Meeting Planners Salary Update: Event Organizers Are More in Demand

A meetings industry hiring expert says candidates are asking for more money and creative benefits, and often are getting them.

Updated Nov. 12, 2021. 

The employment landscape has fluctuated considerably since 612 meeting planners took our 2020 Salary Survey, which shows how much event organizers were making before Covid and its dire consequences hit the industry. Pre-Covid, meeting planners earned an average of $87,251 a year; now that event planning jobs are again becoming available, salary offers for some current candidates with three to five years' experience are coming close to that amount, with opportunities in the $65,000 to $85,000 range, said Dawn Penfold, founder and president of MeetingJobs.com.

The State of Industry Employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. hospitality industry gained 164,000 jobs in October. And employers across all industries, who have been competing to fill jobs from a diminished pool of applicants, raised wages at a solid clip: Average hourly pay in the U.S. jumped 4.9 percent in October compared with a year earlier, according to the Associated Press.

Things also are looking up for job-seekers in the meetings industry. Penfold said the market that was nonexistent for more than a year has flipped in favor of event planners. Medical education, in particular, is growing, as well as pharmaceutical and finance. But she hasn't seen much going on in the association arena.

"Candidates are asking for more money. They're asking for flex time. They're asking for different kinds of benefits," said Penfold, whose firm is now a division of Cadre, a virtual-marketplace company that provides meetings industry freelancers with a platform to contract gig work. "I had one candidate that I placed who wanted a four-day work week, and she got that. I had another candidate who had benefits from her husband, so instead she was asking if she could have money toward paying off a student loan."

She added: "I'm thinking that hiring officials would be more successful if they offered a menu of benefits, something from column A, something from column B, something from column C."

Akshar Patel, vice president of conventions for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, has noticed that jump in the salaries candidates want. People with three to five years' experience, he said, are now asking for $80,000-plus. "Those with seven to 10 are asking for a minimum of $100,000," he said. "And then you still have a lot of seasoned event professionals with more than 10 years of experience in that lower 100s range, maybe up to mid-hundreds. I have to think they're going to leadership and pointing out that they're due significant increases if less experienced people are being brought in at higher compensation levels."

From organizations that are hiring, Penfold has found that they want candidates who have expertise with the Cvent platform: web designers and registration managers who can develop the Cvent platform for each meeting.

Experience arranging virtual and hybrid events over the past two years has given rise to new event-planning titles as well. Both hiring officials and candidates are mentioning event technologists, event and meeting producers, and hybrid meeting specialists, Penfold added.

Frustrating, however, is that fact that many companies are looking for people with one to two years' experience in the industry, a nonexistent pool. "I had a long conversation with a hiring official today," Penfold said. "They're looking to hire at a lower salary, but I said, 'So who was hiring one to two years ago?' And there's silence." Companies are probably going to have to recruit out of college for those positions, she said.

Among other trends Penfold is following: Most companies want employees who have been vaccinated; candidates want childcare benefits and are looking to travel less frequently, so they can be available to their families; and job prospects are not willing to commute as often or as far.

Planner Salary Research

In M&C's 2020 Salary Survey, comparing 2019 salaries with 2017, the average increased by a healthy 7.5 percent since the biennial study was last conducted in 2018. Overall, in 2019 planners earned an average base salary of $87,251. Use our exclusive biennial research on salaries and job satisfaction for meeting planners as a benchmark for going forward as the job market opens up again. (And please respond to our next salary survey, which will go out in late May 2022 and be published in the September 2022 issue of M&C.)

The gender pay gap is still wide, and it opened up again somewhat: While female meeting planners earned 89 cents on the male dollar in 2017, in 2019 it was 84 cents on the dollar, but still better than the national average of 79 cents to the male dollar. In the 2018 survey, planners in the Northeast United States made the most money; this year, the Pacific Northwest took that crown.

To gather the data, M&C conducted an online survey in January and February with help from members of Meetingjobs.com, compiling statistics from corporate, association and third-party/independent planners.

To access a complete PDF of the 2020 Salary Survey, click here.