Career Path

Deidre Clemmons, CMP

Vice President of Meetings, Convention, and Education, Airports Council International - North America

How did you get started in meetings?

I was always the person who volunteered, no matter where I worked, to either be on the planning committee for the annual holiday party or assist in celebrating some holiday. But my first job out of college was actually as a receptionist for a PR firm in Washington, D.C. As PR firms did, they merged with another firm and they didn’t need two receptionists. I was offered an opportunity to go work on the client side of things and continue those efforts in assisting the office manager, and did that for a number of years. My boss, who I actually followed to a second job, said, “What are your career goals? Do some research and get back to me.”

And I discovered that you could get paid for planning events! I took two courses at Northern Virginia Community College in meeting planning and got my first job in the industry with the Building Owners and Managers Association as their meetings assistant and registrar. I spent almost four years with them, and from there I went on to be a corporate planner, which was a wonderful experience. One of the things I really like is that I’ve had experience on both sides of the fence – being both an association planner and a corporate planner. I have worked my way up ever since and been lucky to have some great mentors along the way.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the industry?

Definitely join a professional organization such as PCMA. Make sure you’re volunteering wherever you can. Ask where you can assist. Associations don’t always have large staffs, and there tend to be opportunities that exist that you don’t know about unless you ask. And, most importantly, find a mentor.

Are you in a position where you’re now becoming a mentor?

I am. It’s wonderful. I’ve had an opportunity to hire a young lady full-time who was an intern in my office. She planned our board dinner at our annual conference, for example. She came to me, and I said, “I’d love to give you an opportunity to get involved in anything you show interest in.” You’ve got to teach.

What do you like best about your job?

The versatility; the ability to wear a variety of hats and practice a variety of skill sets that you possess. I really like that one day I might get to be a lawyer and negotiate a contract. The next day I might be doing site selection or budgeting. Meeting planning is that special profession where you can do a little bit of everything.

How about your biggest challenge?

It’s a challenge that all association planners can relate to – trying to anticipate and stay ahead of your attendee expectations. Also, being tasked with finding ways to do what you do within budget every time, but yet stay ahead of the trends and the curves, and anticipating what’s coming next and being able to meet attendee expectations every time. As long as you strive for achieving those expectations, you’ll be successful.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.