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There’s always something to howl about

How does a success like REBarCamp avoid the shoe pinch of growing pains?

Rob Hahn is at it again. He likes to instigate, but since he’s so charming, I fall for it. However, unlike our Fred v Gene cage fight, this time I’m serious.

Rob thinks a clearinghouse for national sponsorships for Real Estate Bar Camps is a fine idea, and suggests BHG, or Trulia could step up to the plate.

I don’t think it should become the organizer, or start putting rules and such into place (except the obvious unavoidable ones, like “don’t run off with the money”). But it would be helpful for those of us interested in sponsoring REBC’s.

I vote eek.

I like the idea of BarCamp- loose, free, perfect fit for my brain. And I like that it’s organized by passionate people. I have years of volunteer experience under my belt- big, national organizations, and little local organizations. I can appreciate and respect the time and talent that goes into creating a successful event. My concern with Rob’s suggestion is the fact that sponsors do get preferential treatment. Often this type of arrangement is benign, as in local businesses contribute $20.00 worth of coupons to help fill out a PTO raffle, but we are not talking about that. Although, as an aside, if REBC organizers are not looking at the local businesses- local inspectors, local lenders, local photographers as participants (and maybe they do?) then they might be missing some extraordinary partnering possibilities. Looking at the REBarCamp/Seattle site, it’s all national sponsors. Getting local companies involved would truly be in the BarCamp philosophy, wouldn’t it?

Back to the point. Here’s the thing: Corporations don’t give to organizations, or un-organizations, out of the kindness of their hearts. They just don’t. They give because they expect something in return. Always. Their name here or there, their “presentation”, their branded junk, their “let us help you use our product” panel. BarCamps are free flowing and loose, the sponsor is twittering away with us, and golly darn-it, they are super nice! They bought us drinks at that other wingding- don’t you remember? What can it hurt if they become the go-to guys?

It hurts because you can’t speak out against the person who pays you. You tell yourself you can. You want to believe you can. But when someone is holding the cash, then if you have the backbone to speak your mind, you tone it down, you choose to demur, you talk around the sponsor, because you don’t want them to pull their sponsorship.

A strictly hypothetical example: Let’s say that Eric Blackwell decides to present something he’s passionate about at REBarCamp/Indy – no follow links and how they might hurt your business. Let’s say that the clearinghouse sponsor is, as Rob suggests, Trulia. Rudy B is a very nice guy, Eric B is a very nice guy, everyone involved in the organizing of REBarCamps are nice guys. No one wants to be a bad guy. On the other hand, Eric is adamant about teaching Realtors his thoughts and since BarCamp code says anyone can present anything, he proceeds.

Well, it just so happens that Eric’s presentation is so popular that he is now in demand all across the Tri-state area at BarCamps. Not only REBarCamps, but PodCamps as well have heard of Eric the Rockstar and now the Twitterboard is lighting up like mad with hashtags and, pay attention, an anti-Trulia virus is spreading. Not among Realtors, but among bloggers in general who understand the power of link love. So the eyeballs are banning Trulia, and faster than you can say “pulling our sponsorship”….

Okay, that’s an over-the-top hypothetical. Let’s think about a more true-to-life version.

Eric and Eric want to give a presentation on the power of link love, and the evils of no follow, but being uber nice guys and business men, they don’t want to offend any sponsors, so they give a watered down version of the presentation they really want to give, and the attendees pick up on the general atmosphere, feel that something is being held back, and in BarCamp fashion- they walk. All that information is still stuck in fine brains of E&E. But here is the really sad part- next year attendance is down. Long live REBarCamp.

Okay, I’m being silly, right? I’ve never been a BarCamp attendee and I don’t play one on TV. Tell me why I’m wrong. Any sponsorship is dangerous, but it’s necessary, I get that. So where do we find the balance? How do you pay the bills, not burn out your volunteers, and keep REBC from becoming one more Fish-In-A-Barrel Vendorfesk? Or, let’s say it’s not vendors, but the NAR, or local boards who want to jump on REBC in a big way. Are you entirely comfortable with that?

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