Advisor Virtual Resilience Series (Part 1): Virtual Advisor Summit

[The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted all financial services professionals, their vendor partners, and their clients into a new virtual operating environment; one that many were not prepared for or adept in. The need for answers to truly scary questions, evaluating sudden changes to better understand impacts, and determining quickly what best course of actions to take – all needed to be explored and communicated virtually. This became the focus of a new business reality. It also quickly led to the unquestioned realization of the need for rapid learning on how to navigate this new, unprecedented world of volatility, uncertainty, confusion, and ambiguity.

In the middle of all this, it was very heartening to see a number of major digital forums and virtual meetings that were quickly conceived of and implemented to start addressing these massive concerns. Exhibiting leadership in the middle of crisis demonstrates courage, especially as definitive answers were hard to come by.  But, it was also very practical as it pushed them to learn by doing, sharing ideas, and engaging in meaningful discussions. They began modeling the leadership and positive actions needed for this new landscape — build stronger strategic partnerships, offer many varied perspectives, and learn together with your audience.

With this article, the Institute is starting a new series on Virtual Engagement Leaders and review some recent virtual events as case studies to examine and learn from their experiences. One such event that bears review was the May 6th Virtual Advisor Summit put together by Jeremiah Demarais, CEO of Advisorist and Kevin Darlington, general manager of Broadridge Advisor Solutions. Their event was singular in the size and scope of their virtual offering.

Over the course of one day, they provided six live presentations from industry leaders and 15 on-demand sessions to choose from by a broad range of specialists from marketing, social media consulting, growth hacking, practice management, retirement planning, organizational psychology, and successful advisors with unique growth strategies.

Presenters included co-producers Desmarais and Darlington, Ed Slott (Ed Slott & Co), Michael Kitces (, Brad Swineheart (White Glove), Luke Acree (ReminderMedia), Duncan Macpherson (Pareto), Tom Hegna (economist, best-selling author), Frank Maselli (best-selling author), Dan Collison (Advice2Advisor), and Marc Kiner (Premier Social Security Consulting LLC).

Topics covered an extensive arsenal of specific skills and tools for the current environment including selling in the era of social distancing; new advanced retirement/tax updates; virtual presentation strategies; virtual marketing strategies; virtual communication techniques; social marketing frameworks; niche marketing to women; virtual seminar best practices; world class e-learning; secrets to blog and podcasting success; situational social security; and marketing master strategies.

The event was free to live participants but also provided the ability to pay for ongoing VIP access and download (which is still available) to all speaker presentations and tools across this wide range of topics. The response they received demonstrated the need for this kind of information, guidance, and outreach of support as the co-sponsors reported over 6,110 advisors registered for the Virtual Summit representing $194.8 Billion in AUM.

I reached out to Jeremiah Desmarias to ask about the mechanics of how they developed and implemented such a large engagement event for and with such a cross section of advisors and industry leaders. I particularly asked them to share their experiences and lessons learned in order to encourage and help advisors and other industry leaders on developing their virtual skills and create their own virtual engagement strategies for their clients and community.]

Bill Hortz: What were the main steps and time frame you took from idea to launch for your Virtual Summit?

Jeremiah Desmarais: The Summit was designed to share best practices and lessons in the field of virtual financial advising. From team assembly to go-live was five weeks. FIVE. It was mammoth, but we knew we needed to get to our audience ASAP with some time-sensitive content.

Picture project management along two separate but parallel tracks. Track one was on the human logistics — the planning you would see for an in-person two-day event, vetting speakers, staging promotions, and driving excitement.

At the same time, we had to move FAST. So, track two was focused on the tech logistics which we ran like a bullet train. All turnaround times were checked and then compressed from days to hours. One part of the team worked on track one with a few days lead time, setting the framework. Another part of the team then sprinted from one task to the next to execute the plan.

We kept our teams fluid to keep bottlenecks out – one person may be assigned to different points on both tracks. If you want to pull something like this off and have it be amazing, you need to be creative and adaptive. Basically, this was the same message we conveyed to attendees who needed to learn themselves how to pivot with little warning!

Hortz: How did you bring in so many industry leaders and solutions providers so quickly?

Desmarais: We placed feelers around to a number of people we worked with previously where we knew they would be high energy, positive, and bring value. We wanted expertise and energy to sustain such a long day. We asked people from our carefully vetted list hoping for five live and 10 on demand. You know what happened? Twenty-six said yes!

Our speakers started talking it up in their own circles and networks, they were that excited. We had to cut it off after a point to ensure all would bring unique insight to the advisors and there was no duplication in content. We were able to sequence speakers for the live event for the best flow and provide an unbelievable depth and breadth of experience specifically for the industry in the on-demand content for the Summit.

Hortz: What were the key dynamics of making this event happen?

Desmarais: Like we said earlier, you have to remain fluid. We had changes in technology needs, marketing channel algorithms, and a constant need for redundancy in talent. Normally, you do that to speed up a delivery date. In this case, yes, it helped us stretch the workday, but the reality also was that team backup availability was critical in case anyone became ill themselves or needed time off to take care of someone. So, we ran separate teams at Broadridge and at Advisorist — and while each had a point person – we also had pivot options for development, webinar tech, and speaker management.

Hortz: What were the major obstacles and how did you solve for them?

Desmarais: Time was not on our side. Five weeks to host a successful, meaningful, and well-attended event is a blip on the calendar. Key obstacles included:

Platform selection: There were several systems out there we looked at: One had several audio issues when tested so we eliminated them. Another has long been a gold standard we have used for many years but, we felt, did not carry the same ‘intimate feel’ that Zoom does. Ultimately, we feel like we took a bet on Zoom because we had never tested it with large groups of 500+ or more.

Platform stability: We knew systems were secure and messaging would be travelling through the firewall left and right, but the speed and volume could stress any system. For each registration promo we ran, we knew our speakers were running promos as well to spread the word. That causes exponential exposure but can create shakiness in systems if not well planned.

Bandwidth: This may sound redundant to the last point, but we literally meant the day-of bandwidth. With so many working from home, internet speeds can be strained. Now, we were going to have thousands connecting for 10 hours, into a single Zoom webinar.

We rehearsed, set up redundant technology in advance to roll over if needed, and set up communication channels outside of the room for updates and emergencies. We were in parallel on a YouTube stream in case users had lost Zoom access when underway.

We also asked everyone to send us “good virtual meeting” vibes so it would come off with minimal issues! And then, we also prayed a bit.

Hortz: Any last thoughts about what you learned through this event and wanted to share with financial professionals?

Desmarais: The response we received to our event reinforced that the financial services industry is at a unique inflection point. We were overwhelmed with over 6,000 registrations. We were amazed how many attended live and stayed through the full event. Feedback was unreal it was so good.

All of these are indicators that financial professionals recognize the need to adjust on how they conduct business with their clients and that they are really uncertain how to do it well. Based on the feedback, it is not just a passing lock-down fad.

We also learned that we all need to be as open to opportunities, embracing all the expertise there is out there in the industry, and start implementing the latest technologies and solutions as we transition from physical to a virtual advisory role.

We are committed to working with advisors by compiling the best Financial Advisor marketing strategies and best range of marketing expertise available to inform you of the creative options that are available. I would also like to invite you to our free weekly advisor classes every Wednesday, which we call our Virtual Advisor Power Hour, taught by experts on successful front-line marketing experiments working in today’s pandemic environment.

Each advisor will move through the year and into the next a little differently than the advisor next to them, and that is fine. Whether fully virtual or a hybrid, assemble the best team for you, and the best tools for your practice so you are focused and passionate about your practice’s future.

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors – Perishing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor magazine). For more information, click here.


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