The events industry is a melting pot of talent and diverse backgrounds, with event professionals bringing rich experiences and unique perspectives to the field. It’s not uncommon to find professionals holding degrees in business, communications, or marketing, complementing others with a foundation in hospitality or years of experience in related industries. But this diversity of education and experience begs the question, do you need event planning certifications to stand out?
In this episode of the Event Brew, Thuy, Dustin, and Will, explore the events industry’s low barrier to entry, the relevance of event planning certifications, and ultimately, whether you need one as a true event professional. Tune in to see where they land. But first, let’s start with the Brew Crew’s own certifications.
Brew Crew Certifications
Dustin starts today’s conversation by asking the crew to share which certifications they have. “I’m curious to know, what’s your designation?”
Next, Thuy shares her long list of certifications: “I have the Certified Guest Service Professional (CGSP), Destination Management Certified Professional (DMCP), and Certified Special Event Professional (CSEP), and I’m currently studying for my Certified Meeting Professional (CMP).”
Like Will, Dustin holds one certification. He has the CSEP.
Why Have Event Planning Certifications?
For Thuy, it’s all about a sense of community. “When I see someone else has a CSEP, there’s an instant bond there,” she says. “It doesn’t even have to be something we have in common. But seeing certifications makes me feel like you’re a certified professional engaged in our community.”
Dustin agrees, but he finds value elsewhere too. “It’s always very impressive when you find unlikely partners with a designation, especially one you have. For example, if I met a photographer with their CSEP, I’d think, you’ve really been paying attention. You have to have been an active professional, working and paying attention to different aspects of the industry. And I agree with Thuy. There is an unspoken community among those with designations because we understand there’s a commitment there.”
On the other hand, Will favors the professionalism certifications bring to the industry even though he’s not their biggest fan. “I think I’m in the camp leaning less toward liking designations, and throughout my career, what I think about it comes in waves,” he explains. “But one thing I love about certifications is it moves us closer to the goal of un-commoditizing what we do and adding legitimacy to an industry that anyone can go into.”
“Dustin and I did the global event forum,” continues Will. “That was the first time I remember having that conversation. We were ideating what we would do to ensure the industry is not commoditized. And certification seemed like such a good solution.”
“That’s where designations have an opportunity to put a barrier saying, everyone’s welcome to play, but there’s a certain level of education that must be met,” says Dustin. “And because we still struggle with event-specific education in post-secondary school, I think this is a good stopgap. It’s about establishing you as a professional focused on continuing to advance your career.”
“I’m the international president of ILEA,” continues Dustin. “One of the programs we oversee is the CSEP. We have a lot of misunderstandings about what you do with your designation. Will I get more business if I get a designation? The answer is simple: what are you going to do with it? How are you going to use it to elevate what you’re selling, how you’re pitching, and what jobs you’re looking for? This is a sales tool ore than anything else. Get it, and figure out how to exploit it for all it’s worth. It can be an incredibly valuable tool.”
What Motivates People to Avoid or Persue Certifications?
Overall, the Brew Crew agrees that certifications are valuable to and in the events industry. But if they’re so valuable, why don’t more people have them?
“There are so many people who don’t have certifications. Do we feel like well-respected people not having designations is what’s keeping everyone from having designations?” asks Will.
Dustin thinks it depends. “If your goal in this industry is to be well known and respected, that’s different than someone who wants to attract new clients and rise to the top of the organization they’re working for. I don’t think your boss or HR manager gives a shit about the person you respect so much; they probably don’t even know they exist. I also think the people with bigger names in our industry are probably out of the age gap where designations became popular. Not to put ages on anyone, but I do think designations in the event industry is probably a fairly young thing.”
“That’s a good point,” says Thuy. This gets her thinking about awards. “Some people have planned and executed incredible events but don’t submit for awards. You can be an award-winning company because you submitted and then won.”
“You’re right,” agrees Dustin. “You don’t need awards or a designation to be amazing at what you do. I didn’t go to school for this. Getting my designation was my first opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m good at this.’ I started my business when I was 25. I accidentally fell into this industry. This is why a low barrier to entry is not always a bad thing. It can allow creatives to get in without having a lot of blockades.”
“Our low barrier of entry is actually our greatest asset,” continues Dustin. “This low barrier of entry is what allowed so many of us to start and feel our way through this industry, figuring out that this is our passion. Had we not had that opportunity, we may not be here. There’s a way for our industry to lean into that low barrier of entry, but it needs to be, ‘You’re welcome to come and play with us, but at some point, you have to take part in these designations and level up.”
Next, Thuy has a business-oriented question for Will and Dustin. “If you have teammates interested in getting certifications, are they company paid? Are they on their own? Do you provide resources?”
“This won’t surprise anyone, but yes. My company pays for whatever designation you want,” says Dustin. “If they fail it, their retesting fees are on their own, but we pay for it and we don’t have a lot of restrictions. I don’t look at it as a business benefit. It’s more that I want them to feel included in this industry. As the business owner, you’re often the one front and center advocating for this industry. I want to ensure my team feels they have a place, too, they’re not just here to stand behind me.”
Will couldn’t agree more. “We have a core value of learn and grow. I’ve never been able to quanitifiably say what you just said, which is, many times I’m front and center but I don’t always want to be. I want everyone to be a part of this. And I love your point that it’s not necessarily a business benefit. It’s a send about them improving themselves. I think we naturally aspire to level up on our own.”
“And creating that desire to level up within your team is important too,” adds Dustin. “Humble brag, when organizations like mine invest in those programs, it means there are 10 more certified people in the world. This is where companies need to step up and not just say they care about the community but actually invest in it through investing in their people. And if you’re a business owner doing what I think some people are, saying, ‘I don’t want to pay for certifications just for people to leave.’ Get that out of your head. It’s not 1995 anymore. This is how we invest in talent now. Stop penny-pinching professional development.”
“There’s an old saying, ‘What happens if you invest all this money into an employee and they decide to leave?’” says Will. “The response is, well, ‘What happens if you don’t?”
Thoughts on event planning certifications are certainly multilayered and subjective. The Brew Crew collectively appreciates the sense of community, professionalism, and commitment certifications inspire. They also acknowledge that these aren’t the be-all and end-all for success in the industry, but they do open doors for personal growth, community, recognition, and opportunity. In an industry as vibrant and diverse as ours, perhaps these aspects help one truly stand out.
And while the motivation to pursue or avoid certifications can differ widely from one person to the next, Thuy, Dustin, and Will agree that certifications are more than a personal achievement. They’re an investment in the industry’s future. But what do you think? Do event professionals need event planning certifications? We’d love to know your thoughts.