Starting conversations and the very large elephant in the room at MIPIM 2018

Communications and branding professionals love to talk about starting conversations – particularly when it comes to the biggest Real Estate conference of the year, MIPIM, which is being held in Cannes in less than a fortnight. MIPIM is all about starting conversations – and we advise a lot of clients on this in the run up to the event: how to start conversations; who to start conversations with; where to find the right platforms, events and seminars to have those conversations. And – once you’ve started talking – how to convert conversations into business, how to stand out amidst a lot of noise and competition, and how to ensure the longevity of conversations once the conference ends (in fact, last year we ran a campaign during MIPIM called #continuetheconversation). For example, the focus of many conversations Infinite Global will be having in Cannes this year will be around Placemaking – and the role of PR and branding in this sometimes over-used and often misunderstood discipline.

There is one conversation already underway ahead of MIPIM this year which everyone – whether they want to or not – is going to be forced to have. In the wake of the Presidents Club scandal, mainstream media has been persistently scrutinising MIPIM, which has an unavoidable history of a very low ratio of women to men (this year, only 20 per cent of speakers and delegates will be women – up just one per cent from last year). As far back as 2016 and way before #metoo and the Presidents Club exposé, leading property publication EG described MIPIM as “not the property industry’s finest hour“. International Women’s Day next week is going to bring this into the (increasingly bright) spotlight even further.

The industry reaction ahead of MIPIM 2018 has been tremendous. You cannot open a newspaper or trade publication without reading of another industry body or leading propco condemning MIPIM’s ‘lads’ culture’, issuing codes of conduct, or debating how to tackle this long-standing and complex issue for the real estate sector. From the likes of Gerry Hughes, CEO of GVA publicly discussing how we can change the “alpha male” culture which has long been systemic in property to Tamsie Thomson of the London Festival of Architecture launching the Elephant in the Room campaign this week, it is clear everyone wants to capitalise on the momentum to ensure diversity is at the top of the agenda.

These are all the right conversations to be having. But this is where words are no longer enough. It’s clearly time for individuals to take action and move this conversation forward: join one of the many established and inspirational women’s networking groups or events. Get involved in diversity and inclusion programmes at all levels. Fight for flexible working. Work on improving property’s reputation, one conversation and one event at a time. Because ultimately this is a reputational issue and every one of us working in property has the responsibility for ensuring that MIPIM, and the property industry more widely, shores up its image so that in future years the actions of a few don’t destroy the reputation of the whole.

As a female professional in property who has attended MIPIM for many years, in my view the worst possible outcome would be for women at any stage of their career in property to stay away from this exciting and often career-changing conference because of tales of inappropriate behaviour and an irreparable ‘old boys’ club’ reputation. We need to #continuetheconversation and make sure that we address the elephant in the room, the only way possible: one bite at a time.

We look forward to continuing this conversation with you at MIPIM – find us on the London Stand, on Twitter or get in touch with Tal Donahue.