I first heard about James Tostevin’s Melbourne Real Estate Conference in late 2018. 

I was excited. Finally, someone was bringing a challenge to AREC. If you’re not familiar with Australia’s real estate industry, AREC is known as the industry event of the year. It features headline international speakers, and the opportunity to hear from local leaders. It goes for three days, which makes for a significant amount of potential shenanigans when agents play away from home. It is never in Melbourne. Which sucks, especially as not all agents want to go away on school camp with their colleagues. Y’know? I know you know.

Anyhoo. The prospect of a Melbourne Real Estate Conference was a breath of fresh air, and an opportunity for Tostevin to stamp his particular style on a signature event. After some consideration, Ruby Assembly decided to sponsor the conference, and invest in hosting a real-world display booth for conference delegates – which was a first for our business.

We’d never invested time, money or effort into ‘conferencing’ as a business before. Partly, it was because I wasn’t up for a schlep to AREC (or similar). I was also unsure if the cost (we’re talking somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the quality of your offering) would be of benefit. Would I be better placed to put my money into building more digital assets for Ruby Assembly, or hosting a private event?

Ultimately, my decision to proceed with sponsorship of the event was the quality of the Melbourne Real Estate Conference offering – real market knowledge from currently practising agents through a complex market. I also liked the idea of being involved with MREC – hoping that it would in years to come become an industry ‘thing’ that would compete with the likes of AREC.

If you’re flirting with the idea of ‘conferencing’ by hosting a booth or sponsoring an event, here’s what I learned from Ruby Assembly’s successful experience at MREC.

Conference Sponsorship Is Not Right for Every Business

Conferencing is not for you if you are a start-up that’s cash strapped. Whilst it is true that marketing dollars must work hard in all businesses – they must work doubly hard in the higher-risk days of startup. We spent a whack of business savings on our beautiful booth and collateral for the Melbourne Real Estate Conference. All things considered, I was not bothered about the ‘return on investment’ of the spend. I was curious about what might come from it, and I felt that now was as good a time as ever to try our hand at a booth – without too many expectations.

Would I do another conference? Yes. It was great and we got more than we expected from it.

Would I recommend your business participates in a conference in start-up or when funds are tight? No. There are more powerful and effective ways to spend your money prospecting. 

This opinion does not come from being a downer on conferences. It is merely a pragmatic observation that you should put your resources into hard-working digital assets and prospecting tools when you’re in start-up. Conferences are ephemeral – here one moment, gone the next. Websites, eBooks and databases are here forever. Invest there first. When there’s more gas in the tank, try a conference.

Do It Well

Look, Ruby Assembly’s booth was a frickin’ dreamboat. I was so proud of what we did with our space, which really brought our brand to life with consideration and investment. Committing to the conference – and filling a 3 x 6 space – made me purchase some brand collateral that I’d been putting off (for some unknown reason). Having commissioned and purchased this collateral, I can safely say that our upcoming events and my speaking engagements will be even more fun than usual.

The collateral I purchased included high quality photographic banners, a Ruby Assembly-themed Instagram booth and custom Ruby Assembly selfie-props. We also had a stack of very gorgeous, quality stock A5 cards printed and placed in attendee’s bags, inviting them to download our Social Media for Estate Agents eBook.

I also hired lush pink velvet and gold-finished furniture from Valiant Hire to create a casual lounge zone, replete with greenery. It looked fancy. There were marble-topped tables and a gold-filigree screen. It was a LEWK.

My suggestion is: don’t go to a conference with the bare minimum in terms of furnishing your booth or branding your biz. It looks a bit half-baked, and conferencing is really about reinforcing an identity and making an impactful impression. Wait until you can do it properly, and really wow ’em. Having a booth or sponsoring isn’t high on the ‘ROI’ scale – so give yourself and your business every chance at a good experience by doing an outstanding job that doesn’t feel rushed or ill-considered.

Have Your Digital Collateral In Place

Maximise your capacity to turn cold or mildly-warm relationships into live clients by having a full digital ecosystem available for those curious about your business to investigate post-conference.

The reality is, attendees at conferences get tired from listening to all that good info. During breaks, they want to eat and socialise, check their messages and relax before the next session. They may see your brand and your booth, but not physically visit you. You need to make their experience of Googling your brand, or looking for you on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn a powerful one that offers lots of opportunity for interaction with a low perceived commitment risk. Importantly, you want to have created downloadable, high-quality content (such a ripper eBook) that helps conference attendees exchange their details for your knowledge. Once you’ve got the data and you’ve provided value, you can then begin to build a relationship. That’s what business is all about. 

Don’t Be a Creep

Nobody likes to feel like they’re being preyed upon by hungry sponsors or booth-holders at conference. It’s creepy AF, and attendees can tell if you’re eyeing them up like avocado on toast. Let the attendees come to you if they want to interact. Keep your energy friendly and relaxed. Be courteous and curious about your fellow sponsors and booth-peeps.

Enjoy Yourself!

If you’re overly focused on trying to extract ‘ROI’ from your sponsorship or booth, you could soon find the day wearing thin. Go with colleagues. Feel free not to stand at attention like the Queen’s guard. Relax on the couch, have quality conversations with those who approach you. Even better – do as I did. Bring your own speaker and pump 90’s hits like Return of the Mack. Worked a treat.

Give ROI a Break

My secret to great marketing and winning business? Don’t get too obsessed with ROI. It makes you less creative. It buys into the belief that marketing is a ‘magic bullet’ or secret recipe that will result in a win. It narrows ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ into very limited outcomes, leaving no room for long-game wins that ultimately build a thriving business. The fact is: you must market to have a successful business. What you don’t need to do is punish yourself with the zero-sum game of ROI.

To have a look-see at some pretty lo-fi images of Ruby Assembly’s booth at MREC 2019, visit our Instagram page.