Does Mipim provide value for money? And does it matter?

Despite the cost, most firms would never forego their annual trip to Cannes. By David Middleton

The hangovers have passed and it is time for the property lawyers of the world to count the cost to their firms of attending Mipim, the world’s largest property conference.

The event takes place over one week, during which the world of property comes together in a spectacular location – Cannes – to enjoy extravagant parties in venues that usually play host to Hollywood’s rich and famous.

While what the law firms spend at Mipim – even magic circle firms – pales into insignificance compared with the sums lavished by some developers and agents, do firms really get value for money from bills that run into tens of thousands of pounds?
Mid-tier property sector firms that hired a restaurant or bar on the fringes of La Croisette, the main entertainment strip, would have spent between £7,000 and £10,000 on client entertainment for a two-hour session.

For other firms that hosted dinners right at the heart of the party (Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) gave a dinner at The Martinez), the price goes up accordingly. BLP remains curiously coy about the cost, but The Martinez charges E150 (£100) per head for a meal in its restaurant during the off-season.

And while the yachts playing host to partners from Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Lovells and Norton Rose were impressive and made a bold statement, they came with a hefty price tag.

Chartering a yacht for the week starts at E10,000, (£7,000) plus in the region of another E1,000 (£700) for port fees. Quay berths are only available to firms that have booked a stand or hospitality suite inside the Grand Palais, which start at E7,000 (£5,400).

Onboard catering and hospitality expenses vary, but it is not uncommon for a firm to spend between E20,000 (£14,000) and E30,000 (£21,000) for the week.

Add in official accreditation fees, accommodation for the week and travel and transfer expenses for the lawyers and staff, and all of a sudden you’re looking at a budget of around £60,000 or more.

There were more than 21,000 official delegates at Mipim 2006. At around £1,200 a pop for the accreditation, that’s already more than £25m just to get in to the event. Around three times that number came to Cannes without bothering with official accreditation.

Increasingly, lawyers attending Mipim don’t get official accreditation, although Lovells proved an exception with a team of 35 on the ground. A quick calculation shows the advertised cost to the firm to be £42,000. But it’s understood that such big-spending firms were offered discounts.

But as a partner from a different firm put it: “To be an official registered delegate is, frankly, a waste of money. This year there was not much value in having [the accreditation].”

The money spent by exhibitors is incalculable. Some 7,000 exhibitors displayed varying degrees of extravagance, from the Liverpool stand showing off the European Cup won last year in Istanbul by Liverpool FC, to the Poland stand adorned by its guest of honour, Miss Warsaw 2006. Norton Rose and Simmons & Simmons had small spots as part of the giant London stand, while Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary had walk-in stalls in a separate area of the four-storey Grand Palais.

But despite the cost, most firms see Mipim as a ‘must do’. From the magic circle to the niche boutiques, they’re all there. Of the firms that regard themselves as players in the property market, you can count the number that don’t attend on the fingers of one hand.

One firm that has traditionally refused to go is Farrer & Co. A spokesman for the firm suggested it was a “historical” decision not to attend, based on considerations of cost.

Property boutiques Maples Teesdale and Maxwell Batley were two of the smaller firms to attend Mipim, and Maples partner Roger Thornton said the firm was adamant that attending was beneficial.

He said Maples partners had “picked up a few leads” from their time at Mipim, which included hosting two private lunches at a restaurant away from the main conference area.

South West firm Clarke Willmott has been attending Mipim for the past four years after a client bank recommended it did so. Partner David Powell said he had one piece of work personally as a direct result of Mipim, with other leads to follow. “That’s sufficient to justify my own cost of going,” he says.

The recent emergence at Mipim of housebuilders and social housing organisations has been enough to keep the smaller firms interested. Recent years have also seen a trend towards business coming from Central and Eastern Europe and the Far East.

Some of the property heavyweights use Mipim as a tool to meet lawyers from their own networks or associations as much as potential clients.

DLA Piper hosted a multi-office party at its central restaurant HQ, which was attended by lawyers ranging from associates from Birmingham to managing directors of associated firms from as far away as Australia and almost everywhere in between.

UK property heavyweight BLP sent a 28-lawyer team, including 18 partners from the corporate, capital markets and projects practices, as well as from across the sphere of its real estate practice.

Partner David Battiscombe says: “The opportunity to meet lawyers from our international network of friends was invaluable.” Lawyers from BLP’s network in Denmark, Italy and Spain were in attendance.

Battiscombe adds that BLP also used Mipim to meet its clients’ other advisers, “including sometimes their other lawyers”, to “gain a further insight into their business”.

“Any law firm would be naive to go and measure its success by deals won on the ground; that’s simply not how Mipim works,” Battiscombe explains. “But we definitely find it value for money.”

Expensive junket for lawyers to the south of France or valuable business development tool? Either way, Mipim takes a massive chunk out of every firm’s marketing budget. Love it or loathe it though, you’d better believe they’ll all be back next year.