Meeting Planners Salary Update: Event Organizer Jobs Starting to Return

A meetings industry hiring expert says new permanent jobs tend to be more strategic than logistical, but compensation might be lower than the $87,251 pre-Covid average from the 2020 Meeting Planner Salary Survey.

Updated May 11, 2021. 

Life sure has changed since 612 meeting planners took our 2020 Salary Survey, which shows how much event organizers were making before the coronavirus and its dire consequences hit the industry. Pre-Covid, meeting planners earned an average of $87,251; now that event planning jobs are again becoming available, candidates might see more opportunities in the $60,000 to $70,000 range at first, says an industry hiring expert.

The State of Industry Employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest numbers, the hospitality industry gained 331,000 jobs in April, after gaining 206,000 positions in March. And according to the Associated Press, one government report shows that wages and benefits rose at a solid pace in the first quarter, suggesting that some companies are having to pay more to attract and keep employees.

However, Dawn Penfold, founder and president of MeetingJobs, is seeing lower wages as meetings jobs return. "I was just talking to a candidate who's applying for a fairly high-level position, and I asked him if they talked salary," says Penfold, whose firm is now owned by Cadre, a virtual-marketplace company that provides meetings industry freelancers with a platform to contract gig work. "He said, 'No, but it was made really clear that upper management had made sacrifices this past year.' And in hiring for the new position, they're expecting new employees to come in at lower salaries or to make those sacrifices."

In this case, Penfold advised the candidate to reevaluate the situation, as taking a job at a lower salary would have further implications. “I said, ’That’s not your problem,’” she recounts. “If you commit at a low salary, your increases once you’re there are going to be low and will take a long time to reach your worth. Consider negotiating as part of your package other items that could make up for this salary — such as additional vacation, the ability to work from home, flexibility in hours, tuition reimbursement and added health-care options.”

There are also other reasons salaries are coming in lower, she added. Many firms that are hiring say candidates will have the opportunity to work from home, saving commuting costs and clothing costs. On the flip side, the hiring company doesn't have office-space costs and is saving money that way.

All the digital gatherings that have taken place in 2020 have required meeting planners to upskill, adding new expertise to their résumés, and companies are looking for these skills, said Penfold. And they're looking for strategic planners who know how to be flexible.

"A hiring official I talked to the other day said she doesn't need the coffee-cup counter, she doesn't need the people who can do that on-site logistics work," Penfold notes. "She needs the innovators, the strategic people, the people at a higher level, who can bring new ideas in and roll with the punches, because we don't know what it's going to be like, right?"

The on-site work, she added, is being covered by temporary staffers. "On MeetingJobs.com, the site for permanent positions, we've seen an increase in activity; I've seen more postings in the past month than we had all of last year, but that's not hard to do," Penfold said. "But on Cadre, the gig site, we're seeing a lot of activity because people are starting to reengage with meetings, but they don't have the staff to do it. And they don't have the budget to do it. And they don't know what's going to happen two months from now so they don't want to hire someone permanently." Penfold spoke to one executive who said he needed to hire smart, flexible people, but he doesn't want to go through having to let someone go again, as there's still a lot of uncertainty in the market. 

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 in the new year.

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.