What Defines ‘Good Work’ in the Meetings Industry?

What does it mean in the meetings industry to do the right thing? Do planners and suppliers agree?

Illustration by Mike Reddy.
Illustration by Mike Reddy.

Being truly good at your job isn’t just about the results of your efforts. It also has to do with how you conduct yourself professionally, the example you set for others, and the sometimes hard work of sorting through — and arriving at your own level of comfort with — certain industry practices. In the meetings profession, those things aren’t always so cut and dried. Which is why we’re exploring the idea of doing good work in the meetings industry from a variety of angles and perspectives.

When more than 380 meeting professionals responded to our invitation in late 2015 to participate in a survey on ethics, some might have experienced déjà vu. Many of the survey questions were reprised from a survey we first conducted in 2010.

This time around, we tried not to frame issues as being as black-and-white as in the first survey. Recognizing that whether a practice or approach is seen as ethical often depends on the situation, so we added a conditional option (“It depends”) to the answer bank.

Do the results suggest that the meetings industry has become more sensitive to questionable ethical practices in the nearly six years between surveys? Yes and no. Many of the responses are similar. But what stands out is that around 20 percent more respondents in 2015 than in 2010 believed that while the meetings industry operates ethically on balance, there is room for reform.

While planners themselves may be more aware of gray areas in their day-to-day jobs, their organizations are not making things more clear-cut for them. Nearly half said that their employers do not have an ethics policy on the books that specifically addresses the meeting-planner role.

That didn’t seem to matter to many planners, who noted that written policies only go so far. “Ethics is about the person,” one corporate meeting professional wrote, “and how they define themselves, their morals, their sense of community, and their overall passion around the importance of our profession.”

We asked 13 questions, including the first one, which asked respondents to identify their roles. Here are the results, with comparative data from our 2010 results provided when relevant — interspersed with comments from our survey-takers. After the survey results, read on for more perspectives from meetings professionals and from outside the industry.


“There is really no black-and-white here. This depends on a number of factors, including the level of business relationship, current and future business potential, etc.”
— association meeting professional

“If the event is a general promotional event like a reception or luncheon designed to expose the planner to the destination, the [host] would welcome all planners and you should feel okay about attending. For fam trips involving expense-paid travel, the supplier should be ‘qualifying’ the attendees and there should be a pattern or likelihood of doing business.”
— independent meeting professional

“There are several situations where it would be acceptable. First, it could be a holiday party to thank clients for previous business. Second, a supplier might be hosting an event that might be a good networking opportunity for a planner, and as long as there is not an implicit suggestion that the planner contract with the supplier, it’s fine. Third, it could be an event that incorporates an education component such as a product demonstration or a speech. Finally, there have been many instances where meeting-planning organizations require that suppliers invite one to two meeting planners in order for the supplier to gain admission — so what’s a supplier to do other than to invite the planners?”
— supplier

“The meetings industry is built on a foundation of ethical practices, with buying decisions guided by trust and rapport. Quid pro quo practices with regards to personal benefits should never enter into the equation without scrutiny against accepted practices or disclosure. It is important to capitalize on opportunities to build rapport between parties, and so long as business entertainment transparently meets the standards for discussion of such interests, I do not see an ethical conflict. That said, every planner needs to maintain his or her own moral compass with regards to both their honest intentions with potential hosts and some common-sense consideration to the possible optics surrounding their participation in such activities. In my opinion, there does not need to be ‘business on the table,’ but it is incumbent upon planners to qualify their hosts to the best of their abilities and weigh relative value of the proposed activity against both the scale of the potential business relationship and the opportunity offered for direct engagement with their host.”
— corporate meeting professional




‘As with most issues, ethics are a huge gray area. IMO, there are small issues (accepting hotel points) and larger issues (planners who fish for fam trips with no interest in using that property) and lots in between. Personally, I think the industry should focus on the larger issues, so the mission isn’t diluted. Thankfully, fam trips aren’t as prevalent, but now hosted buyers are taking over — not as “shady” as fams, but still an issue for the industry.’
— association executive

“I think offering a free one- or two-night stay is fine. Otherwise, how will I get a feel for the property without experiencing it? I also feel that experiencing the spa and golf — if my group typically utilizes these areas of activities — is fine to accept. It is all part of the hotel’s marketing costs.”
— association meeting professional

“We have the rooms comped — but not airfare or ground transportation, and we refuse in-room amenities.”
— corporate meeting professional

“I think it’s ethical as long as it’s within limits — a nice bottle of wine (reasonable in cost, say $30–$40 is okay, but not a $200 bottle). What I find unethical is when a planner asks for their hotel stay, spa treatments, tickets to the zoo, dinner reservations — and expects the hotel or other vendor to pay for their mini-vacation (especially if they bring a friend or family with them). That’s just plain tacky.”
— independent meeting professional

“In most cases, a meeting planner is not going to be influenced by such trivial issues. They have a bigger responsibility that overshadows these issues. The comps make the venue feel good in the sense that they are putting their best foot forward.”
— supplier

“What is an accepted practice in one part of the world can be quite unacceptable somewhere else. Planners are best advised to learn a little about the business culture in the country before they begin the negotiation process. That way, awkward and embarrassing situations can be avoided.” 
— supplier

“I think that it is important to keep in mind that we work in an experiential industry. We often select business partners as a direct result of our interest in providing meeting attendees with a specific experience. Depending upon the demographics and objectives of a particular program, the experience associated with a particular venue or destination can drive our decisions. It is important that planners experience qualified venues and destinations, especially from the perspective of their likely attendees. The keys to this particular discussion are honesty, integrity, and transparency.”
— corporate meeting professional

“I am eager to hear what the suppliers are saying. Poor etiquette and blatant abuse of opportunities have no place in our industry, but my experiences indicate that suppliers enjoy hosting planners in ways that build relationships, even with those with no direct business prospects.”
— independent meeting professional

“As with most issues, ethics are a huge gray area. IMO, there are small issues (accepting hotel points) and larger issues (planners who fish for fam trips with no interest in using that property) and lots in between. Personally, I think the industry should focus on the larger issues, so the mission isn’t diluted. Thankfully, fam trips aren’t as prevalent, but now hosted buyers are taking over — not as “shady” as fams, but still an issue for the industry.”
— association executive


“As a hotel sales professional, I am dismayed by two simultaneous trends in the meetings industry. First, I provide a service and experience, I do not sell “widgets,” and it is difficult, if not impossible, to force me into a procurement process with procurement departments that have little to no idea how meetings are promulgated. Second, I dislike the attitude among third-party planners that I am the adversary, even though the 10-percent commission they receive (payment for services rendered) comes from the hotel, not the end user, and they show value through diluting my revenue, and then insist that they receive perks such as additional meeting-planner points for doing so — as I am their business partner, they are my paid contractor, and the end user is our customer.”
— supplier

“Having witnessed entertainment set up by a sponsor that was not considered in the best taste, and then being told that the entity doesn’t control their sponsors/sponsorships, brought up the question of whether or not organizations have ethics clauses binding their sponsors/sponsorships.”
— supplier




“One of the issues that comes up is the transparency of commissions, business-performance incentives. Some third parties do not want this disclosed to the client. This is not ethical as it could suggest an increased rate to offset the incentives.  All commissions, etc., should be in the contract to show full transparency on both sides.”
— supplier

“We are not entitled. Every investment in our experience is a business expense and should be treated as such. Abusing these courtesies is simply unacceptable.”
— association meeting professional


‘Ethics is My Passion’

Industry veteran Joan Eisentodt, who helped us design our survey, talks about industry ethics and her reaction to the results.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.36.46 PMJoan Eisenstodt, who founded Eisenstodt Associates, a Washington, D.C.–based meeting consulting, facilitation, and training company, in 1981, has often been called ‘the conscience of the meetings industry.’ Ethics, she told Convene, is ‘my passion.’ Here are some of her thoughts.


I think what surprised me most was how few organizations had ethics policies. Or if they did, they didn’t cover the behavior of people specifically in the meeting area. I can tell you from experience with clients that most corporations have ethics policies and that some associations — not all — have ethics policies. Often the policies in associations are for members but not staff — an interesting disconnect.

They’re often like all of our industry guidelines in that they are open to interpretation. They don’t say, “Here are our policies and here are examples of things that are against those policies.” For example, [one statement in] the CMP Code of Ethics says, “Maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct at all times.” What does that really mean?

The thing is, even with these policies, [not much is done] if somebody violates them. There really is no recourse, no repercussion. I have two clients who fired their directors of meetings for things that were so unethical it was astounding. Neither of the clients — and these were CMPs that were fired — would bring charges to the CMP board to strip them of their CMPs. The suppliers who were complicit in the actions saw nothing happen to them. No legal action was brought.

Let me give you one other quick example. A supplier of tchotchkes told me that a longtime client had asked him to provide a specific item. The cheapest one that they could find came from China. This organization could not have items that came from China because of trade agreements and [issues having to do with] their mission. What the planner — a CMP — asked the supplier to do was to still order them from China and then cut off all of the labels and put them in new boxes. “I did it,” the supplier told me, “because this is a valuable customer and if I didn’t, they’d go to somebody else for all their work and I would have lost a client.”

That’s the kind of thing that isn’t talked about. So I said, “Would you be willing to report that to the CMP board?” The answer was, “Absolutely not. I can’t risk losing a good customer.”


I would love to have a deeper conversation with the suppliers who responded, because their truthful responses were mind-blowing to me. I think part of it is, what are the repercussions for them if they don’t go along with [the status quo]? Do they believe, or have they experienced, that they’ll lose clients if they don’t meet the demands or expectations of meeting planners who are coming for a site visit? There is an expectation by planners that suppliers have unlimited amounts of money to entertain, to do, and to give. I guess it’s because we’re in the hospitality industry and that’s why people come to do these nice things.

I’d be curious if suppliers ever say to planners, “What are your ethics policies? What are you allowed to accept?,” instead of just dropping stuff off [at their offices] or making an assumption that somebody can have something [as an in-room amenity].


I think somewhere [among these comments], somebody said something like, “It’s not as bad as it used to be.” I disagree. I’ve been in this industry 40 years. My very first interview with an industry publication was in 1983, and it had to do with ethics. At that time, I remember one thing that was being offered as an incentive to book [at a property] was a fur coat. People aren’t doing that today, but in every ethics session I do, it always comes down to a dollar amount, as if that makes a difference. So in other words, if your policy is you can’t accept something more than $25, my question always is — and no one can ever answer this — “Is it $25 per vendor? $25 per vendor per year? $25 per vendor per day? Per hour?” Can it be cumulative?

There was another comment [in the results] about the abuse of hosted buyers. That’s another important thing that needs to be highlighted, because that’s also taking on a life of its own. Nobody wants to address the ethical issues of it. I think the hosted-buyer [model] is damaging in so many ways, but I think it’s going to continue because people think it’s the greatest solution to the buyer-seller relationship.

I also think [the ethics situation] is getting worse from what people say, such as “I’m overworked, I deserve this.” “I’m underpaid, I deserve this.” People justify their behavior, but no one wants to appear unethical. The other thing I think about is, we’ve got a whole generation coming up in this industry — not only the students, but new people to the industry — who see what goes on and accept it. I hear people say [in response to the question] of why they want to be in this industry: “Because there are so many cool perks.”


In response to the planner who commented that this is an experiential industry, so planners need to experience what their attendees will experience, I have this to say: When I teach meeting planning, we talk about the ethics of site selection. Will all of your participants be picked up by car service or a limo, at the airport? Treated royally — they won’t even have to check in at the front desk? How much do you need to experience to see that [a property] will work? Do you need to experience the spa by actually having a spa treatment? Or do you need to simply do a good site inspection and ask good questions of that spa?

One of the things a client did after some major ethics abuses at her organization was to send out a statement with her RFPs that said, “This is our ethics policy. If we choose your city to do a site visit, this is what we expect to do. This is what our planners and our board, depending on who is going, may or may not receive.”

There was some grumbling on the part of some people who had gotten used to perks. Another client, because of finances, decided that instead of having their board always get upgrades to suites, which they didn’t need, and amenities, they’d rather negotiate something that benefited the entire meeting. And there was some grumbling because those people had gotten used to the perks.

I think you can get unused to perks. Who in the industry at the top is setting this kind of example as opposed to winking and saying, “Oh well, this is just [the way it’s always been done in] our industry”? It’s really about setting an example. 

— Michelle Russell

More Points of View 

Here’s what two respondents — a planner and a DMO — thought about the results.

 (We’ll be featuring other respondents’ viewpoints in future posts, we can continue to keep ethics in the meetings industry top of mind. Stay tuned.)


Vice President, Meetings and International Affairs, American Society for Nutrition

Which of the survey results most surprised you, and do the results contradict your own approach to ethics?

I share the majority opinion that the “meetings industry operates ethically on balance, but there is still room for improvement.” An area with great diversity of thought is that of suppliers issuing and planners accepting invitations. It makes sense to see so many “it depends” comments on this topic, due to the wide variety of types of events and their multiple purposes. What’s ethical on both sides of that question depends on the nature of the event, the supplier’s objectives, and how those align with my business and my objectives. That is a unique decision I have to make for each and every invitation. Hopefully suppliers are doing the same when they make their guest list.

For our industry’s sake, we need to get a handle on the RSVP/no-show issue; however, I don’t think that’s ethics — it’s good manners and professional behavior. If anything, we should be held to a higher standard in this industry, because we know better than most the expense related to providing food, beverage, and entertainment, and the importance of guarantees. Personally, I’ll do anything to avoid risking my name badge sitting alone on the table for all to see — so if anything, I’m less likely to accept an invitation knowing that there is always a chance circumstances will change.

Do the overall results suggest to you that meeting professionals are concerned with behaving ethically?

The results demonstrate that professionals in our industry aspire to operate ethically, and believe that they are doing so. More than anything else, the high percentage of “it depends” responses, both in the survey responses and the comments, demonstrates that ethics are gray rather than black-and-white. The survey data is a good foundation for continuing the discussion. I think there may be some areas where we could agree to common practices, which would make it easier for everyone. I think we all intend to “do right,” but we’re all operating by undiscussed codes of conduct. A quote by Stephen M.R. Covey comes to mind: “We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their behavior.”

How do you define good work?

I define good work as a complete and thorough effort that addresses a need, considers appropriate options and viewpoints, adds value, and somehow makes a difference in the world. Bonus points if the work also stretches my abilities and I learn something in the process. Good work can be basic — like an email or phone call — or it can involve higher stakes, like managing a large meeting. The definition is the same.

Does meeting planning give me the opportunity to do good work within the definition? Absolutely! Every single day, in ways both big and small, long-term and shorter-term. It’s easy to see how all aspects of that definition are hit upon in designing and delivering a meeting. I think the day-to-day progress of pursuing that larger goal also meets the definition of good work. Every email, every interaction, every report, every decision should also be handled in that context.

Director of National Accounts, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation

Which of the survey results most surprised you, and do the results contradict your own approach to ethics?

I was most surprised regarding the results of Question 10, that if someone in the industry behaves unethically, does the action reflect on the person alone, the person and the person’s employer or client, or the entire profession. I thought more people would have answered “the person alone,” yet that answer had the lowest score — over 50 percent answered “the entire profession.” It was also interesting to see, in Question 5, that 67 percent of association executives said they do not have an ethics policy or code of conduct that addresses a meeting planner’s role. I think employers do have a responsibility to have ethics training, codes of conduct SOPs, and written ethical standards that they want their employees to follow. It can help make the gray areas more defined. I also think individuals, rather than our industry as a whole, should be held accountable for their actions.

Do the overall results suggest to you that meeting professionals are concerned with behaving ethically?

Yes, and the results where people did not answer “yes” or “no” but “it depends” were interesting to read. Those individuals were passionate about explaining their answers and gave details about specific situations that they felt were worth talking about. It shows that most industry professionals do care about their own and others’ ethical behavior, and realize it is not always black-and-white. The results show that individuals are thinking about their behavior and the potential outcomes from their actions. Almost 80 percent of participants said that the industry operates ethically on balance, but there is room for reform. These results tell me that while people do care, further dialogue is needed to help raise the bar for our industry as a whole.

How do you define good work?

Good work encompasses many things to me. You must be loyal, ethical, honest, and have integrity. You must work hard every day to be fair, have respect for others, and be committed to excellence. You are accountable for your actions, and to help those who are struggling.  Good work also means you feel good about what you do in the morning and when you leave at the end of the day — because your happiness shows and is contagious to those you work with. If you don’t love what you do, then it’s hard to call it “good work.” Our industry gives all of us so many  opportunities to practice this.

What is Good Work?

Daniel Mucinskas, project manager for The Good Project, offers an outside perspective on the meaning of good work.

PZStaff_350x350_MucinkasD2The GoodWork Project defines good work as being rooted in excellence, engagement, and ethics. Meeting professionals are in a unique position not just to pursue that for themselves but also to facilitate it for their attendees.

What does it mean to say that someone is doing good work? That it’s high quality? That it’s ethical? For the GoodWork Project, which has studied that question for the last 20 years, it’s all of that — and something more.

“The main definition that we like to give is that good work incorporates three dimensions,” said Daniel Mucinskas, project manager for The Good Project, which encompasses GoodWork as well as similar initiatives in civic participation, family life, higher education, and other areas, and is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Those are excellence — doing your work well, with technical skill. Then after that, engagement — finding a sense of enjoyment, finding a sense of purpose, that your work is meaningful to you, you feel engaged as you’re involved in it. And finally, ethics — behaving in a way that demonstrates that you have a moral understanding and you take the time to really think about the ethical consequences of your actions.”

For meeting planners, that definition — excellence, engagement, ethics — cuts two ways. Even as they pursue good work in their own careers, planners can play a role in helping their attendees achieve it, at the professional-development conferences they design for them. We talked to Mucinskas about how.

What’s been the goal of the GoodWork Project?

When the [initial research] work was being done, and still to this day, I think the principal investigators were really concerned that people aren’t focused on doing good work, especially work that’s ethical, because we’re so focused as a society all the time on doing something well and maybe getting monetary rewards. It seems like we’re undervaluing ethics overall. That was the overarching societal aim. We hoped that people would take something out of this that would then change society for the better. A lot of the focus has been on trying to get these kinds of concepts taught in schools, to get children really focused on, what does it mean for me to do good work, and how does that carry over once I leave school?

Schools at what level?

The GoodWork Toolkit was originally created for secondary-school classrooms, but I think education at all levels. These ideas have been used at universities and different kinds of seminars, like “What Does It Mean to Live a Good Life?” We think that the tools are also applicable to professional development that’s available in any profession, really.

The simple task of posing to people a dilemma — you can use a story from the profession of the people who are participating in the seminar, for example. Just talking through that dilemma together, and really thinking about what kinds of conflict the person in the story is facing and how does that relate to how I do my own work, or does this mirror a situation that I may have encountered, or what would I do in this situation. I think that’s valuable.

Do many or even most people not think about their work in those terms?

I wouldn’t say that most people don’t think about it, but just taking the time to sit back and to really reflect is the most valuable thing, and I think people don’t often do that. I also think it’s not often on an organizational level that people have the time devoted to talk about it together, and that’s one of the most valuable things that we stress. You can reflect alone and that is valuable in itself, but also the group component of it — where you can talk about different dilemmas that you face on the job together with colleagues or professional peers who are in similar situations.

Is there an opportunity for professional meetings and conferences to fill that role?

I think it would definitely be of great interest based on what we’ve heard from people and great value to the attendees if [meeting planners] were to offer some sort of panel discussion, group conversation, a plenary talk — something that’s related to this topic.

I don’t think it would be that difficult, either. Just having a conversation where you ask people to sit back and think about, what does your work mean to you, and let’s talk about times where we’ve encountered challenging situations. How did you handle that particular situation? What did you do? Why were you feeling conflicted, and what did that arise from? Do you think you did the right thing in the end? How did you make your decision?

Just asking those kinds of questions is tough, because it’s not as tangible as some other topics that might come up at a conference like that. I think it’s important, and I think that people would feel that.

Are there certain program formats that work best for this type of discussion?

Even if the ideas were to be presented first to a large group, I think it would really be necessary to break up the audience and to have them facilitate a discussion amongst themselves and to really share their viewpoints. I think a lot of times you can sit there and reflect on your own experience, but you can understand more where other people are coming from, put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, if you hear what they’ve been through as well. To know that you’re not alone when you face a situation where you didn’t know what to do at work, where you’ve had an ethical dilemma. Talking through things together is always a generator of new ideas more than you might be able to think of by yourself, because of this energy of the group situation.

What can meeting planners do to explore the idea of good work in their own careers?

I’m assuming that the majority of people don’t take the express time to think about, am I doing good work in my day-to-day? That is a great first step. I think also the Value Sort activity [available at] is a wonderful first step, and a lot of the times what we refer people to when they’re trying to really think about what values underpin their work and how that’s reflected in their actions.

And then just to think about, when meeting professionals plan conferences, how can they make sure that everybody is brought to the table? What considerations are they taking into account when they make certain plans, and why? Success wouldn’t necessarily be anything tangible, but just feeling that greater connection to your work. Feeling like the work that you do is in harmony with your values, and understanding how ethics plays a role in what you do every day.

Christopher Durso

Test Time

Earn two hours of CEU credit. Once you’ve finished reading this article, read the following material:

The GoodWork Toolkit, which offers a guidebook, narratives, and other tools to help prompt and lead discussions about good work.

To earn CEU credit, visit to answer questions about information contained in this CMP Series article and the additional material.

The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) is a registered trademark of the Convention Industry Council.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.