I just received an e-mail from a rival media firm, promoting its latest apartment conference, which, like the MFE Conference, is in October. 

The subject line read, “TEST—The Top 5 Reasons to Register Now,” and while I admired the “Top 5” hook, I’m thinking “test” was a mistake.

Part of the promotion is to show off all the great speakers you’ll hear there, illustrated with 22 head shots lined in a row, designed to entice. I recognized a few faces, three of the industry’s best and brightest. 

But then I took a closer look and started counting. 

Of the 22 confirmed speakers, only eight were owners, developers, or managers. The rest were all lenders or brokers, with a GC and architect thrown in the mix too. Put another way, almost two-thirds of the speakers are there just to sell something. The halls are alive with the sound of a sales pitch!

But then I took an even closer look, and it got uglier.

Every single speaker—each and every one—was from a company sponsoring the event. Now, think about that: You have to pay to be a speaker at this show. 

The result? Infomercials masquerading as panel sessions. It’s one way to make a buck, but in the end, you’re selling out your audience to the highest bidder. 

As I plan the MFE Conference every year, I can’t tell you how often people approach me asking how much they have to pay to be a speaker. But we don’t roll like that. We pick our speakers based on what they have to say, not on how much they’ll pay to say it.

I wish I could say this rival firm was a trailblazer, but even the apartment world’s largest industry association sells itself by selling speaking slots.

I went to the association’s “education” conferences a few years ago. There was a session on the military market, and since I didn’t know much about that niche, I figured, why not. 

The session was sponsored by the largest property management software maker in our industry. And out of the handful of speakers on stage, two were salesmen from this software company. It wasn’t really educational, though I did learn something: I shouldn’t have gone to the conference.

I recalled all that as I scrolled further down, to the part where this rival firm breaks down its audience composition: 23% are brokers, another 38% are finance, and 8% are professional services. All told, that’s a whopping 69% trying to sell you something.

Then I stopped reading for a second, and it all seemed kind of funny, like a bad dream, a snake eating its own tail, a human centipede: All these speakers trying to sell products to an audience of people trying to sell the same products … . 

At the MFE Conference, we don’t even allow lenders and brokers to register as attendees. They can come if they buy a booth or sponsorship, sure—but that doesn’t entitle them to a spotlight on our stage. 

What you will see on our stage is a CEO panel featuring some of the biggest names in our field. We’ll have an economist panel, an awards ceremony, an exclusive research presentation, a keynoter who will blow your mind … and those are just the bonuses; I haven’t even mentioned the 17 panel sessions we have in store.

But enough of my yacking. I really do believe the proof is in the pudding, so I urge you to eat the pudding, to do your own compare/contrast, and you’ll see where I’m coming from. 

If you do, you’ll notice that one of their first ­sessions is called “A Focus on Agency Lenders.”  

But was that a Freudian slip? Shouldn’t the focus be on the borrowers?