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Communications Insights from a Diverse New Property World

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.

Things have moved on but by consensus, diversity and inclusion are nowhere near changing the industry as much as they might.

How do you make the old-school real estate scene more diverse and inclusive?

Real Estate PR and Communications

To get some insight, I head to the offices of law firm Trowers and Hamlins where Sara is head of real estate and a panel of speakers are set to share their experiences. It’s a quick step from my location in Finsbury Square, always handy in rush hour, and it turns out that familiar ideas from my sector, PR and communications, have a big role to play.

Some of the key PR and comms themes I hear during the evening are the importance of image, using hard facts to make your case, walking the talk, visibility, impetus (positive and negative), internal communications and measurement.

Estates Gazette

Among the guests is Sam Clary, editor of EG, and an influential proponent of inclusion, particularly for women in property. She’s someone who knows how to communicate. She’s also cycled the 700-odd miles from London to Cannes for MIPIM more than ten times.

Panelist Kelly Canterford reflects on how talented schoolfriends missed opportunities because they didn’t look right. We need the industry to look different to attract diversity, says the programme manager for Changing the Face of Property, an initiative of a dozen large real estate companies.

Comms Insight: Image can work against you as an individual if you don’t fit a required stereotype but changing the image of a business or industry can be a force for good if it changes people’s perceptions in a positive way.

Phil Clark remembers the sterile, myopic old industry he stumbled into. Now head of public and private equity real assets at AEGON, he welcomes research that proves a diverse workforce is a more productive one.

Comms Insight: While we need to beware of dry numbers that cause people to glaze over, it’s always good to have hard facts to back up our claims.

Lisa Ravenscroft, chief marketing officer at Mount Anvil, says making true on the company’s hopes and dreams about diversity are a major priority for the firm.

Comms Insight:That reminds me of a recent London Chamber event that prompted my blog on the importance of Walking the Talk.

Jackie Esimaje-Heath describes herself as an outlier and an anomaly. The regional development director of L and Q says its about being visible. She is not afraid to shine a beacon to other anomalies who might otherwise think there was no room for someone like them in the property world.

Comms Insight:It makes me think about how many businesses and business people I’ve met who are nervous about being seen, particularly about being seen to be different, and are afraid to challenge perceptions. Yet it’s plain to see that some of the most successful PR stories are those where someone has been ready to rock the boat while being disruptive is now a badge of honour. Speaking truth to power, as it’s described in the seminar, is a comms challenge. Frame your point well, and you are more likely to initiate a knee-jerk kick back.

The event is the first in a new Trowers initiative called Routes to Real Estate. Sara highlights three communications initiatives that are in their different ways meeting the challenge. There is the British Property Federation’s Redefining Real Estate campaign, Reading University’s Pathways to Property and Land Aid, a movement to get homeless people into work. (Trowers is a founding partner.)

Lisa highlights the importance of being clear about success criteria for a project to avoid the temptation for senior people to hand the job to a mate, especially when there’s a deadline. This is as relevant for marketing campaigns as it is for HR projects. Her employer now uses an independent scoring system to evaluate every appointment. It slows down the process but she says it puts the best applicant in the job, which beats expediency.

Wellbeing

While Jackie’s organisation isn’t that scientific about filling each position, it does hold a lot of store in its survey of employee wellbeing which, because it has a 2,000-strong workforce, enables it to drill down to identify potential misgivings among employee categories.

She confesses she’s not a fan of positive discrimination. She doesn’t want people looking at her or other mould-breakers in positions of power and concluding they got where they are for reasons other than pure competence. Phil agrees it has alienated people. Comms Insight: It’s an example of where initiatives with the best intentions can become victims of a reputational backlash, the kind of PR disaster where negative impetus shifts the whole dialogue away from the intention.

Instead of positive discrimination, Phil says it’s about communications, visualisation of what’s out there.

Comms Insight: How do we change the perceptions of people around the City looking in and thinking they can’t be part of it? That’s a classic PR challenge.

Sara sees positive discrimination and quotas as changing the optics without necessarily changing the behaviour of people who will continue to tolerate groupthink.

What about if you bring in diversity of thought and no one listens? Phil points out the importance of giving everyone their say, not just those who shout loudest. He makes a point of giving everyone the opportunity to speak, even if it means arranging one-to-one meetings. It’s often the quiet ones who have the best answers, he reckons. Comms Insight: That’s worth bearing in mind when we’re running stakeholder engagement and public consultation programmes, I reckon.

We have seen some progress on diversity and inclusion, says Phil. It seems there is real impetus now.

Comms Insight: When positive impetus gains traction, you’re on a roll. Nothing succeeds like success.

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Reputation management and women in property

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.

PR exercise

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.

Story telling

“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.

Lightbulb joke

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.

 

 

 

 

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The difference between public relations and marketing

“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.

Public Relations in its purest form is about reputation – gaining it, building it and protecting it. By contrast, the simplest way to sum up marketing is that it is, in fact, two things: marketing strategy and marketing communications. In other words, what should we try to sell to whom and how do we reach them?

In other words, marketing is all about sales. Proper PR is about more than that because reputation impacts on other areas of the business from customer relations to recruitment. Having said that, PR tactics such as media relations and content creation have a huge role to play in marketing communications.

So let’s look at a couple of examples from the property and construction sector where we specialise in PR and marketing communications (marcoms).

Difference between public relations and marketing Example 1: Stakeholder Engagement

In marcoms, we act as an external marketing resource for clients that either don’t have a marketing team or need additional or specialist support. That’s a business development function, plain and simple, to help to drive sales.

But in PR, it’s a different story. One example is stakeholder engagement. Here, we will be working with a developer or a regeneration agency with a major project to communicate with the public and the local authority. Gaining planning permission or winning public hearts and minds may ultimately lead to projects being delivered that require marketing. And we might use tactics that would be regarded as marketing communications, such as building a website for the engagement process or running events. But at this stage, it’s all about reputation.

Difference between public relations and marketing Example 2: CSR

Let’s look in our second example at Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Here, I’m going to report on a presentation to a London Chamber of Commerce event that gave us some valuable insights.

It’s 8 a.m. Thursday October 24 2019. I’m at the London Chamber of Commerce Property Breakfast Club. Outside it’s half-dark and damp, but inside CBRE’s St Martin’s Court offices, there is a warm glow. Attendees report that construction projects are finally moving forward again after a two-year lull. The prospect of next spring’s MIPIM, that sun-drenched property fest on the beaches of Cannes, is also a common discussion point.

Phil Shortman, Regional MD for London Construction at Wates Group is our speaker, and we are about to learn why organisations should care about their reputation and, even more, doing their duty.

Ambitious

Wates has set an ambitious target of working towards zero waste and zero carbon targets. This is not just in response to public interest in the environment. Phil tells us that the company’s Chairman, James Wates, drives its policies in this and other areas because he believes in them.

Other areas where Wates is helping to take a lead include
– attracting the next generation of contractors to a skills-starved industry
– challenging the adversarial behaviour of the industry
– supporting SMES

As part of its commitment to Build UK, Wates has published its payments to sub contractors to show it pays on time.

Phil describes Wates’ objectives as “changing paradigms” in the industry. And that challenge of changing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours is frequently one of the objectives of any PR campaign. It can often be about something that the Army describes as winning hearts and minds. It’s applicable not just in the field of conduct but in any scenario when getting people on your side will make your job so much easier.

PR, Marketing and CSR

He doesn’t use the terms public relations, marketing or corporate social responsibility (CSR) in his presentation.

It almost sounds as if the company doesn’t need marketing communications. It has a full order book for the rest of this year and the whole of next. Turnover across London has doubled in the last four years to £400 million. The company has £100 million of assets and zero debt.

Clearly, though, it is committed from the top down to corporate social responsibility. Wates even has 250 mental health first aiders targeting stress at work.

Storytelling

I ask Phil what Wates is doing to tell its whole CSR story in order to encourage others in the industry to follow its lead. He confesses that the company has been reticent about doing that, something rooted in its family history dating back to 1897.

This is an obstacle I encounter a lot. Unlike thrusting young entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley moguls, many more modest people and traditional businesses are reticent about putting their head above the parapet in case it gets shot at. There’s a feeling that you could risk damaging your reputation by taking a stand on something such as late payments because it implies criticism of others. My counter to this is that having no reputation can be just as damaging, so it’s important to communicate and to have the courage of your convictions, but it needs to be done well.

Nonetheless, Phil is here talking to property pros about these issues, and this is a first step to getting the story out there.

Thought Leadership 

He may not have mentioned PR, but he has mentioned that phrase ‘thought leadership’ which is a powerful PR tactic in cementing reputation in a particular sector or on a specialist subject. It’s also one that can drive sales by helping to open up new markets, as we explained in our blog on the subject.

Here, a PR tactic is being used to support a strategic marketing objective and is therefore part of the marketing communications armoury. Which just goes to show that while there is a difference between marketing and PR, the line can be blurred.

I hope that helps to answer your questions about the difference between public relations and marketing. I’d love to hear your own ideas on the subject.

The good news for our clients is that we cover both PR and marketing communications with serious in-house expertise in media relations, event management and design among other things. If you are looking to break into a new sector, engage with your stakeholders or tell the world about your CSR initiatives, we’d be delighted to talk. Contact Us here.

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Property brand marketing and the daring fox

Firms who back up their property brand marketing by walking the talk will be more successful than those who peddle empty promises.

Strolling mid-morning near St Paul’s. Suddenly and in broad daylight, a fox darts across my path and into the road. He shimmies to avoid an advancing vehicle and disappears around the corner. Some nearby construction work has disturbed him from his lair.

My mind had been mulling over the property industry breakfast I’d just left. But the sight of Reynard in full flight conjures up images of Leicester City FC, the rags-to-riches football club whose badge is a fox.

Property brand marketing

Leicester’s remarkable feat in soaring from obscurity to world fame by winning the Premier League against all the odds is a lesson in building brand awareness by action. Let’s be clear here. You absolutely must have good marketing communications and PR as well as a professional property brand marketing identity to back up your deeds. But here’s the point. Those things will be so much more powerful when you walk the talk. Or to put it another way, in property brand marketing, nothing succeeds like success. Or to put it another way, in property brand marketing, quality marcoms should be shouting about your success, not making empty promises.

Which leads me back to this morning’s talk.

Ronan Murphy, CEO of Durkan begins by asking the busy room of property pros how many of us have heard of his company. Only a smattering of hands go up. Surprising, perhaps, given that this is a business of 200 people, £165 million turnover and £11 million operating profit. It plies its trade in the audience’s sector and works in and around their home patch, London.

Changing perceptions

Standout projects include a 272-apartment complex at Elephant and Castle (built around a live train line, illustrating the challenges of developing in London) and the first phase of a massive 7,000-unit project for housing association Peabody.

When Ronan meets people who have heard of Durkan, he confides that they think of the company as a contractor. But its strategy now is to position itself as a developer, rather than a construction firm. That’s a common marketing and PR challenge – changing perceptions of a target audience that has you pigeon-holed as one thing when you can do much more.

Strategic direction

With his finance background, he is well placed to explain the reason for the change in strategic direction – potential margins of 15 per cent compared with three per cent for contractors. And Durkan is well placed to deliver. Unlike many cash-strapped property businesses, the family firm has £350 million of its own resources to invest.

He has a warning for developers. Thinking that you can still just hire a contractor at will and screw them down on price to bolster your margins is wrong. The skills shortage will change all that in five years. Such is his distaste for race-to-the-bottom contract tendering, he says Durkan company won’t even countenance taking on a construction-only project nowadays unless there is an element of partnership.

Ambitious goals

There is no shortage of ambition. The goal is to double turnover and triple profitability in five years as Durkan shifts to being more of a developer. Ronan tells us he’d like to think when he returns to the breakfast club after then, he’ll see a lot more hands raised. He’s taken the first step in raising Durkan’s brand profile by speaking to this audience. If the company meets its targets and backs that up with effective property brand marketing communications and PR, his hope should be realised.

Do you have a success story to tell? Get in touch to discuss how we could make more of it.

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How to break into a new market using the power of thought leadership

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?

These are common public relations challenges for many firms in the property and construction sector. So we have worked hard to find ways to overcome them. One of the most effective of these is the op ed.

In case you haven’t come across that acronym before, it’s an American journalistic term for opinion and editorial articles. These are typically longer, feature-length pieces where the author gives his or her opinion on a particular subject.

That gives you the opportunity to talk about a subject in your target sector without having to mention any customer names or even having a track record in that sector at all.

With our background in journalism and our knowledge of the property and construction sector, we believe we are better placed than many agencies to provide thought-provoking, insightful articles on behalf of our clients. These go down well with editors of print and online media, leading to media coverage of your brand. They’re also valuable on your website because Google gives a higher rating to sites with authoritative, in-depth content.

Rather than showing off your projects, op eds allow you to demonstrate your expertise. Readers who are attracted by the subject matter of your article should form the opinion: “Here is someone who knows what they’re talking about. Perhaps we should be talking to him or her.”

Sounds like a lot of work? If you do it yourself, it is, and because of other commitments, it might not get done at all. You may simply not have the skills in-house to produce this kind of work to the level that will satisfy the media and the search engines. For these reasons alone, it makes sense to outsource to an agency such as ourselves.

If you like, you can provide notes or even a draft article for us to edit, but the most effective way we think is for us to interview you, augment that with some research of our own and draft the article for you to approve. What might have taken hours of your time with no promise of a decent result will now only require half an hour of your time with the confidence that the finished piece will be journalistic quality and ready for publication in print and online media, and it will be Google-friendly too.

Furthermore, we have extensive databases of media, allowing us to target op eds at the titles and journalists who are most likely to use them. We monitor planned features so that we can see when particular media are planning to feature particular subjects, and pitch to them. And we look out for media enquiries on your behalf so that when journalists contact us looking for someone to write an article for them in one of your target sectors, we respond on your behalf. That, in our experience, is one of the best ways of generating high profile national newspaper coverage, the holy grail for many would-be PR stars.

Let’s look at an example. Our clients, Maber Architects, were looking to develop their reputation in the airports sector. In areas where they Maber has a higher profile reputation, such as education and housing, we would generate news releases about projects, case studies, client interviews and other content that demonstrated their track record.

For airports, that wasn’t an option because it was a relatively new market for them and one where customer confidentiality prevented them talking about the work they had done within it. Nonetheless it was an area that Maber still wanted to build profile.

We had been talking to them about doing more op ed pieces and had already had some success. So we brought this idea to the airports challenge and produced a piece about the future design of airports. It couldn’t draw on their track record in airports for the reasons mentioned but it did draw on their knowledge of design and their experience in the hospitality and leisure sector. In particular, the article drew strong parallels with the hotel sector, encouraging airport planners and management to think about customer care in the way that the best hoteliers do.

Chris Radcliffe, Maber’s head of interiors, provided us with his thought, and we turned these into a feature piece quoting him, thereby establishing not only Maber’s thought leadership in the field but also the fact that they employ relevant experts.

We distributed the feature to our contacts database. We also reviewed planned forward features, looking for publications planning to write about airports and airport design in particular. The results were excellent.

The piece was widely published, including in Airport World. In common with several other online publications, Airport World included a link to the Maber website, which is valuable for search engine visibility as Airport World has a healthy domain ranking of 48. Maber was also able to publish the article on their website, and link to it across social media, driving visitors to their website and reinforcing the implied third-party endorsement of reputable media channels that had featured the release.

The keys to success were Maber’s ability to talk intelligently about the subject, the strength of our media databases and research, and our ability, based on a quality journalistic pedigree, to deliver authoritative, in-depth content, relevant to the media concerned and their target audiences.

Is there a market where you want to build your profile and reputation? Could we do something similar for you or help in another way? Find out now. Please contact us for a no obligation discussion.

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How To Prepare For MIPIM – The Movie

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Rolling on legacy: The rail network’s real estate challenge

‘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.

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Three smart new web sites for property clients

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 web shot

Abintra, flexible workplace specialists: www.abintra-consulting.co.uk 

mpg web shot

MPG, international construction consultancy: www.mpgqs.com

NWL Legal web shot

NWL Legal, real estate lawyers: www.nwl-legal.com

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Dogs, beer and summer camps: The curious future of work for the sharing generation

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.

Mary Finnigan
Mary Finnigan

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
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennials

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Blog Property PR

Is there a right time for property firms to invest in PR?

‘Present tense, future conditional, past perfect’

Much of what we do in PR is about creating compelling information, the kind that makes you feel something or want to do something. In our work in the property sector, we employ strategies to build reputations and to persuade stakeholders of the merits of our clients’ developments.

That is ethical and legitimate (and professionally managed, of course) but when it comes to the bigger picture, other kinds of information come into play. Often enough, we are making a case – let’s say for investment in a property fund – and feel like we’re paddling upstream. That negative current is generated by the steady stream of chatter in print and online that makes us think: “We live in the most uncertain times.”

[quote Author=”BD adviser to architecture practices” Quote=”If you want to get to the top, it’s all about brand and reputation”][/quote]

That message is powerful because we are hardwired to respond to emotion and repetition. But it’s hardly true. Every era experiences uncertainty. Is the outlook for mankind or the world economy or British politics or the property and investment sector foggier in 2017 than it was in the mists of 1924, 1939, 2001 or 2008? Hardly. Too many people labour under the illusion that things were better in the past than they are today, hence the grammatical joke about nostalgia at the top of this piece.

I’m visiting the London offices of national, audit, tax and advisory firm Crowe Clark Whitehill along with a number of property pros for an update on their 2016 survey of the property sector, and the ‘U’ word comes up. Uncertainty was a feature of last year’s survey, and it remains one of the downsides highlighted in the firm’s list of likely positives and negatives this year. It will no doubt feature in the results from this year’s survey too, which you can complete yourself online here 2017 – Survey.

But as Crowe’s Head of Property and Construction, Stacy Eden, points out: You can’t afford to wait until life is certain.

Indeed, there is no time like the present. A specialist adviser to architects once told me there are three levels in the pyramid of practices. At entry level, startups depend on word of mouth for work. Then there is the plethora of medium-sized practices frantically completing RfQs and competing for tenders. But at the pinnacle of the pyramid, topped by the likes of Foster + Partners, BDP and Zaha Hadid, he told me, it’s all about brand and reputation.

The big issue I see when many property sector clients come to me is that they are already behind the curve when they decide to act on PR and brand building. One day, they decide they want to move up to the next level, perhaps by attracting bigger-hitting investors than they’ve had before, but they should have been preparing for this day years ago. Even with a humongous budget, it takes time to build a reputation.

If your strategic plan is for growth, there is absolutely no time like the present to begin building awareness and credibility. PR will deliver when, as the textbooks say, it is planned and sustained.

So, let’s get ready for the future now and start by looking at the positives identified by Crowe:

  • Low interest rates are good for homebuyers and businesses.
  • Family financing and schemes such as Help to Buy are helping young people to get onto the housing ladder.
  • The weak pound combined with a ten per cent fall in prices in the London prime residential sector makes it very attractive to foreign investors.
  • The supply and demand imbalance on London housing means growth will continue over the next five years.

As always, there are negatives too. Let’s not pretend going for growth is risk free. Transaction rates on property deals have fallen, and there is low wage growth. The UK property sector must contend with mortgage regulations, an intransigent planning system and a heavier tax burden than many other places.

The best antidote for negativity is action. That doesn’t mean suspending reality or ignoring the negatives. As an example, I once heard of a property developer who would weigh up the potential pros and cons of various investment options. After deciding which to choose, he would put all his efforts into preventing the cons materialising. He was, you could say, focused on the negatives but towards a positive outcome.

The London Chamber has just called on the UK government to accelerate investment in infrastructure such as Crossrail 2 to boost flagging business confidence highlighted in their latest survey. Perhaps the government will act but perhaps not. Smart investors will find opportunities now rather than waiting for opportunities that may never materialise.

Waiting for everything to be perfect means waiting for ever. Those who like to look back at the past with rose-tinted glasses may reflect that things weren’t so perfect. Perhaps they may even see themselves putting off making decisions back then that would have made their brand reputations – and their businesses – a lot better off today.