Q&A with David Bruce, Founder of Meeting Planners Unite

Meeting PlanningQ&As

David Bruce, managing partner, CMP Meeting Services and founder, Meeting Planners Unite

Name: David Bruce
Home Base: Dallas
Day Job: Managing Partner, CMP Meeting Services
New Venture: Founder, Meeting Planners Unite
Approach: “As a group, we are stronger than fighting the system alone.”

Meeting Planners Unite started as a reaction to Marriott International—and two months later, to Hilton Hotels & Resorts—when these hospitality giants cut third-party planner commissions. But it has already become so much more. We caught up with the founder just after he was wrapping up a conference call to ask a few questions, including where the industry goes next.

How do you describe Meeting Planners Unite to people who want to know why another industry group is needed now?

Meeting planners Unite is the first group to be a lobbying effort 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 efforts to our charitable component, our goal is to keep the focus on independent meeting planners.

How do you explain the value a third-party planner brings to an event?

Full-service meeting management companies provide a superior service to the industry. Their relationships with the various vendors and venues allow organizations to offload many of the duties placed on the backs of their meeting-planning teams. They have a higher knowledge of industry trends and can be an influencer on the venue chosen.

The full-service planner works for the client and is working in the best interest of the client. With extensive knowledge of the industry and their contacts, full-service planners can parlay their multiple clients to obtain discounts or benefits, which help each client.

In many cases, independent planners have become the sales prospectors that hoteliers were some 30 years ago. As individual businesses, they survive by finding and developing clients. Thus, they are bringing the opportunity to the hotel without the hotel having to employ prospectors to ferret out the lead. The hotel salesperson can develop the relationship with the independent planner, instead of having to make cold calls, which are inefficient at best.

How large is this segment of the industry?

Although each market is different, the rule of thumb is that independent meeting planners handle up to 60 percent of all group leads to the industry.

Please explain the philanthropic arm of the association and why it is needed right now.

Whether the economy is at a high point as it is now, or in a downturn, small businesses are affected by many different factors that can affect the focus of that small business. From a family member in distress to a significant disaster in their area, bad things can happen—even to the best of small businesses. We want to assist our members during these downturns in their lives.

We will help in a couple of ways. By offering no-interest loans or outright gifts, or we may offer to pay other members to handle meetings for them while they are focused on their issues. We also want to start scholarships for students developing their meeting and event planner skills in college.

Where do you see this group in a year, three years and 10 years?

Since we are developing business skills along with being a lobbying effort for the independent planner, I believe that we will continue to grow and address different issues which will surface from time to time. The individual planners’ level of professionalism both within the industry and in the marketplace will improve each year.

What is the most important thing independent planners need to know to be successful today?

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. The lack of financial stability is the main reason companies are not successful. They have a client or two to start, but they don’t have the staying power, should the economy falter or should their client change directions. They need to be ready for anything.

What is next?

We need to develop new revenue streams for independents. One avenue could be via finder’s fees from nonhotel suppliers such as audiovisual, decorating, exhibit and transportation companies—perhaps even destinations. We have to look at all angles to see where we can make a profit while still serving the needs of our clients.