Pam Harris, RE/MAX senior vice president of customer experience, can plop a photo of the company’s CEO, Adam Contos, shaking hands with Chief Customer Services Officer Nick Bailey in the virtual platform developed for this year’s Broker Owner Conference. There can even be a dog in the lobby, to say nothing of virtual help desks manned by RE/MAX employees in real time and a general session theater in which the seats are occupied by photos of the event’s actual attendees. This is as real as virtual events get.
“It feels like our convention,” says Harris.
Yet for all the effort to turn RE/MAX’s annual fall event into a state-of-the-art digital conference, Harris hopes she never has to do it again.
“I’m not built for virtual meetings,” says Harris, who worked with Hyatt before taking over events for the real estate giant in 2001. “We’re doing this because we have to.”
New Real Estate
Harris produces about 300 meetings for RE/MAX annually. The fall Broker Owner Conference is the company’s second-largest event with typically 1,000 attendees. She was able to get in the mammoth RE/MAX R4 Convention—7,000 attendees in Las Vegas—just before COVID-19 shut down the events and hospitality industries.
While signs of life are emerging across the country, the logistics of holding an in-person conference on Aug. 17-18 in San Diego as planned became too difficult. “How do you launch a website when the hotel is closed?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s a PR nightmare.”
If Harris couldn’t do a live event, she decided she was not going to have another Zoom meeting. She and the RE/MAX team scoured the options and opted for Intrado to develop its platform.
Among the benefits Harris lists of going with Intrado is its existing relationship with Cvent, which typically powers registration for RE/MAX shows. More importantly, Intrado has been building digital events for years. Not only does that mean the company can produce sleek visuals for virtual events, which it can, but it also is experienced in what security measures to employ.
Registration began June 10. Harris expects the numbers could hit 5,000 attendees—five times greater than usual. “This the first time we’re going global” with the Broker Owner Conference, says Harris, who says 110 countries will be represented.
In building out a dynamic event platform, Harris is planning the agenda to push attendees to experience the show as it is occurring. There may be some prerecorded elements but RE/MAX will be broadcasting live out of its studios in its Denver corporate headquarters.
“It will be scary, but it will be great,” says Harris.
Selling to Sponsors
There will be pop-ups in the lobby directing traffic to general sessions in the theater or the virtual marketplace, the event’s crown jewel.
Vetted exhibitors—like Zillow, for example—have different tiered sponsorship options. They can create their own branding and build booths to their specification inside Intrado’s portal. Exhibitors will “man” the booths for virtual appointments during show hours, with the option for one-on-one video chats.
But wait, there’s more.
“Exhibitors will get data on everyone who attended their booth and have access to the live chat to go back and see what they talked about with each person,” says Harris. “No one has done a virtual marketplace like this.”
It’s up to Harris and the company to convince the paying sponsors the effort is worth it when they can’t physically shake attendees’ hands. She is conducting several walk-throughs like the one provided to Connect to make her case.
Come August, Harris will eagerly be studying the flow of traffic, looking specifically who showed up when and for how long. Sessions will generally be in the 30-45-minute range and lobbies are being created to put like-minded groups in the same vicinity for virtual networking. One virtual lobby will be for the international audience, which also will have its own track.
Keynote speakers will be former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann, UnMarketing President Scott Stratten and comedian Baratunde Thurston
The conference will run on U.S. Mountain time, but sessions will move to on-demand as soon as they are completed for up to 48 hours.
As soon as the Broker Owner Conference ends, Harris hopes to plan some smaller in-person events this fall. She insists R4 will happen in-person in 2021, but with probably be about half the crowd at this year’s event—and has already adjusted contracts accordingly.
Until then, Harris is a virtual events planner, whether she likes it or not.
“This is not the new normal; this is the new now,” Harris says. “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”