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Four Little Letters


As the CTSM designation becomes more commonplace, will being uncertified become a liability for exhibit and event pros?
On Leap Day, the exhibit industry took a giant leap forward, as 52 face-to-face marketing professionals earned their Certified Trade Show Marketer designation during the program's graduation ceremony at EXHIBITORLIVE in Las Vegas. But perhaps the more significant leap was made by the CTSM program itself, which celebrated a milestone, surpassing 500 graduates since the program's inauguration in 1992.

Often referred to as a graduate degree in event marketing, the CTSM designation is awarded by EXHIBITOR in affiliation with Northern Illinois University Outreach, and it reflects adherence to the highest educational standards of trade show and event marketing. To date, 525 individuals have earned their certification.

Through the CTSM curriculum, participants gain increased knowledge and confidence. They network with peers and learn from industry experts. And according to EXHIBITOR's 2015 Salary Survey, they make an average of $12,669 more per year than their acronym-free colleagues. What's more, CTSM graduates become members of an elite group that is increasingly sought after by employers who are serious about maximizing the potential of their event-marketing programs. In fact, many companies have begun adding the words "CTSM preferred" or "CTSM required" to job postings. But as CTSM designation becomes more commonplace, will being uncertified become a liability for exhibit and event pros?

Personally, I believe the value of industry certification will follow the same evolutionary path that college degrees have undergone in the past few decades. As recently as 1998, fewer than one-quarter of U.S. adults held a bachelor's degree, making it often the cherry on top of a resume sundae. Today, however, more than 40 percent of American adults hold a degree. As such, a growing number of employers view a college education as less of a preference and more of a prerequisite. Similarly, while CTSM certification is currently a differentiator, it may eventually become a requirement as the pool of graduates inches toward a critical mass.

Within our industry, there are a number of certifications. In addition to CTSM, there's the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation from the Convention Industry Council, the Certification in Meeting Management (CMM) program administered by Meeting Professionals International, the Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM) designation offered by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and an alphabet soup of others.

But just as all colleges and universities aren't created equal, neither are all certifications; Harvard will always trump inferior institutions, and rigorous certification programs with real requirements will always prove more valuable than designations issued by organizations more interested in revenue than educational retention. And while you have to find the acronym that best suits your current needs and goals, CTSM is the gold standard for exhibitors, and it is the only university-affiliated certification of its kind in our industry.

Today, more than 3,000 individuals are enrolled in the CTSM program. It's hard to predict the exact tipping point at which obtaining certification may become as important to exhibitors as passing the bar is to aspiring attorneys, but I've yet to find a single CTSM grad who wishes he or she had waited to register.

So congratulations to the 52 new CTSMers. May those four letters earn you increased respect and enhanced returns. And if you're not yet enrolled, I urge you to consider the benefits. For while education lifts individuals to new heights, it can also collectively earn exhibitors a more desirable position in the marketing mix – and a more powerful seat at the table. E


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