Hello! Is Anyone Out There? It’s A Year For Virtual Celebrations

Written by Posted On Friday, 25 September 2020 05:00

Anyone who tuned in to the Emmy Awards last Sunday was quickly reminded that virtual celebrations can be a tough act to sell to award winners - and their fans. 

Yet, in a time when in-person galas are off the table in the wake of a global pandemic, real estate leaders were among the first in the nation to successfully rally their teams around a computer screen - and with recognition so important to career success, they are creating new and innovative ways to salute outstanding achievement.  

“We’ve been buffing up our virtual communications skills for some time,” said Dina Brannan, vice president of operations for Century 21 Award Realty, San Diego, Calif. “So, it was a short stretch to convert our mid-year awards gala to a virtual one that looked like it was live, but was almost entirely pre-recorded.”

Like savvy producers everywhere in the pandemic age, the company’s production team used pre-recorded guest presenters, including corporate president/ CEO Mike Miedler and company CEO David Romero, then added music, sound effects, and surprise entertainment to shape it into a seamless whole, Brannan said. 

“We normally do annual awards pick-up events as well - typically with a luncheon or dinner event for each office,” Brannan added. “Since we couldn’t do that this year, we decided to do a hybrid, COVID-safe red carpet event.”

Each awardee was given a pick-up time, so that no more than 10 masked and socially distanced agents were in the room at any given time, she explained. Agents were recorded as they made acceptance speeches and thanked their clients, and a little music and diversion was added to keep viewers engaged. Then each awardee received a customized video of the event as well as a social media graphic ready for posting, and the finished presentation was broadcast at the company’s weekly all-company meeting.

“The interruption of normal recognition festivities has been hard,” said Helen Hanna Casey, CEO, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in Pittsburgh, whose 11,000 agents serve a five-state area. “Some of our people last year were awarded trips to the Bahamas or the Amalfi Coast of Italy that should have happened in April. But the coronavirus postponed their travel first to this fall, and now again to next spring.”

To help ease the sting, Casey said, agents who repeat their top production levels this year will be able to take additional people with them at no cost when the trips are ultimately taken.

“Meanwhile,” she said, “we are doing a mix of things to keep our people engaged and motivated - everything from virtual sundae parties and lavish gift baskets delivered to doorsteps to inspiring guest speaker presentations and some in-person dinner celebrations for small groups when possible.”

In states where indoor gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed under current rules, company executives are doing their best to maximize the opportunity.

“We are still hopeful that our major awards event may be able to take place as planned early next year,” said Phyllis Brookshire, president, Allen Tate Realtors® in North Carolina. “But we are doing what we can within the current restrictions to be sure our award winners know how much we value and appreciate them.”

Quarterly breakfast recognition programs are scaled down for groups of 10, Brookshire said and the company is always looking for exciting programs and unique gifts with which to reward achievement.

“As the official Realtor of the Carolina Panthers, we came up with a handsome, one-of-a-kind insulated travel cup, for example, that featured both our company logo and the Panthers logo,” she said. “Also, instead of awarding plaques to recognize achievement, we let many of our awardees shop on Amazon for gifts of their own choosing.”

Small, in-person and socially distanced office gatherings during these trying times sometimes include cocktails and snacks, Brookshire said, and when award winners must be recognized in the impersonal vacuum of a Zoom meeting, company leaders try to make it special by personally delivering gifts or trophies to the awardees.

“These are challenging times in many ways,” said Casey. “But just as our agents have learned to conduct business in new and innovative ways, we, as leaders, see this as an opportunity to do things differently than usual - and in the end, we may all be stronger for the effort.”

For Brannan, it’s a time to capitalize on the unique capabilities of virtual technology.

“Much of what we are doing today will become a part of the new normal,” she said. “Our media room is always busy- agents making videos or working with our marketing team to learn to create effective podcasts.”

It makes perfect sense, said Brannan, for company leaders to incorporate virtual options into even the company’s most celebratory events.

“One thing is clear,” she said. “In a hotel ballroom or in a Zoom meeting room, the way to capture and hold attention is to change it up. Make it fun. Keep it interesting.”

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Barbara Pronin

Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade. She is also the author of three mystery novels and two non-fiction books.

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