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.
“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.
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.
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
‘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.
Client Patrick Hayes, Director at multidisciplinary engineering consultancy Meinhardt UK, was part of a panel discussion at Estates Gazette’s Development Summit in Birmingham.
Since we secured the opportunity for Patrick to speak at Development Summit, Meinhardt UK have been pursuing some exciting business development opportunities that arose from contacts made during the session. Patrick’s thoughts were also featured in the print and online editions of Estates Gazette.
The discussion, chaired by the Magazine’s Editor Damian Wild, focused on modular construction, which is ready to accelerate, modernise and reshape the UK development industry.
For Patrick it is the scale of the housing crisis that will force modular from the margins to the mainstream. “I wouldn’t say it was prevalent at the moment for a number of reasons,” he told delegates. “But the housing crisis that we’re seeing and the recent increases in labour costs are putting a lot of pressure on alternative models to meet the demand for housing. And in the private rented sector (PRS), which is rental driven, they’re also looking for another model to deliver things quickly.
“So we are seeing a substantial increase in modular construction in the PRS market, student housing and hotels.”
And, he said, it could get very big, very quickly. “If we’ve got a demand for 200,000 houses a year, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for, say, 10% of that, or 20,000, to be a bit more modular in construction. That is probably about a £2bn industry, which is quite substantial.”
And for Patrick, 2017 could be the year modular comes of age. “I think that there is a real fit between PRS and modular construction and that PRS will become a much larger part of the housing market.
“The sector will help build the capacity within the industry and from that capacity it could then spread.”
Patrick has worked as a structural engineer since 1988 and chartered since 1993. With a career spanning over 25 years, Patrick has worked on diverse projects both overseas and here in the UK.
Client maber, the architecture practice, featured in The Sunday Times, commenting on leveraging the workplace industry.
Dan Pilling, Head of Workplace at Maber and Deputy Chair of BIFM (British Institute of Facilities Management) Workplace Special Interest Group, shared his thoughts on how to create an office that enables productivity.
According to evidence presented to the Review by design teams, the majority of projects are cost-planned before the workplace designers have taken a brief, and designers are allowed minimal to zero engagement with the end users or the executive board. This inevitably results in lower levels of employee satisfaction.
He comments: “I would be embedded within some client facilities management teams and I found time and again that they were frustrated at being locked out of some key decisions.”
He proposed a ‘centralised portal’ which would ‘enable all stakeholders in the workplace sector to access and participate in what he feels is lacking an objective view, free from sales angles, or workplace solutions tied to specific products and sensationalist Google-esque case studies.
But this is slowly starting to change, says Pilling. “What’s happening now is that there have been very interesting conversations about who is in control and who should be at that table. The fact is we have a multifaceted problem which needs multifaceted input.”
Dan is a leading figure in designing work spaces for productivity and wellbeing. He was the winner of the 2015 BIFM and CIPD competition to discover new concepts in workplace design.
Click here to read the article in full.
Selling the vision of major projects: Do it well or be demonised.
At the relaunch of the property and construction group within PRCA (the Public Relations and Communications Association), we’re hearing from the horse’s mouth about what went right with the public consultation and engagement on HS1 and what went oh so badly wrong on HS2.
Quick disclaimer: I’ve used the title of the presentation for this piece but I wouldn’t describe public consultation and stakeholder engagement as ‘selling’ exercises. That suggests one-way traffic and propaganda for commercial gain. On the contrary, done well, these kinds of projects should be about involvement and engagement, especially since we now have an armoury of digital communications channels that enable this on a scale never before possible.
Our speaker is Ben Ruse, former media director for HS1 who went on to be lead spokesperson for HS2 until 2013.
His opening shot is that grand projects automatically attract public disapproval. In the Olympic Park area, London 2012 had a 50 per cent approval rating before the games which soared to 75 per4 cent around Super Saturday only to slip back to pre-game levels. Nationwide – let alone in the areas affected – HS2 has been polling 35 per cent in favour at best.
Does it matter?
How much does that matter? Ben points out that the House of Commons typically returns enormous majorities in favour of big infrastructure projects such as HS2. Ultimately, government makes the decisions.
The challenge to win public support is on a very human level. Good communications cannot meet this test alone. The other ‘c’ word, compensation, can, or could if the UK way of delivering it wasn’t so fiendishly complex and built on a desire by authorities to limit the amount paid out to the minimum possible. By contrast, France gives three times more generously and, as Ben points out, has built two airports in the time it has taken the UK to make a decision to build one runway.
So money gets the job done but good PR helps. And the PR for HS1 was very good. The decision to redevelop St Pancras and build the high speed connection to the Chunnel delivered a generation of disruption for people living around the site.
Eyes on the prize
The project spent money buying local people double glazing to keep out the noise and tumble dryers so that their washing wasn’t coated in dust but PR delivered something bigger – letting people know what the ‘prize’ would be in regeneration. A lot of the campaign’s success was built on being visible locally. The team set up a Portakabin on site as a marketing suite. It worked at being visible in the local press, in classrooms (to enlist young ambassadors to persuade their parents of the benefits) and at local events.
Rather than those sterile foam board displays in village halls and council offices – we’ve all been there – take a stall at the village fete. Be in context and take advantage of the power of existing local events and groups to deliver an audience. The HS1 PR team were creative in other ways too. One standout example was a play they commissioned by a Radio 4 playwright that told the story of Sir John Betjeman’s struggle to save St Pancras from demolition.
So that’s what success looks like. HS2 by comparison has become the monster for all Camden’s ills. It seems a case of too little too late on the communications front, and the opposition to the scheme not just in London but all along the route – and politically – is mounting. Those who want to deliver big projects should realise at the outset that delays because of local opposition cost huge amounts of money.
I asked a question based on Hopwood PR’s experience working with the URC for Leicester some years ago. Here we found a clear generational gap between the Grumpy Old Men generation and a younger audience who were readier to believe and embrace the opportunities. We identified that one of the major obstacles to winning the hearts and minds of the over 40s was to convince them that the URC would deliver and it would be good. Like many cities, Leicester had been brutalised in the 1960s and its people promised wonderful new things by successive councils that never materialised, such as a monorail. Their scepticism was understandable. One of the ways we challenged this was to create two regeneration walking tours with illustrated leaflets enabling people to visit the sites, see the first buildings being delivered and get a feel for what else could be on the way. A shiny new shopping centre and Grade A offices near the rail station were duly delivered before 2008 brought things grindingly to a halt. Leicester still has 12 miles of undeveloped waterway, though there have been moves to revive the plans recently.
Bear in mind this was long enough ago that silver surfers were the exception rather than the norm so social media wasn’t a channel we could use with them, but Facebook – a burgeoning force at the time – was. Not only did the channel connect us to an enthusiastic younger audience it also allowed us to demonstrate to stakeholders and the older generation that we were engaging with young people. We did this simply by sending a news release and screen shot to the local newspaper.
The answer to my question then is to use a balance of online and conventional media but remember that audience profiles change over time so adapt your use of channels.
Be careful too. In one of his HS roles, Ben had taken the reasonable premise that the project should be given a human face and made the mistake of making publicly available a Twitter profile for himself. It resulted in the stream from hell. So beware open forums that a few vocal opponents can take over and occupy. Instead keep your online activity short lived. Connect it to an event or something tangible with a beginning and end. Keep it moving to avoid hosting a festering hard-core group.
Lessons in brief
• Engage, don’t sell
• Expect opposition for big projects
• Good communications can’t do it all
• Compensate early and generously
• Give practical help to communities
• Tell the big regeneration story well
• Go where your audience is
• Use a mix of online and offline channels
• Understand the generation gap
• Keep online activity short-lived