Independent meeting planner organization Meeting Planners Unite, a group that formed on LinkedIn and Facebook to combat Marriott International’s recent decision to cut non-aligned independent planner commissions to 7 percent from 10 percent at its U.S. and Canadian properties, is in the process of forming its own trade association.

David Bruce, the managing partner of CMP Meeting Services who spearheaded the social media-powered group on LinkedIn on Jan. 25, 2018, is compiling information about its membership, which was 800 people at press time, to demonstrate its buying power to Marriott at a meeting scheduled for Friday, Feb. 23.

The primary goal is to obtain the same commission rate as the so-called “Big Four,” HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect and Maritz Global Events, for whom Marriott retained the 10 percent commission level.

“Our desire is to get a seat at the table—that’s all we can hope for; to have our point heard and hopefully gain a contract similar to what the Big Four have gotten,” Bruce said. “We will in essence be part of the ‘Big Five.’ That’s our goal going in to see Marriott.”

Bruce is currently compiling key statistics about the membership of Meeting Planners Unite that he hopes will demonstrate the value its members bring to the table and will elevate the conversation beyond just expressing their discontent with the Marriott move.

“Those numbers are going to represent a tremendous amount of business when added together,” Bruce said. “It’s important that this is a dialogue. It’s not a monologue on either side. Hopefully we can show the worth of our organization to Marriott and show them that we should be valued as a group just as much as the Big Four.

"The key is not to go in screaming and yelling about what they’ve done, but try to come to a mutual understanding where both parties can feel whole," he added.

Bruce said he and Jeff Berger, president and CEO of Chicago area-based Conference Planning Resources, are in the process of forming a 501(c)(6) membership organization that will serve as an independent meeting planner association named Meeting Planners Unite.

“This is for the independent planners who are not tied to the Big Four, because the whole point of this is to be that Big Five,” Bruce said. “What we are doing is trying to develop a fifth organization that can handle helping out the smaller planner."

According to Bruce, the association will have four goals:

  1. To deal with rates and other issues that are money-related in the industry, such as securing acceptable commission rates from hotel companies.
  2. Securing items such as a group insurance policy, legal services and 1099 tax filing status.
  3. Organize an annual business event that brings members to a location to meet face-to-face with hotel partners and other suppliers.
  4. Set up a charitable fund to provide aid to members who face crises such as health emergencies.

“That’s one of the neater things we’re planning on doing,” Bruce said of the charity effort. “There are times when everyone needs a friend, and the whole idea behind Meeting Planners Unite is that—we’re uniting to help everyone.”

He added that he will be reaching out to other industry associations and organizations to solicit contributions for the charity fund at events such as golf tournaments.

Bruce, who once ran a Parkinson’s Disease foundation, said the association would be funded by a “very small membership fee,” with suppliers such as audiovisual companies, bureaus and DMCs required to donate a little more than the independent planner members, giving them the ability to work with the planner members. The new association will likely hire an association management company to run its day-to-day operations.

Bruce said he is a bit amazed at the fast growth pace Meeting Planners Unite is on, and even that he would be involved in an undertaking like this to begin with.

“I couldn’t be more excited by this turn of events that has come about in the last two weeks,” he said. “This is going to be the first time that this group of people will ever be truly heard by the industry, and that’s exciting. Nineteen days ago I wouldn’t have bet a nickel against the San Francisco Bay Bridge that we would be doing this.”

Meeting Planners Unite has set up a rudimentary web presence for those who are interested in joining the organization:

[Learn more about the Meeting Planners Unite and the Marriott Commission cuts in our related news coverage. Industry veteran Joan Eisenstodt also shared some thoughts on the Meetings Today Blog].