time, an even larger barrier to return is the loss of people—both planners and suppliers—from the hospitality industry, leaving us without those trusted relationships we have enjoyed for years.

Relationship-building does not happen overnight. Neither does trust. While event planning companies were forced to lay off part, if not all, of their staff, clearly the supplier side of our industry has suffered more staffing losses than the planner side. Imperative in making a positive return to business is a clear understanding of the event planners’ protocols, policies and procedures for the conduct of business, as well as the suppliers’ business conduct standards.

Relationship-building does not happen overnight. Neither does trust.

Established standards of professionalism within our organizations have not changed because of the pandemic, but remote work may have distanced our teams such that we need to review and ensure that those standards are being followed. MPI’s Principles of Professionalism was last updated in 2018 and speaks to three major topics:  1) Maintaining Professional Integrity, 2) Utilizing Professional Business Practices and (3) Respecting Diversity. It is a model by which all MPI members should conduct themselves.

Most event planning companies have their own version of conduct for their employees and include these high-level topics, as well as drilled-down topics such as the company’s position on whether employees can accept gifts (and, if so, if there is a dollar limit), whether employees are entitled to retain airline points for travel paid for by the company, whether an employee can accept meeting points for an event they are working on and similar policies that align with the company’s culture. 

Likewise, and lesser known or discussed, hotel brands also have their own supplier business/codes of conduct (see, for example, Hyatt and Marriott). Supplier codes of conduct are posted online, and, like the event planning company model, detail what their employees must adhere to when dealing with clients.

It is highly recommended that as meetings continue to return to face to face, planners and suppliers come together during their negotiations to discuss openly what each side expects of the relationship and incorporate that into their contracts so there are no misunderstandings. Such a process not only reinstates the planner-supplier relationship, but also the trust that we relied on for so long.

All businesses should have a conduct statement, including small businesses and independents.

Sadly, there is not much written about ethics in event planning. However, if you are an event planning company and don’t currently have your own code of conduct, you can refer to this from Social Tables (a 2019 version that should help you develop your own). It includes discussions on communicating with partners in a timely manner, participating in familiarization trips to locations you have no intention of doing business with, misusing business travel points, bribing guests, not addressing serious weather conditions in a proper manner, criticizing rather than providing possible solutions, making promises you have no intention of keeping, undercutting your competition, failing to creative a diverse, inclusive team and examples of event ethics that may surprise you. All businesses should have a conduct statement, including small businesses and independents. The statement should include what values your business has and the conduct expected not only of employees, but contractors and strategic partners as well.

MPI’s Principles of Professionalism conclude with the statement that “Adherence to these Principles of Professionalism signifies professionalism, competence, fair dealing and high integrity. Failure to abide by these principles may subject a member to disciplinary action. As set forth in the Bylaws of Meeting Professionals International.”

To better understand how this system works, I consulted with Diane Hawkins, SPHR, vice president of people, performance and administration. She says the process for disciplinary action begins, as is common in other associations, with a high-level statement within the bylaws that is then referenced in and enlarged upon in MPI’s policies and procedures for dealing with violations of the Principles of Professionalism.

During the pandemic, new media and platforms have arisen for use with hybrid, face to face and virtual events.

MPI takes its commitment to a high level of professionalism one step further and has created an MPICares page. Complaints are divided among five categories: antitrust activity, compliance with laws and regulations, conflict of interest, discrimination or harassment and other. The reports may be anonymous but are saved in such a way that the anonymous complainant can return to the site to learn the outcome of his or her complaint. If one does not wish to use the online function, they may also make their complaint by telephone, where they can speak with someone in their own language. The complaints are investigated by an attorney and then are peer reviewed by a committee charged with that responsibility. Outcomes may vary in severity but are always dealt with in an unbiased manner.

During the pandemic, new media and platforms have arisen for use with hybrid, face to face and virtual events. Take the time to evaluate them and their companies to ensure that they align with your company’s beliefs and values. Now is the time to establish new planner-supplier relationships to create a better future for meetings and events.

No one can argue that ethics plays a significant role in business transactions. Not only does it Improve relationships, promote professional behavior, encourage accountability and protect the public, but it also enhances the organization’s image and reputation. In the hospitality business, a stellar reputation will open doors for new alliances, while a damaged reputation may ensure those doors are closed.



MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM

MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, is president of Bobrow Associates Inc., an association and meetings management company.