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17 March 2014
After battling with the after-effects of the Martinez and the Cat Corner and the Cat Corner night club, it is time for more than 15,000 property professionals to assess their Mipim strategy. Boardrooms will reverberate with that all-important word - marketing. But between you and me, what they're really talking about is selling.
This year saw more exhibitors than ever before. But law firms using stands to set out their wares were a rare sight indeed.
Lurking in the depths of the airless bunker was DJ Freeman, complete with a welcoming cappuccino machine and supply of jelly beans. But unfortunately for the firm, the building has never really got over its past as a multi-storey car park, and as the sun beamed down outside, visitors were fairly thin on the ground. DJ Freeman was one of the first firms to see the potential of Mipim for lawyers. The firm's stand has become such a fixture of the event that its absence would suggest that something was seriously wrong. No doubt it will take more than the three recently announced departures from the group (Richard Max to Olswang and Christopher Comyn and Jonathan Martin to Watson Farley & Williams) to keep the firm away, let alone overhaul its strategy. But chief executive Jonathan Lewis is keen to get a location closer to the surface next year. Its only other legal companion down there was Baker & McKenzie. The London stand, in the Riviera building, was the more popular location. Lovells, Richards Butler, Nicholson Graham & Jones and Norton Rose all opted for outposts on what is arguably the show's favourite exhibit.
So why the shift? More than a few of today's heads of property will recall the perils of being assigned to bunker duty earlier on in their careers. Jeremy Clay of Rowe & Maw and Charles Romney of CMS Cameron McKenna both remember the experience with a measure of distaste and recall that they were not exactly rushed off their feet. Clay and Romney know that the combination of lawyer plus stand does not tend to equal plenty of punters. People will, and do, walk by on the other side for the simple reason that lawyers represent a cost, and that is simply not what they are there for. Developers, builders and bankers are at Mipim to make the contacts that could form the bones of next year's deals.
The option of a yacht was more popular. Lovells, Finers Stephens Innocent, Wedlake Bell, Allen & Overy (A&O) and of course Norton Rose were among those to take a mooring. But there is a difficult balance to be struck here. A fantastic boat could lead clients to ask just where their fees are going, but hire one that is a bit naff and they will wonder what's going wrong. Indeed, this year A&O was ribbed for having the smallest boat. (In fact, the beautifully-formed vessel belonged to a partner.) Needless to say, the real scorn was saved for Norton Rose's attempts to save its skin by ferrying guests to its boat by limo after missing out on a mooring in its usual place. A bit too Vanessa Feltz, or to put it another way, a tad over the top. But get it right and a boat certainly sends out a loud branding message.
Others stuck more low-key. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that the likes of Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, SJ Berwin and Berwin Leighton had forgotten to come altogether. But venture into the best restaurants in town and the chances are that you would stumble across them.
Clifford Chance has never taken a stand or boat, opting instead for what it sees as a more direct approach - hosting a dinner and two lunches. The guests read like a client list to die for. They included the likes of Tishman Speyer's European general counsel, the group legal counsel for Canary Wharf, the head of real estate from JP Morgan and German guests, including a representative from DaimlerChrysler. More remarkable was the high turnout. And herein lies the secret of successful marketing at Mipim - as one modest brain behind the idea put it: "They were probably coming to meet the other guests." And if deals were being struck across the table, Clifford Chance's real estate team has reason to hope that instructions will be coming its way sometime soon.