A sea of suits. Sara Bailey recollects the view from a hilltop on her first visit to MIPIM, the London property world’s home-from-home on the French Riviera.
The big communications challenge for the real estate sector is changing attitudes
The property sector has a bad image. Developers and contractors are “net takers” from society. The public sees no social value from their activities. They don’t trust them – or councils – on planning. They wouldn’t advise young people to join the industry.
This grim rundown is communicated by Melanie Leech, head of the British Property Federation. An audience of real estate pros listens. It’s hard to say if they are surprised. Probably not.
No-one likes us
There has always been a Millwall-attitude among some hard-headed industry types: “No-one likes us. We don’t care.” But today, there is a realisation that such attitudes are not helpful. For example, winning public support for a regeneration project that is partly funded by a local council is tough enough without starting a goal down. A recent visit to Anthology’s Hoxton Press development showed that to be true. It took numerous iterations to get the people of Hackney’s approval.
How should we respond to what seems like an overwhelming reputation management challenge? One initiative is a new BPF campaign. The pillars of ‘Redefining Real Estate’ include communities, skills and environment – something else that the industry isn’t trusted on, according to BPF studies.
It’s clear that to change public perceptions, the sector must change. Melanie confesses to being shocked when she came into property at attitudes to the public. Today, though, there is a move towards thinking about customers as people. That’s a mindset identified in a recent Property Week article as crucial for competitive advantage.
Mindful that this campaign can’t be a superficial PR exercise, the BPF has decided to walk the talk (the best kind of PR, as I discussed in our blog The Daring Fox) on diversity by shaking up its board.
Modernisation (such an old-fashioned world) also means that the property industry must embrace technology, music to the ears of our prop-tech client, Abintra.
Speaking alongside Melanie at the offices of top ten accountancy firm Crowe is Sandi Rhys-Jones of the Association of Women in Property . She singles out thought leadership and story-telling – both powerful weapons in the PR and communications armoury – as key factors in changing attitudes.
“It’s a great industry,” she says. “We need to tell a better story.”
She took a group of children to Waterloo Bridge, built during the war by a workforce that was 70 per cent women, to get the message across. She works with a comedian to highlight the issue of unconscious bias in the construction workplace.
We need to look a through a new lens, she suggests. That’s one of the reasons for getting an outside PR and communications agency to look at your real estate business. It’s always hard to see yourself as others see you.
There’s an old joke. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to want to change. Initiatives such as the BPF’s new campaign and Women In Property will not by themselves change the industry’s reputation.
EG’s (female) editor Sam Clary is a passionate proponent of diversity and equality in the sector. Between chastising the industry for its inequalities, she often highlights good works by companies making commitments to change.
Are these beacons that others will follow? Are they a real trend, rather than just flavour of the month? Are they window dressing or backed up by effective action? I recall Nigel Bogle of the ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (Levi jeans boxer shorts launderette) saying that the measure of a company having a genuine principle is to ask does that principle cost it money.
Get the message out
I wonder what proportion of real estate firms have a desire, let alone a funded communications programme, to play a part in changing the industry’s reputation. Will such funded programmes survive a downturn? Commitment to protecting the environment was a big deal in the early 1990s until recession hit. It took more than a decade to climb back up the corporate agenda.
Hefty though it is, the UK property and construction sector is part of a global picture. Wider tectonic shifts in public attitudes as well as global economic forces will eventually force it to change. But we can accelerate change by walking the walk.
Which brings me to a final question: How many firms are doing good things but neglecting to get the message out? As I’ve seen on numerous regeneration and reputation management projects, you need to walk the walk and talk the talk.
“What is PR?” It’s one of the most common questions people in our sector get asked. Close behind is: “What’s the difference between Public Relations and marketing?” As it turns out, the answer to the second question sheds much light on the first.
Firms who back up their property brand marketing by walking the talk will be more successful than those who peddle empty promises.
How do you build your firm’s PR profile, raise awareness and develop a reputation in a sector where you have yet to make your mark? Or how about if you do have a track record in a sector but your customers won’t let you talk about the projects you’ve done for them?
MIPIM is the largest and most important European property event, hosted in Cannes each year. For most delegates and their businesses, it’s a significant investment of time and money. And with so much to do and see, it’s vital that you have your visit planned out before you step on the plane. We spoke to our property sector clients and contacts about how to get the most out of your time there.
Here are their top tips
Before you go
- KPIs – establish your objectives so that you can measure against these once you return – that way you will be able to gauge if your visit was a success and think about what you might do differently next time. Criteria could include a certain number of meetings over the four days, setting up a number of opportunities to meet people after the show when you’re back in the UK, collecting useful business cards, the number of clients met, social media interactions/blog visitors or journalist meetings/editorial opportunities.
- Be realistic. Don’t go expecting the world, and be aware that the effort you put in now might not pay off for months or even years. Perhaps the most important thing you will get from being at Mipim is being seen to be there. That adds credibility to you and your business.
- Take care of the admin now before it’s too late. It is vital to fully register before you leave for MIPIM to avoid any on-the-spot complications, and make sure you have all your travel information and documents to avoid any last minute panics.
- Prepare your calendar – organise your schedule before you leave the UK. It is important to plan meetings in advance and arrange where you are going to meet. And although you will be tempted to fill your diary up to the brim, do leave room for manoeuvre, as meetings can tend to run late in the sunshine or even be rescheduled.
- Assuming you’ve registered as a delegate, make the most of the databases, events guide and other resources on the official MIPIM website http://www.mipim.com/. Ensure your personal and company profiles are fully updated and you are easily contactable by prospective clients and partners. You can’t download email addresses in bulk but you can the rest of the list then filter it by the kinds of companies, locations, job titles you’re interested in meeting and find email addresses for the contacts concerned by searching the who’s attending section in the Quick Links.
- To find out what’s going on in and around the fringe, use the MIPIM Tough Guide http://mipimtoughguide.com/ –the latest information on all events in and around Cannes – the ones you can get into and the ones you can’t.
- Spread the word – do your contacts, clients and prospects know you will be attending MIPIM this year? Why not send an e-shot to let everyone you want to meet with during the event know how to get in touch with you to arrange meetings before you head out there. You can also include that you’re attending MIPIM in your LinkedIn summary so you’ll pop up when people search for LinkedIn, and in your email signature.
- A good place to arrange to meet people, if you or they don’t have a stand at Mipim, is in the café at the far end of the ‘bunker’ – the basement under the show. If you haven’t met before, don’t worry about wearing a white carnation in your lapel – just arrange to call each other when you get there.
- Are there people who can help you make the most of your trip by arranging meetings for you or inviting you to events. If you’re a member of London Chamber or another business organisation, contact your account manager to see if they can help. If you’re part of a delegation, make sure you maximise the benefits of your sponsorship.
- Ask your PR consultancy to arrange some meetings with journalists. Often, MIPIM may be the only chance you get to talk to some leading property editors and correspondents.
- Journalist prep – if you are meeting with journalists during your trip, make sure you know what you want to talk about with them and what key points you want to make, as well as topics to avoid.
- Write a list of what to take with you – include lots of business cards and comfy shoes.
- Exhibiting? This is a blog in itself. Suffice to say: Plan with military precision and make sure you know where your stand is located and the rules about setting up so that everything is in place with the minimum of hassle come kick off on Tuesday.
- Smell the sea air – Non-stop meetings and networking are exhausting, especially when coupled with a little too much to eat and drink, so give yourself a break every so often, get some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine.
[quote Author=”Alex Shah” Quote=”Top tip – the Mipim databases are downloadable, but it’s best to do this closer to the event once everyone has registered. “][/quote]
While you’re there
- Change your watch – be aware of the time difference when scheduling your meetings in Outlook or other online diary, and ensure to sync your calendar/smart phone to local time when you arrive to avoid confusion.
- Familiarise yourself with the surroundings – get to know the conference centre, as well as the key cafes and restaurants on La Croisette, that way you can make sure you schedule your meetings close to each other. Also, make sure you know where the stands of your key clients are as well as those of any new business targets who are exhibiting.
- Mipim virgin? Why not make the most of the practical information available to you and make sure to connect with the ‘First time at MIPIM’ conference team who are there to help you find your bearings. Plus there’s a daily happy hour in the first timer’s room near the entrance.
- Bring your business cards – lots – but don’t lug around tons of marketing literature. People won’t want to carry around your brochure all day. An iPad with a brief but professional presentation is a good idea for those occasions when people want to sit down with you and find out more.
- One important tip is to write down when and where you met each new contact on their business card with a note about their particular interest or situation. It will help you to organise your contacts and follow up effectively with the right kind of information once you get back to the UK.
- Hang out – If you’re with a delegation, spend some time milling around on their stand or pavilion. Other good places to hang out are Caffe Roma and the London stand. You never know who you’ll bump into.
- In between arranged meetings, take the opportunity to chat with people and, if they’re open to the idea, talk about your offer but try to avoid hassling people who may be recharging between meetings.
- See the show – Have a look around the expo – you’ve paid for it! And there will be plenty worth seeing. Look out for sector specific stuff that’s particularly relevant to you too.
- Go digital – there will be plenty of opportunity for real world socialising during your trip but why not use relevant social media to extend your reach. Know what hashtags you need to be using. Connect with the official Mipim social media accounts. Make sure your phone is charged and with you at all times so you can keep track of your online interactions.
- Dear diary – why not take it one step further and write a Mipim blog on a theme of the day.
- Travel light but carry the essentials – your laptop or iPad/phone and business cards, of course. Depending on your device’s battery life, you may also need a power pack or charger. Also, a sunscreen stick and sunglasses wouldn’t go amiss in case you are unlucky enough to be caught in the Mediterranean sunshine.
- Have a post-MIPIM plan – how will you follow up with the new contacts you made? Make sure you have a clear idea of your next steps.
- Get ready for next year. Book early and stay as close to the action as possible – but try to avoid the more expensive hotels and instead opt for an apartment.
- It’s an exhausting four days so take time to relax and, if necessary, detox.
First published Feb 2017
‘Say what you like about Mussolini but at least the trains ran on time’ was a sardonic remark, popular in the days of British Rail. The monolithic network that ran the tracks, trains and everything else in the 1970s had a reputation for inefficiency and grim catering that was grist to the mill for the dark sarcasm and self loathing that characterised Britain when a French politician coined the phrase ‘sick man of Europe’.
Non-PC jokes may be frowned upon in the 21st Century, but discontent with the rail network lingers on. Few sectors attract as much public criticism as the railways. Train companies, notably South Western, are whipping boys for the public, politicians and media. Cancelled trips and overcrowded carriages create visual manna for those who see the privatised railways as symbolic of how corporations exploit consumers. And voters’ memories are getting shorter, allowing calls for re-nationalisation to be taken seriously.
[quote Author=”Stuart Kirkwood, Network Rail” Quote=”The UK’s rail network is a victim of its own success. Passenger journeys have doubled since privatisation.”][/quote]
Poor communication has always been an issue, from keeping passengers in the dark about a delay to ignoring the complaints of customers. Soon, there will be a new PR challenge, as Network Rail plans to ramp up the redevelopment of property it owns across the country.
In one sense, the UK’s rail system has been a victim of its own success, an idea that Stuart Kirkwood, Development Director of Network Rail, pitched to an audience of real estate professionals recently. The number of rail journeys has doubled since privatisation, creating enormous strain on a largely Victorian infrastructure.
What did the Victorians ever do for us? Network Rail maintains 40,000 bridges and viaducts, most of which were built in the days of Empire. The rail industry is wrestling with legacy issues. For example, the train companies – not Network Rail – are responsible for operating most regional stations yet their relatively short-term contracts are incompatible with the long-term investment those stations require.
What is required is more Victorian-style ambition with visionary projects that can be built into a narrative of regeneration. And the impetus to make that happen may come from a surprising source, the UK’s housing shortage.
Network Rail has always redeveloped land, but it now has a statutory duty to free up more of the real estate it owns and deliver thousands of homes by 2020. Until now, the government has been generous in its support of Network Rail, Stuart Kirkwood says, conscious of the enormous strain on the network and the benefits of shifting people off the roads. But economic constraints are likely to choke future funding. So here is an elegant solution – fill Network Rail’s coffers by selling off land and make a substantial contribution to building more homes, a key government target, while you’re at it.
And here comes the vision. Not content with selling off redundant land or entering into joint ventures with developers, Stuart Kirkwood and colleagues are thinking big. What about all the space above the network? They are considering building on rafts above tracks and on top of stations. This would be challenging enough, but it would have to be done without disrupting the network.
Even with the more routine redevelopment projects envisaged by the network, good communications will be important to bring local people around and to win planning consent. The stakes will be higher when ideas about futuristic towns on train tracks or redevelopment of beloved Victorian stations move closer to reality.
Though he no doubt travels first class and free, Stuart Kirkwood at least glimpses the pain of fellow travellers as he commutes daily on the West Coast Mainline, the busiest in Europe. The stakes are high, but the opportunities are exciting. Network Rail will need Victorian-style chutzpah and engineering prowess to make these things happen. It will also need to cast off the rail sector’s historic attitude to public relations, work on developing empathy, walk the talk and communicate brilliantly.
Hopwood, the property PR and marketing specialist, has launched three new websites for property sector clients.
All three are built on our model of making web sites the centre of communications. With content tailored for search engines, all three feature lively news sections. These attract valuable inbound links from the media, social media and client e newsletters.
We produce all of the content for our clients – including regular news pieces – as well as taking care of the design and development with our in-house graphic designers and tech experts.
So when you use Hopwood’s all round team for your next web overhaul, content isn’t an afterthought – it’s a crucial part of the process.
See our new work for yourself.
Abintra, flexible workplace specialists: www.abintra-consulting.co.uk
MPG, international construction consultancy: www.mpgqs.com
NWL Legal, real estate lawyers: www.nwl-legal.com
Here’s a remarkable forecast. By 2020, Millennials* will make up half of the global workforce, and four out of ten of them will be independent operators, mostly by their own choice.
This is good news for WeWork, whose new take on workspace is designed to appeal to an entrepreneurial generation less concerned with ownership and more interested in collaborative working and sharing.
At London Chamber’s latest property event, WeWork’s Director of European Transactions, Mary Finnigan, charted the spectacular rise of the brand since its formation in 2010 and set out its global ambition.
WeWork is already the third biggest start up by valuation in the US (after Uber and Airbnb).
[quote Author=”WeWork Mission” Quote=”Where people make a life, not just a living”][/quote]
Its strategy in Europe is to open more WeWorks in major cities, and it is also looking at bringing its residential offer, WeLive, across the pond after successful rollouts in New York and Washington.
The WeWork mission is to create a world where people make a life, not just a living. This drives the way it designs buildings (it has architecture and engineering in house) and the kinds of services that attract new users.
There are 150,000 of those WeWork members in 140 locations in 45 cities and 15 countries, enjoying an extraordinary variety of benefits, ranging from an app that lets them communicate with fellow members and use WeWork facilities all over the world to being able to bring their dog to work. The latter harks back to the brand’s early days when it was looking for ways to lure home workers to take its spaces. There is beer on tap, and once a year members get together for a US-style “school” summer camp, a kind of mini Glastonbury featuring talks, yoga, and live bands.
Halloween parties, “lunch and learn” talks, food and wine, and visiting hairdressers and manicurists add to the experience. But perhaps one of the biggest attractions for sole traders and micro businesses is the opportunity to find new customers and clients. Mary tells us 60 per cent of members do business with each other.
Not that all WeWork licensees are micros. Deloitte has a major presence in one building, as do Centrica and Microsoft in other buildings, and there are other such “enterprise members” in the network.
With almost all WeWork UK locations in London, it has just opened a second building in Manchester. I wondered if there would ever be an opportunity for entrepreneurs in second tier cities such as Leicester to have the WeWork experience without moving away. Fortunately, I had the chance to ask Mary exactly that. While the focus currently is on major cities in Europe, she thought they would look beyond the metropolises in future, as they have done in the US.
The Brexit vote and resulting economic and political uncertainty have not dimmed demand for WeWork’s London locations. That suggests young entrepreneurs in the capital are more confident than their older, more established counterparts. However, the UK’s impending departure from the EU has encouraged WeWork to look to place more attention on mainland Europe.
Urbanisation and the resulting need to share space is changing the world of work. That is clear not only in WeWork’s business model and philosophy but also in the technology it employs to create work spaces. WeWork uses 3D laser scanning to help plan building layouts, and it processes metadata from its existing buildings to help it design interiors in new ones in intricate detail, from deciding where to locate a coffee machine to which way an armchair should face in a collaborative space.
Mary Finnigan was guest speaker at the Property and Construction Breakfast Club of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. CBRE’s Chairman of Residential, Mark Collins, highlighted the Chamber’s campaign to urge policymakers to get London “mega city-ready”. Mark, who also chairs the Chamber’s property section, hosted the event at CBRE’s Henrietta Place offices off Oxford Street. Speaking to the audience of property professionals, he outlined the Chamber’s Capital Matters report. This identifies the big issues of housing, transport and the skills gap as the major obstacles to the capital’s success as it approaches a population of 10 million. He urges politicians to keep their eye on the ball of these major issues and avoid focusing all their attention on Brexit. The Chamber’s property and construction policy focuses on the need to address the looming spectre of a post-Brexit skilled labour shortage and calls for more support for small builders in the form of better access to finance and simplified planning regulations.
* Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are those born approximately between the early 1980s and early 2000s. As they are the children of Baby Boomers, there are many of them, which is also why they are sometimes called Echo Boomers. For more about Millennials, see