MIPIM: it’s all about the symbolism

Palais de Festivals Cannes"How much to buy all of Manchester?"
If you were in the business of producing eggs and the annual Eggfest – the global coming together of the world’s egg buyers and sellers and their respective supply chains – was in, say, Sydney, then you’d be pretty daft not to haul your backside off to Oz to sell your wares.

Imagine, then, that you’re a politician tasked with fostering urban and economic regeneration for your post-industrial city and that there’s a global convention where people who invest in cities and bring with them the end-users who populate buildings go to meet. You’d have to be there, wouldn’t you? You’d be failing your electorate if you weren’t.

Indeed, the electorate would be up in arms, surely, if you missed it? Well, not if the event is in a sunny, warm Cannes just as Britain is emerging from a long, cold winter. Nope, it goes from being an obligation of office to an outrageous abuse of taxpayers’ funds and something that must be stopped.

And so goes the ritual up and down the UK each March as leaders of its great cities prepare themselves for a week’s intensive networking, cheerleading and deal-doing. Those local media not ‘on the page’ enjoy stirring up an annual scrap and letters pages across the country fulminate with righteous indignation at the waste of it all.

As a veteran of fifteen MIPIMs I can tell you it’s not a waste. Not if a city plans its presence there carefully and methodically and has a very clear view of what it is seeking from the event and whom, precisely, it needs to meet in order to fulfil its objectives. It needs to have a clear proposition so that casual passers-by in the vast exhibition hall (known to all as The Bunker) get an immediate fix on what it is that makes the place worthy of consideration and it must ensure that its delegation is fully prepped on what it is that they are selling.

Cities like Liverpool, Manchester and London – MIPIM veterans, all – have this down to a fine art and enjoy enormous private sector patronage as a result, enabling their political leaders to point to how most or all of the civic delegations’ costs are being met from private purses. Thing is, plenty of other towns and cities haven’t grasped the basics of MIPIM and bluster their way through the week to little effect. I shan’t name names, but you can spot them from fifty paces. To salve taxpayers’ furrowed brows at least there’s now a UK version of the event, although the smarter destinations – take a bow again, Liverpool and Manchester – attend both.

Perhaps the most important element of the whole MIPIM opportunity is that of symbolism: the impact a well-crafted presence at the event can have on shaping investor sentiment. Better still when it is underpinned by the presence of a charismatic leader such as London’s Boris Johnson or Liverpool’s Joe Anderson. Never underestimate the impact of visibility. Sounds simple, but a wise old friend once described it to me as the art of being out and about. Not an easy sell to some of the electorate, granted, but a vital part of the modern city leader’s skill set, I’d argue.