Brainstorming Interviews

August 10, 2013 in Apartment Leasing Ideas, Apartment Management Ideas, Apartment Marketing Ideas, Brainstorming Sessions, Brainstorming Sessions - Executives, Brainstorming Sessions - Main Event


Over the years we introduced you to a national industry event that’s like no other.  The Annual Multifamily Housing Brainstorming Sessions™, now in their twenty sixth year, will occur in November, Las Vegas, Nevada; and we invited Tami Siewruk, the Chief Imagination Officer of the Multifamilypro and creator of the Brainstorming Sessions to sit down with us and share more information about the event and what attendees can look forward to this year.


Q:  We’ve heard a lot of “buzz” about Brainstorming over the years, and one of the things that we hear often is that it’s completely different from the industry’s other national events.  What’s so unique about it?


A:  I love to see and hear people talking about Brainstorming because they just light up all over.  We’ve heard so many people say the words “I’ve never experienced anything like it” that it’s become our motto.  They use words like life changing, and in the same breath, they say the thing that I hear most often, that “Brainstorming is the one industry event that you just can’t afford to miss.”  I certainly don’t mean to disparage our industry’s other national events and conferences because they are outstanding also, but I’ve never heard anybody refer to them as a life altering experience at the same time that they’re talking about the professional value; and that’s what I think sets Brainstorming apart the most.  It touches attendees’ lives both where they work and where they live.


Q:  So, would you say that comparing Brainstorming to other national apartment events is an apples to oranges proposition?


A:  Yes, that’s probably a fair observation.  As an example — and I say this having participated in other national events as a vendor, presenter and attendee – the other national events that serve our industry have far more in common with each other than with Brainstorming.  There are two big reasons for this.  The first is that we don’t just focus on sharing information with our attendees – though we do that very well through a broad variety of seminars, workshops, and panel discussions – but the overall focus is on getting our heads together to come up with workable solutions.  That focus represents a whole added dimension to information sharing that nobody else offers.  As a result, Brainstormers walk away with some really unique tangible benefits, including a year of exclusive access to all of the ideas that they bring to the event to share in our Brainstorming Tools, Forms & Ideas Exchange™, and the ideas that they come up with during the event.  The ideas that they Brainstorm at the event are gathered up, translated wherever feasible into usable tools like ads, campaigns, plans, forms – you name it – and given back to them in a private website, so they receive ideas and tools that they can use immediately to bring in more traffic and sign more leases, retain residents and manage their properties more profitably.


Q:  And the second reason?


A:  Well, I’m not so sure that I can do this justice in words, but it’s probably where all of those stunned “I’ve never experienced anything like this” reactions come from.  The second thing that sets us apart in a big way is the “personality” of the event.  The entire Brainstorming environment is worlds apart from anything else out there.  It’s the thing that, when it’s all over, you wish you could bottle and take home with you.  We give certain parts of the event a fun new theme each year, and we really go all out to make Brainstormers feel like they’re spending a few days in a new and different reality than they’re used to. One Brainstormer called it “brilliantly organized chaos,” and another said to me once “I like the way you kind of shake things up to shake things out of us.”  Was it Oscar Wilde who said all progress is made by unreasonable people?  Sometimes you have to separate people from their everyday reason and reality in order to bring out their best ideas.  It works remarkably well… so well that the registration fee comes with a money-back guarantee.


Q:  You just talked about bringing out people’s best ideas.  How does that relate to the Brainstorming Tools, Forms & Ideas Exchange that you mentioned a couple of minutes ago?


A:  The Brainstorming Ideas, Tools & Forms Exchange is one of the absolute best benefits of Brainstorming.  One of the first things that we ask Brainstormers to do after they’ve registered is to send us one of their best ideas.  The idea can take practically any form, as long as it’s something that other apartment professionals will find interesting or useful.  They can submit the idea in narrative form – just tell us all about it via a form on our web site – or submit a tool or form by sending us a computer file containing, say, a spreadsheet or ad layout or marketing plan or anything else they’d like to share.  So, by the time everyone has registered and sent in their submissions, we have hundreds of amazing pieces of information from all over the country… traffic generation ideas, retention tips, leasing exercises, training event plans, low-to-no-cost marketing tips, etc.  It’s like some kind of a magic treasure chest that just refills itself every year… but there’s a catch.  The only people who get the key to the chest are the people who put something into it.  We compile all of the ideas, tools and forms that we receive for each event, and only the people who contributed something access to this area of the website.  I can’t tell you how many times I returned to my desk after Brainstorming to find voice mail and e-mail messages from attendees saying that they just got home and went through the special section of the website and realized that the ideas on it would more than repay the cost of their entire Brainstorming participation.  I love the calls that say that just one idea alone made it worth the trip.  My favorite calls are from people who say, “I just showed my Idea Exchange to my boss, and not only am I definitely coming back next year, but they’ll be coming with me too!”


Q:  So, what are some of the best ideas that have come from the Tools, Forms & Ideas Exchange?


A:  Wow, where do I begin?  Actually, I can’t begin any sooner than Brainstorming 2011 because that’s part of the deal – we agree not to release the ideas to anyone other than the contributors for a year after each event so they stay somewhat exclusive before we share them with our customers and subscribers.  These are a few attendee favorites from among the most recent ones I can share:  give your new residents change of address postcards that feature one of your floor plans.  Create a sister community referral binder with information for residents who are being relocated to an area where your company has properties.  Leave behind nice photo frames as corporate call gifts with your leasing team’s photo and your business card in them.  Stamp the back of your business cards with “Pass this on to someone who’s interested in an apartment, and when they lease, we’ll mail you $250!”  Use a Polaroid sticker camera during the community tour to ad snapshots to your brochure for follow-up.  Use window decals that read “Leased!” or “Last One Like It!” during lease-up to create urgency.  Add electronic gift certificates for little things like free coffee or movie tickets to your follow-up e-mails.  Put up a “Quiet Time” sign at poolside every night to keep noise under control.  Use “Getting to Know You” surveys at lease signing to find out what residents like, and make a customized move-in package just for them.  Ask residents to sign an agreement at move-in that if their account ever goes to collection, they’ll pay the collection agency fee along with what they owe you.  Create Customer Service Zones matching residents with a specific leasing professional or service tech for more personalized service.  Recruiting?  Advertise a free seminar on what it takes to become a leasing professional.  Marketing to students?  Put up flyers on campus advertising a free seminar on how to budget for an apartment and still have a life. Try the ““One Extra Thing” Maintenance Program, where the service technicians always look for one extra thing to change, check, or fix in each apartment while they’re completing a service request. We have also heard a lot of ideas for saving carpets, like the Carpet Amnesty Program.


Q:  What are some of the best ideas that were created at Brainstorming?


A:  I can tell you that the first time I heard anybody say that one-day people would use the Internet to find an apartment, it was at Brainstorming.  A lot of concepts that are commonplace in our industry now became “implementable” solutions at a Brainstorming table, such as renewal rewards and frequent referral programs, kids clubs, recycling, submetering and resource conservation, custom home options, home buyer programs, concierge services, revenue sharing, business centers and cyber cafes and SO many more. After 26 years, it’s fun to see ideas that were created at Brainstorming, that were originally considered unrealistic, come to life and work in today’s markets. Some of my favorites are the ones that are forehead-slapping, brilliantly simple. Create new positions for “floating” experienced managers to help get new communities off the ground.  Offer flexible lease terms that are staggered to keep the unit mix consistent through the year or scheduled to expire in peak traffic months.  Sell “insurance” against lease breakage.  Sponsor coffee breaks at large corporate employers, teacher break rooms, and your local police and fire departments.    When road construction cuts into your traffic, make your own “Detour” signs leading people right to your door.  Reinvent slow-to-lease two-bedroom, one-bath apartments into “one bedroom plus den” ones.  Each new group of Brainstormers brings something new to the table, so even the classic ideas get a fresh twist every year.


Mark your calendars for November 13th – 15th in Las Vegas, and sign up now at  Chances are, there’s at least one idea in this article that’ll get you one new or renewed lease – and that would more than pay for the cost of your trip.  Tell me all about it when you get there!



We interviewed several well-respected industry leaders and asked them to share why they consider Multifamilypro’s Brainstorming Sessions  to be the one national industry event that Apartment Professionals can’t afford to miss.  We also asked them to share the very best idea they’ve ever taken away from Brainstorming.  Here’s what they had to say!


Tracey Hopkins


Don’t Miss It:  “Nowhere else can you find such well-rounded education and strength skill building, and all-around mental aerobics.  Brainstorming has literally catapulted my career.  It’s a ‘Must Do’ for everyone who’s interested in apartment marketing and training!”


Best Idea:  “My favorite of all of the ideas that came to me at Brainstorming is Kiddie Collateral; the idea to provide marketing collateral that’s especially for children.  Kids love the special attention and feeling of involvement that it gives them.  While I’ve taken away literally thousands of ideas, Brainstorming has also afforded me the opportunity to get my own mind working on my own challenges and solutions.”


Debbie Davis


Don’t Miss It:  “One word sums it up, opportunity.  Opportunity to network, share and receive ideas, gain knowledge in a surrounding of your true marketing and training peers.  And to have fun while learning is the icing on the Brainstorming cake.”


Best Idea:  “If there is one idea I use year after year and it really originated even before the conference began was Tami’s Networking Directory.  This has been a tool to use both on a corporate level and onsite.  Business cards have their place but putting a face with a name has been a lifesaver year after year.  I network with it, write notes by contacts I have made with details or an idea shared while networking. We are even developing an internal network directory for our own company.  Do I have a favorite idea, that would be hard to pin point.   But what about a tried and true, meaning you know it works cause you tried it. This was shared at my table two years ago that proved to be a huge traffic generator. Post It Notes.  We overprinted the notes went out and stuck them on car windows (with a tickler to bring it in for a lease special) and I promise our traffic increased by over 30%.  And the cost was minimal.”.


Sandy Avery


Don’t Miss It:  Brainstorming is the only event that allows everyone to openly discuss real problems and real solutions in an exciting and stimulating environment.  Rather than spending several days sitting and listening to others speak, Brainstormers become active participants in the creative solution process and as such, revolutionary ideas are born.  The opportunity to learn from and share with others as well as the unique position of learning about and participating in cutting edge ideas before they reach the general population cannot be found anywhere.  Anyone who misses Brainstorming is definitely behind the curve.  Brainstorming provides the best return and is the one industry event that Apartment Professionals truly can’t afford to miss.”


Best Idea:  “Wow! How do you chose just one?  My favorite best idea from Brainstorming would have to be the concept of ‘live models.’  We have created a entire campaign around this idea and each year we hire actors to ‘live’ in our apartment homes for few days.  Everyone loves to work on this campaign and the public response continues to grow.  Each year produces a new best idea and I am anxiously awaiting the best of 2002.”


Esther Bonardi-Basden


Don’t Miss It:  “There are a few things that make Brainstorming the one conference you shouldn’t miss.  First of all, Brainstorming creates an environment that is truly conducive to learning.  I’ve heard people who haven’t been say that it looks like a big party.  It does look like a big party, but all of those crazy costumes and room decorations serve a real purpose. They tear down people’s barriers–barriers to learning, barriers to creativity, and barriers to each other.  At most conferences, we carry our professional baggage into the classroom to a certain extent.  At Brainstorming, all of that is peeled off, and we are left with hearts and minds that are excited about learning something new.

Another reason not to miss Brainstorming is the opportunity for networking. The entire conference is pretty self-contained within one hotel.  Other conferences lose their attendees at 5:00 to the entertainment throughout the host city.  At Brainstorming, people stay together hours after the sessions have ended for the day.  There are a number of networking receptions and dinners built in to the conference that help facilitate relationship building.  And once you have seen each other dressed in silly costumes, it is easy to find something to talk about.  I go to several conferences a year, but the only one I have built lasting business relationships—and friendships–through is Brainstorming.

Finally, Brainstorming gives you the opportunity to recharge and remember why you love this business in the firt place.  It is inspiring and invigorating–a religious experience without the religion!  Believe it or not, the motivation can last throughout the entire year!”

Best Idea:  “It’s hard to pinpoint one ‘best idea.’  There have been so many!  I can say this – often I am so inspired by Brainstorming that I come up with some great ideas after the sessions are over.  Something I hear during the day will spark a new train of thought, and I will come up with my own idea later… built off of a seed planted during a Brainstorming session.”


Sharon Ruttenbur


Don’t Miss It:  “Property management professionals cannot afford to miss Brainstorming because of the fantastic networking opportunities! You have the chance to share ideas in an inhibited environment with career-focused professionals that would pay for the conference out of their own pocket, if they had to!  You can run an idea, or ask a colleague if they had ever tried a product; and get real feedback, immediately. I’ve been attending for nine years, and always mark the next year dates in as the event comes to close.  It’s the energy boost I always look forward to year after, year!”


Best Idea:  “From the idea exchange, I adapted a version of a Superior Shopping Spree that I still use today to inspire excellence in our Mystery Shop Program.  Believe it or not, I learned PowerPoint at Brainstorming 1998.  It was amazing.  I was able to create a presentation needed the following week for my Company.  Brainstorming focuses on the issues of today and tremendously keen eye on the future of our industry. Very exciting stuff!”


Lisa Klinglesmith

Don’t Miss It:  “First of all, there is nothing in the industry like it!  Almost 1,000 of the top “industry minds” together, not just listening and learning from speakers, but SHARING their common knowledge.  As an industry we all experience virtually the same challenges each and everyday.  However, Brainstorming is the only industry vehicle that affords us the opportunity to not only discuss these common issues, but to actually find and share solutions.  If you cannot take back solution concepts after actively working with so many professionals of all levels and geographic experiences, you’re not listening.” 


Best Idea:  “WOW!  So many ideas and concepts come to mind.  I really do not know where to start or end.  In general, some of the most powerful ideas I have taken back have dealt with handling personnel issues.  I have picked up a few tricks that have bolstered my efforts towards staff motivation, instilling loyalty, and getting staff, as well as, supervisors to buy into the training and marketing efforts.  There are many amazing ideas out there.  But, the coolest thing about this is, the ideas have already been tried and by the time you get them most of the wrinkles have already been ironed out!  That works for me!”

Jennifer Nevitt


Don’t Miss It:  “Every sophisticated owner is looking for new ideas.  Even a single new idea that has been proven by a colleague in another region of the country could be worth the entire trip!”


Best Idea:  “We’ve picked up a variety of ideas for working with ‘latch key’ kids over our years of Brainstorming, and they’ve been among the most successful we’ve tried.”


Terri Norvell

Don’t Miss It:  “There are so many benefits to attending Brainstorming, but I think the bottom line is that it imparts the valuable skill of applying creativity and resourcefulness within one’s position.  The business advantages of being able to do that are enormous.  More than any other conference in our industry, Brainstormers learn how to ‘outthink’ their competition by using innovative resources, and to be more creative in developing solutions to their challenges.  That’s why attendees keep coming back year after year…they learn, they grow and they get energized to perform at higher and higher levels!”


Best Idea:  “The most valuable thought I’ve taken away from Brainstorming is that we each have SO many resources that are readily available to us.  It’s a forum of new ideas and solutions that we can turn to when we need solutions to any challenge!”


Claire Collins


Don’t Miss It:  “There is no other event that offers attendees the opportunity to rub elbows with the best in the industry.”


Best Idea:  More valuable than any of the great ideas I’ve culled from Brainstorming is the attitude it’s given me.  Before Brainstorming (BB) my approach to training and problem solving was much different.  BB, I was much more closed-minded.  Much of what I did followed a cutting-the-roast-in-half thought process:  ‘we’re not really sure why, but we’ve always done it this way’ was the rationale behind everything.  After Brainstorming (AB) I became much more innovative.  Challenges are met with more creativity, and AB I have a network of peers throughout the country who can help.  I’ve brought much back to my company in the form of productivity and ingenuity, which I feel I’ve sparked in others too”


Douglas D. Chasick


Don’t Miss It:  “Brainstorming is the ONLY national conference/event/meeting/gathering where everyone has the complete freedom (and responsibility) to fully participate in determining the outcome of our three days together! We invent, imagine, create and share any and all ideas, regardless of their initial practicality or feasibility; and, as a group, we discuss, mold and shape these often outlandish thoughts and ideas into practical, easy to implement tools that we can take home and use immediately! Think about it – where else in our industry does that happen, year after year, EVERY year, without fail? Simple – NO WHERE ELSE!!!”


Best Idea:  “The best idea I’ve taken away is even more valuable than any specific ‘How to lease more…’ idea, rather, it’s been a complete shift in my attitude toward my team.  I completely reinvented the way I related to my staff, conducted meetings and solicited their ideas, opinions and criticism based on the incredibly powerful interaction model practiced at Brainstorming. While I still have my preconceived notions, judgments and “brilliant” ideas, I’m SO MUCH more open to everyone else’s ideas and, due to my training and practice as a facilitator, I create and maintain an environment where ideas are grown, nurtured and fine tuned, instead of listening to people because it’s the “right thing to do” and then doing what I wanted to do regardless of what my team said!”


Kathy Lane


Don’t Miss It:  “brainstorming is an opportunity to re-energize yourself, your team and your company with new ideas in marketing, management and training.  The idea exchange has the most valuable tools, ideas, forms, policies, etc, that can be immediately implemented and used by your entire team.  As professionals it gets difficult to constantly come up with new ways to keep our companies and communities “cutting-edge”.  Brainstorming is a group of hundreds of committed individuals that help you solve your challenges and improve with NEW ideas.  It is like hiring 200 top consultants at one time.”