Can Young Professionals Succeed at MIPIM?

Mark Barlow
Mark Barlow on 5th May 2023

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I attended my first MIPIM a month ago and it has taken me a few weeks to gather my thoughts on the infamous conference. Unlike any other trip I’ve taken to the Côte d'Azur, I returned to Liverpool tired, with sore feet and sick of my own voice – but for all the right reasons. 

As a member of Liverpool City Region’s Future Impact Board (FIB), I was honoured to be invited by the Liverpool Place Partnership to provide some insight on MIPIM, from the perspective of a young professional, and discuss whether I feel there is a place for young professionals at future conferences. Before I departed for Cannes, FIB held a LinkedIn poll for our followers to gauge current attitudes. 

The results showed that more than 75% considered the conference either unsustainable, expensive or non-inclusive.

And my initial opinion was not too dissimilar. This came as a surprise for some MIPIM veterans who presumed millennials would relish its undeniable glamour and exclusivity. Post MIPIM, I do have a refreshed outlook but was still left with some food for thought. 

It’s clear that MIPIM’s international outreach is unrivalled. This is the best opportunity to showcase your business, your city and yourself on a global stage to potential investors and clients that one would not meet otherwise. 

It is business development at its finest.

Despite the conveyor belt of new contacts, the relationships you form during those jam-packed days are arguably more lasting than any that come from your regular ‘free coffee’ networking events – even after those rosé-fuelled luncheons. This might sound unbearable to some, but it’s more like professional speed-dating.  

Simply discussing landmark local developments such as Liverpool Waters, Wirral Waters and Paddington Village at the conference, (all of which Curtins are proudly involved with), highlighted how a pipeline of projects can be born of in-person networking – a skill we are all having to dust off since the pandemic. Indeed, lockdowns presented a huge dilemma for local government and businesses in France and MIPIM 2023 was a bold move to recoup on losses since its hiatus. Conferences bring visitors and, therefore, money to an area which, in turn, can provide funding for local projects such as the much-delayed renovation of La Croisette promenade. 

Despite the brilliant networking opportunities, there remain some battles not yet won. 

The carbon impacts cannot be ignored.

Could all of this important work be done virtually to avoid the emissions from thousands travelling to Cannes? Perhaps organisers could arrange for a designated transport hub to consolidate flights? Or incentivise attendees by discounting tickets if they can prove their carbon offset/reduction in their daily role? This is albeit not a solution, but would at least show consideration for the climate crisis. At Curtins we recognise the significant carbon impact from our MIPIM attendance. So on our return, we calculated it and have donated to the Woodlands Trust equivalent to this value. Again not a solution, but better to do something than nothing.  

Can Young Professionals Succeed at MIPIM?

It makes you think: if this is the sector’s Olympics, why aren’t more people encouraged to join the race?

Alongside environmental issues, there are questions of social sustainability. Given the cost-of-living crisis, is travelling to MIPIM the best use of money? Although difficult to measure, better transparency with cost versus output would be a welcome change. Furthermore, the conference (in particular the fringe events) was so male-dominated it is no wonder we have an industry-wide skills shortage, as well as a diversity and inclusion problem – because this is what the world sees when it looks at our industry.

It makes you think: if this is the sector’s Olympics, why aren’t more people encouraged to join the race? I work for a company with a diverse board of directors and come from a generation for whom D&I is a hot-button issue, and I imagine the conference will fast become outdated if organisers and businesses fail to appeal to a wider demographic.

For example, I was repeatedly told I was “the youngest person ever seen at MIPIM”, which is equally flattering as it is concerning since I am in my late 20s! Authentic changes are needed and directors arriving in white trainers is not what I’d call progress.  

But there are hopeful signs: I was invited to join the Future Ambitions panel to discuss what the next generation want from the sector. This was a huge breakthrough because it meant young professionals had a voice at a very big table, which could influence businesses to reconsider who they choose to represent them at MIPIM. Liverpool and Curtins were praised for identifying the value a young professional can bring to the conference, but this was a novelty. In fact, most panels focused on issues that directly affect my generation and beyond, but had no representatives from that demographic group. How can these discussions make any meaningful impact?   

Overall, the trip was worthwhile and mostly positive. But my lasting impression can be summarised as follows: 

MIPIM = May It Please Include More.

May it please include more sustainable travel availability, more financial options for tickets, more transparency concerning business outputs, and finally a more diverse network. Both organisers and companies must recognise the importance of a diverse delegation and appeal to more people if MIPIM is to have a future. Through this, our future leaders will learn how to operate at these kind of signature industry events and a new generation of talent will be brought into the industry. So to organisers and businesses of MIPIM 2024 wondering if young professionals can succeed there, I say: yes, we Cannes! 

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