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Propertyshe podcast: Damian Wild Managing Director of ING Media

Posted on 31 October 2022

“I think the real problem is that politicians have such a negative view of this industry and we saw that through Covid, you know, with rent payments and where sites were taken very, very definitively there.  You can see it in planning decisions and so I think reputation isn’t something that’s nice to have, if you haven’t got a good enough reputation, the very act of doing business can become difficult.  So, I think it is something that does require attention.”  

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman.  Welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum, where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment. Today, I am delighted to welcome Damian Wild.  After more than a decade at EG, this summer Damian Wild became Managing Director of ING, the leading PR and communications agency for the built environment.  Damian has spent more than 25 years working in business information as a journalist, editor and publisher.  He’s worked in the UK and Hong Kong across a number of sectors.  In thirteen years in real estate, he’s led programmes to embed tech, digitisation and ESG and chaired more events than he can remember.  He’s also a Trustee of LandAid, the property industry charity, he chairs the steering group of the Real Estate Data Foundation and he’s an ambassador for the British Society of Magazine Editors. 

So, now I have the daunting task of turning the tables on Damian and interviewing one of real estate’s most experienced interviewers.  Damian, good afternoon and I have to say it’s a little daunting for me to be interviewing one of the most accomplished interviewers in real estate so, I thought I’d just ask you how you feel about being interviewed?

Damian Wild

That, that’s very flatteringly put, thank you and hi, Susan.  Well it’s daunting being in this chair, I’m, you know I took on this career because I find it easier to ask questions than I find it to answer them but so, we’re both daunted so, maybe that’s a good thing.  Hopefully, we’ll not cancel each other but compensate.

Susan Freeman

So, Damian you have very recently left EG after I think thirteen years, mostly in the role of Editor and you’ve taken up a new role as MD of ING Media and we’ll obviously be talking about your new role but before we do that I’d like to just talk a little bit about how you got into journalism and, you know, was it something that always wanted to do?

Damian Wild

That’s a very good question.  No, it wasn’t and it probably wasn’t because my dad was a journalist actually, and I didn’t think about it for a long time and then, like I say, like I said a moment ago, I think it was that dawning realisation as I was going through university that it was a lot easier to ask questions than to answer them and I sort of came round full circle to it. 

Susan Freeman

Interesting actually, I wonder if it does run in the family because I think Giles Barrie also has a father, and maybe other relatives, who are journalists?

Damian Wild

As much as I’d like to say “not at all,” the answer is probably somewhat a “yes.” 

Susan Freeman

And do your children show signs of wanting to go into journalism?

Damian Wild

None whatsoever.  Heading wildly in different directions. 

Susan Freeman

And not in the direction of journalism.  So, pre-EG, I think you had had stints in Hong Kong and also worked on the Asian markets, what actually brought you back to London?

Damian Wild

So, I’ve worked in London for most of my career.  I started on a magazine called Public Finance, covering local government and some of those early public-private partnerships, PFI driven, largely private finance initiative driven, around the time and which I found very interesting but there was a point when I thought with, well we weren’t married at the time but my now wife, we decided to go travelling and so we, we hopped on a train at East Croydon Station and got off in Hong Kong and we stayed there for the best part of a year, working, and I was fortunate to work on the South China Morning Post and write for a number of titles back here as well and thoroughly enjoyed it, it was probably the most exciting, single most exciting period both for me personally and to be there as well, it was around the handover but we only ever saw it as something temporary and so we carried on our journey for a little bit and then came back to London the following year. 

Susan Freeman

And you didn’t directly go to EG at that point?

Damian Wild

No, I came back and I joined, after a couple of months of finding out what it was that I wanted to do and might end up doing, I began working for C&M, who were just setting up a financial news website in London, so I spent a number of months working there, which was very exciting or it felt very exciting anyway to be working for C&M.  I guess the downside was, I was hired because I’d recently been in Hong Kong and I was hired to cover Asian markets from London so, I would get the first bus into London every morning, run to my desk to try and be there in time for a handover from New York at 6.00am and then go through the various stock market closings in Asia and the stock market openings in Europe and take a, you know, pause for breath at about 9.30 in the morning and it was quite an intense start to each day. 

Susan Freeman

So, you were in danger of being pigeonholed in the sort of Asian market so, you moved on from that?

Damian Wild

I think I was in danger of not having a social life actually, because it required, it required going to bed very early and setting the alarm for 4.00 o’clock each morning or 4.30 each morning but I did see every, it was quite structured and so I’d finish soon after lunch and go and see every film at the cinema and dinner would be on the table that evening, every night, so there were some upsides but it wasn’t a pace that I wanted to keep up and I think, I think what I realised as well was that you know while I did enjoy it, I enjoyed you know that time at, at C&M and I enjoyed my time in Hong Kong enormously.  Having worked in business magazines, I’ve always been quite a  big evangelist of this, when I’ve talked to other journalists and people starting their career, I’ve enjoyed my time on business magazines and trade magazines enormously because you get to know the sector deeply, you get to know the people within it well, you become trusted and you become quite authoritative as well, in as much as you can be authoritative as a journalist and I think those relationships are something I’ve enjoyed and, you know, one of the reasons why I’ve moved into the role I’m now as well.

Susan Freeman

It’s interesting so, at what point did you move to Accountancy Age?

Damian Wild

So, that would have been ’99, beginning of ’99.  I bumped into a former colleague, my former Editor; I think it was on Oxford Street, just as I think I was probably, he was probably going to lunch and I had probably finished work for the day and was thinking about heading home and…

Susan Freeman

Or going to the cinema.

Damian Wild

Or going to the cinema or thinking about what time it was reasonable to go to bed that evening and he said that they had a vacancy come up for a news editor over there and would I be interested?  And, yeah, he caught me at a tired, tired time and I was very much interested and so I moved over there at the beginning of ’99. 

Susan Freeman

So, I think when I first met you, it must have been around the time that you started as Editor of EG and you’ve come from Accountancy Age, so I suppose 2009? 

Damian Wild

2009, yeah, I did ten years over there and I became Editor after a few years and then Editor in Chief of what was a group that included titles for finance directors, management consultants and accountants as well, and you know again, you know, a few phone calls had come in over the years, I’ve never been particularly interested but when one came in about EG, I was, I was very interested. 

Susan Freeman

So, you moved over to real estate and I remember, you know, having lunch right at the beginning and you know you were new to real estate and we talked a little bit about, you know, the sector and how it might differ from other sectors you’d been involved in but I’d be really interested to hear, you know, what your first impressions were back then and, you know, what impressed you, what surprised you?

Damian Wild

There were a lot of surprises.  A lot though impressed me, I have to say, but a lot of surprises, I’ll talk about the surprises first perhaps and you know, in some ways I was sort of, you know, looking back, maybe I was surprised to get the job.  I remember one particular question in the interview where, or a statement, I was told that if I did get the job, I would be expected to go down to MIPIM, this event in the South of France and I’d never heard of it, which is never, I’m not sure that’s a good thing to admit, now I know its significance of course, in an interview but I did and that wasn’t the end of my naivety though, I said oh, you know, how many people go to that?  And I was told, you know, it was nearly 30,000 at the time and I said well it must be a hell of a conference programme then.  I very, very quickly learned that that wasn’t the main draw for the show and it was, you know, the ability to meet people and make things happen.  So, I guess that was a surprise and a, and something monumentally impressive at the same time.  And I guess, you know, I remember when I joined, going in to see a lot of the managing partners of the agents at the time and it was at a time when, you know, that desire to be a one-stop shop was everything, I think that’s, that’s changed somewhat but you know, I was being asked about PWC and Deloitte and EY and KPMG and, you know, for a little bit of insight about how they’ve reached that position, I think some of the, you know, the partner earnings were attractive and perhaps some of the breadth and dominance were attractive as well so, that was something else striking.  And then another thing that struck me at that time I remember was when I, when I stood on stage at the first EG Awards I hosted that autumn actually, autumn ’09 and looking out across the audience and something perhaps you only see from the stage, was a real lack of diversity actually, it was even compared to accountancy, I think accountancy and law started on that journey earlier than real estate and I think real estate’s commitment has been great over recent years but yeah, it did have to, it did have to confront that. 

Susan Freeman

So, not many women in the audience?

Damian Wild

Not many women and not much ethnic diversity at that point either. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah.  Well, I hope it looked a little different when you hosted your final EG Awards Dinner?

Damian Wild

It did.  It did, you know, again, I won’t pretend it hasn’t got further to go but it certainly did and you could see that change year on year and you could see that real acknowledgement and effort kick in several years ago actually. 

Susan Freeman

It’s good to see that, that progress.  And also, real estate is known for its, you know its personalities and the, you know, very different people that are involved in different parts of the sector and I just wondered whether there were sort of any people that really stood out because obviously you had to do the rounds when you first joined and you didn’t really know people in real estate so, people must have been really quite anxious to meet you.

Damian Wild

Yeah, I think anxious is probably the right word actually.  You know, who was this person who, you know, edited some accountancy title who has come over into our dynamic, country changing world, so there was some anxiety I think, which as much as the agents wanted to know about how they could, you know, be the next PWC, I think a lot of the developers and those real estate titans, you know, many of which are, you know, are still with us thankfully, some sadly aren’t, were a little bit anxious and none of them suffer fools so, there was a bit of convincing to do at first but I think I cracked them. 

Susan Freeman

I’m sure.  I’m sure you did.  And I mean did you find you know people generally quite welcoming or did the people sort of make it quite difficult for you initially?

Damian Wild

There were some challenges, it’s fair to say, you know, like I say, you know, I think if you, you know, if you’re meeting Gerald Ronson for the first time or Irvine Sellar, Tony Pidgley or Stuart Lipton, all of those you know colossal figures who have enviable CVs, biographies etc and, you know, buildings that they can point to that they want to know that, you know, you’re, I think the Editor of EG is seen as a peer in many ways, as someone who needs to be part of the conversation, not some sort of dispassionate observer and so, I think through a combination of interests and more stupid questions along the way, I try never to shy away from a stupid question if I think the answer might be in… or a question that is risk, there’s a risk of it being perceived as a stupid question, I try not to shy away from that because the answer’s obviously illuminating.  So, yeah, once I’d read Gerald’s book, you know, that conversation got easier, you know, once I’d got to know Irvine a little bit better and you know, could see some of the things that he was making happen, you know, The Shard, what a monumental achievement, you know, the relationship and the dynamic of the relationship certainly changed and I think many a people will come, will have come and seen me interview some of them on stage and will have seen that dynamic change so, no harm in talking about it, I think.

Susan Freeman

No, and I, as you say that, I’m thinking about your interview with Max James, who was the CEO of Quintain.

Damian Wild

Oh, you enjoyed that one; we’ve talked about that before. 

Susan Freeman

I did enjoy that one.

Damian Wild

Not for reasons that reflect well on me but…

Susan Freeman

You just made me think about it when you mentioned the questions because, you know, obviously their big development was, is at Wembley Park and you asked him where Wembley Park was because I think you were not familiar with the dynamics of Northwest London.

Damian Wild

No, no that’s true.  Wembley, very familiar.  Wembley Park, I remember thinking is, you know, is this some sort of new branding initiative.  There, I’ll confess that but I think that came across in the, in my slightly ignorant question. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah, and since both Max and I had been brought up in Wembley Park, of course, you know, we knew exactly where, where it was.

Damian Wild

Of course, but I think that’s important actually, I think one of the reasons why I do that and did that and this isn’t a good example because it was a silly question but I think generally, you know, if a question pops into your head, it’s popped into someone else’s head so, there’s probably other people out there wondering so, my philosophy is to ask the question.  I put that in a fairly small bucket marked ‘Should have known that’ but mostly, they’re revealing. 

Susan Freeman

No, I think, Damian, I think you are absolutely right because Max and I were probably the only people in the audience who happened to have been brought up in Wembley Park so, there we are.  Okay, so, so, after the initial period, once you started to get to know people and you know what was expected things went pretty well and you were accepted.

Damian Wild

I think, I think underestimated some things, I underestimated how big an impact you could have in that position, you know, the fact that you were generally on page three, it moved around a little bit but, page five actually, not page three, although actually it probably was at some point but more often on page five.  Having your photo there every week, week in, week out for the best part of a decade, which probably adds up to 500 or so leader columns – quite terrifying, I hope I’ve got that maths right – it gives you a very high recognition factor because I think this industry embraces its, its titles, its media, it does see those editors and the people who work on those titles as peers really, you know people who are within the conversation, not those dispassionate observers that I, that does apply in some other industries so, that I certainly underestimated.  I underestimated how many events there are in this industry, I’m not sure others have quite so many and I say that as someone who has staged many of them as well so, you know, mea culpa too but being up on stage so regularly also heightened that so, there were periods where I remember my daughter’s primary school class, I think most of the parents in that class, at least one of them, seemed to work as a surveyor somewhere so, playgrounds were, you know, it always involved professional chat as much as, you know, how our sons and daughters were doing. 

Susan Freeman

Well you raise an interesting point because anybody who is involved with in real estate would know you because they see your photograph in the mag every week but you might not know who there were, so there must have been quite a lot of conversations where you know you’re having a conversation thinking, you know who is this person who is speaking to me.

Damian Wild

Oh, I couldn’t possibly say that’s the case but well, if you’ve ever heard me say, as a point of introduction, have you two met?  Then, then you might know what’s going through my head. 

Susan Freeman

No, I try that and some people actually refuse to play the game so…

Damian Wild

It can be awkward.

Susan Freeman

But you raise, I mean, interesting point this sort of influence of the Editor because you know having remarked on how there was such a lack of diversity in real estate, I think EG have done a lot to try and redress the balance and have worked, you know really hard on getting the industry to focus on the problem.

Damian Wild

Yeah, it’s something we started taking very seriously in the mid-2010s, you know, maybe slightly earlier than that but really stepping up there and I think, you know, we were, we were very enthusiastic champions of the components of ESG, perhaps before they were brought together under that banner and I don’t, I’m not saying we were alone in doing so but it was really important to me and to you know colleagues like Sam McClary and Emily Wright who were, you know, every bit as instrumental in this and to have absolutely carried it on with real vigour.  It was really important to us to do it seriously and to do it in a committed way, not just to do it as a ‘annual special’ or something like that, something that felt like it was part of the features calendar, it had to be really embedded in our coverage and we, we had to ask ourselves some tough questions and I hope acknowledge our mistakes as well along the way and I think Sam’s continued to do that, you know, where, you know, sometimes you would pick up an issue and just look at the photo selections through that issue and the, you know, and these are decisions that you make in isolation on a page by page basis but when you take a step back and look at the impact of what you’ve done, it doesn’t look brilliant so, it required us to rethink our approach as well and try and think about who we’re approaching for comment pieces, for quotes, how we were seeking to, you know, represent through images what was going on, as well as picking the topics that we wrote about as well.

Susan Freeman

And sometimes, you know, there’s only so much you can do because if you’re, you know, sent a photograph and press release for a launch and the launch involves seven men, you know, there’s not much you can do with that is there?

Damian Wild

No, you can choose not to run the photo.  You could choose not to cover the story but I think that becomes harder but you can push back as well or you can remove certain components and none of that is getting, is solving the problem but I think in and of themselves, you know, by saying we’re not running that image or pushing back, can you get another image here, it’s a really important message and you know, and very quickly, I think, perhaps not quickly, it’s, there’s that quote isn’t there about change happens gradually and then suddenly, and I think maybe we’re you know getting towards a suddenly now but at some point the conversation became, you know, look this isn’t going to reflect well on you, you know, you need to take a different approach and then the recognition there starts happening.  And it’s not just on the pages of the magazine or web pages, it’s through events and probably, as that events programme started ramping up and this issue started being taken more seriously, you know, we know the phrases, 21.29 etc, you know we made some mistakes along the way certainly, but I think we reached a point where we could demonstrate that it’s something that we were, we were taking very seriously. 

Susan Freeman

And when you say mistakes, have you got anything particularly in mind?

Damian Wild

Yeah, there was one where, I won’t name the city but there was a point when we had someone, genuinely, working fulltime on the diversity of our panels, you know, that wasn’t their job title, they were a conference producer but it became pretty clear that on a fulltime basis, they were trying to recruit panels that, you know, had some diversity, even then not enough, that had some diversity and I remember the Question Time series, which was a fantastic thing that I think we launched a colleague was instrumental in raising our ambition there, travelling to ten or twelve different cities round the country, you know, sometimes every week because the events programmes tend to get concentrated around different points of the calendar, having four or five very notable speakers from that city, you know it was a sponsored programme so it involved sponsors as well and we’d have to push back on sponsors sometimes as well, which wasn’t always an easy conversation and because we wanted to get the event out in the market to ensure we had an audience, while the panel wasn’t yet complete, we released a few of them where we would announce our first three speakers while we were still putting the full panel together.  The first three were often male and then we got some horrible backlash from that, horrible, deserved, you know it helped focus our minds etc but yeah, again, that forced us to change our approach, not announcing a panel until there was some diversity on that panel and I think that very nature of diversity, which there was a point where it meant, you know, a single seat, that’s begun to change, well, I’m going to use an ongoing present tense here, it continues to change, it continues to get to something that is both representative of an industry where the diversity in senior positions isn’t as we’d like it to be but you have to both lead and follow if you are in a position like we were on at EG.  

Susan Freeman

Well, I think, I think you are doing a good job because I think we do, I certainly notice now if I’m looking at a photograph and you know it’s not in any way diverse, whereas a few years ago, I think you know that was the way it was and you know one just didn’t even notice. 

Damian Wild

Yeah, and some people pushed very hard and very vocally at it, which could be, you know, it can be abrasive but you know, you do need those voices to force change.

Susan Freeman

When you look back at your time at EG, is there anything that you regard as your sort of greatest legacy or achievement?

Damian Wild

I suppose a combination of things.  Some of it around things that we’ve talked about there but all aspects of things we’ve talked about so, our events programme went from being something that was very side of the desk to being something that was a very substantial part of the business and the way we were able to push that in a direction of genuine editorial interest, I think was important really and I always, I’ve always believed that those two things can be straddled because you know someone like EG or any publication has to be commercially viable and, you know, the print environment has been under pressure for a number of years but for a lot of titles, you know, across the industry and I sit on something called the, used to sit on something called the British Society of Magazine Editors committee and I’m still an ambassador for them, I think every sector has struggled with that really so, I don’t think has been innate to EG or real estate journalism but coupling something that’s of genuine editorial interest and commercially viable is quite tricky but we, we got a model there that worked and within that focus on things that are of interest editorially, I think we pushed very hard at ESG both from a sustainability point of view and from a diversity point of view, to pick two headline components, and tech as well.  I think we led from the front there and pushed that very  hard and Emily Wright an absolutely brilliant job in championing that and you as well, you know, you have taken that conversation forward, and others, and I was joking with someone yesterday at something else I’m involved in, the Real Estate Data Foundation, he did say to me good luck with that, coupling real estate and data, someone very senior in the industry but I think he said that from a position of being on the side of bringing them together rather than seeing them as incompatible. 

Susan Freeman

No, it’s so, it’s some important.  In fact, I saw what you put o social media about the Data Foundation event but it’s absolutely key isn’t it because if we’re going to do anything about decarbonisation, you know we need data, we need to share data, we need to know what’s going on with our buildings but I think the real estate sector has been a little bit reluctant to share, I think there’s still this feeling that there’s some sort of IP in data and people are nervous about sharing it. 

Damian Wild

It is, it’s frustrating, there was a, I did put this quote on, on that post actually, which was Chris Lease, the Chair of the Data Standards Committee, who said, “our phones wouldn’t operate without data standards.  If my iPhone couldn’t phone your android, we wouldn’t be able to function.  There needs to be a commonality so, how do we expect, why do we expect buildings to function without data standards?”  Unless you’ve got that accepted benchmark, we’re not going to be able to move towards net zero, as a for instance. 

Susan Freeman

No.  Yes, so hopefully we’re making progress on that front as well and I mean, you just mentioned print media and I just wondered how you see, I mean is there a future for magazines or are we going to end up, you know with everything online, you know and with the events and lose the actual print format?

Damian Wild

Can I turn that into a question?  Do you read magazines?  Physically. 

Susan Freeman

I do.

Damian Wild

But you made it sound like a confession there. 

Susan Freeman

But probably less, less than I, less than I did before and also with newspapers, I find increasingly I’m reading online because it’s, you know, more, more convenient so, I might prefer to actually have the magazine but sometimes it’s easier, quicker to actually read online.

Damian Wild

You know, magazine and the reading of physical media is going to diminish and there’s always a danger about generalising and speaking on behalf of a species here, really.  But my favourite description was of those two things, that changing dynamic, it was quite a few years ago now but and from then Editor of The Economist, who said that “reading online is a lean forward and reading physical paper is a lean back” and I think that still holds and I think if you’re picking something up, if you’re wanting to know, none of us wait for the news… for that morning paper to find out what’s in the news but you know, we might sit back with the Weekend FT and read more broadly, which is one of my favourite experiences.  So, I think news, news has moved online but I think that feature-led visual experience is still in print and as I say, you know I’m, I’m still there representing The British Society of Magazine Editors, who have plenty of online editors amongst their membership, I certainly feel an affinity with print media even though I spend less time reading print media than I have done in the past. 

Susan Freeman

Of course, you know, one of the benefits of online is that you know if anything needs to be corrected, you know you can just tweak it online, which is not the case with, you know, the print edition.  Now, as a very busy editor, with all these things going, going on, there must be moments where something doesn’t go quite the way you wanted it to go and, you know, somebody’s not happy with something that, you know, that appears in the magazine, I mean have you, can you tell us about those sort of stressful moments?

Damian Wild

No journalist or editor seeks to get something wrong and very few will seek to misrepresent either, none that I’ve worked with I should say but I suspect it happens in, you know, parts of a, the politically driven media, but you do make mistakes along the way and they’re awful so, I would get regular calls telling me I’d you know got something colossally wrong and I should expect a letter from that person’s lawyer and sometimes that letter would arrive as well and I’d say probably not 9 times out 10 but, actually no, this makes it sound like it’s relatively regular but very rarely would there be substance behind what they were saying.  Usually, it would be inconvenient timing, sometimes it would have been, it might have been true at the time and things can change pretty quickly, particularly in print in 36 hours between sending something to the press and it landing on someone’s doorstep but occasionally, something would be wrong and I’ve always, and hopefully others would say this too, we’ve always sought to correct things very quickly and as you say, you can make that amendment online very quickly, in print you have to wait for the next week’s edition and I’d publish some fairly, I’m picturing a particular apology that we published where we, we just got a calculation wrong in the Rich List but I could see how personally and reputationally damaging that might be and so we published a very, very fulsome correction there.  I should say, I’ve been to the High Court twice over things we’ve published and I’ve won both times and I wouldn’t want to go back for a third time, a very wise managing director of the publisher I was with at the time of one of those occasions said to me, and I was very grateful for his support actually because it does take, does take quite a bit of financial support to contest something in that way, he said to me, you know, “Well done on winning.  I’m very pleased obviously but did you feel completely in control of the situation at all times?”  To which the answer was, of course, no and I carried that with me as a bit of a lesson.  Not a lesson, we didn’t do anything wrong actually, I should say but as a learning.

Susan Freeman

Yeah, and apart from anything else, it’s all the time, you know, that is spent actually going, going through the process. 

Damian Wild

Absolutely. 

Susan Freeman

So, you do want to avoid it.  And you, I mean you mentioned the EG Rich List, which for many years, you know was much awaited, you know everybody wanted to leaf through it and see, you know who was in and how much money they had but I think you sort of reached the conclusion that perhaps this wasn’t the best way of presenting the real estate sector and I think, you know, you then decided to discontinue it.  What was the thinking on that?

Damian Wild

Yeah, I mean the way you describe it, it was exactly our thinking over, you know, over a two or three year period, I guess where it just felt out of step with the times, you know, that celebration of wealth for wealth’s sake, which is at the heart of a rich list really, you know, it was you know really well read, you know looked forward to, complained about, sometimes from people who were in there, often, or in one instance, hilariously, from someone who wasn’t in there as well and felt they should be but we didn’t think that his wealth could be substantiated but it suddenly became a bit, you know it sort of grated slightly and felt slightly incompatible and then we just felt that you know, that this should be the last one and we explored a philanthropy list but we couldn’t find a way of doing it authoritatively, we did crunch the numbers for a little while and you know, The Sunday Times have gone down that route, which is good to see but, but we let it go altogether. 

Susan Freeman

And that was, that was in 2016?

Damian Wild

It was around then.  I should be able to remember the year but I think because to me it felt like a, you know, something that gradually happened over about 36 months, from a slight feeling of discomfort to a, it really is time to stop.  I think it was that year. 

Susan Freeman

And that really sort of you know brings us onto I suppose reputation of the real estate sector and why, you know, a sector that you know provides the framework for people to live sort of 90% of their lives effectively, just somehow isn’t very good at getting its stories across and all the sort of positive things that are done in real estate across.  I mean, how do you see that?  Do you see some opportunities to improve it and do a better job of telling the stories?

Damian Wild

I do and I say I do with an important caveat.  Having come from the world of accountancy, where I’d see Enron and WorldCom happen and during that period actually, I was on the BBC a lot, a couple of us were on a lot just talking about developments and feeling very close to a sector that had lost control of its reputation really and when I came into real estate, I naively thought that things could be turned round within a relatively short period.  That hasn’t happened, I think it’s got worse rather than better, reputationally, and you know we can talk about the reasons for that but I still remain optimistic that it can be turned round.  I think it would take a, you know, for the public to feel differently in you know any foreseeable future would take you know Netflix’s best ever drama in a $100 million, if that’s even a budget, that might be a per episode budget now, I don’t really, really know but it would take something of that scale on an ongoing basis to begin to turn the public’s reputation but I think the real problem is that politicians have such a negative view of this industry and we saw that through, through Covid, you know with rent payments and where sides were taken very, very definitively there, you can see it in planning decisions and so I think reputation isn’t something that’s nicer to have, if you haven’t got a good enough reputation, the very act of doing business can become difficult so I think it is something that does require attention and it’s something that is going to be a multi-year project where that damage reputation can only get chipped away and it can’t be turned round quickly. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, it’s quite, it’s quite depressing, isn’t it really, so I like the idea of your Netflix drama and that might be a way of doing it because you know for sure the man in the street or the woman in the street might, you know, looking at something like The Shard, you know, might know that there’s an architect involved and obviously there’s a building company involved but there’s no reason why they should know that there’s also the, you know, the property developer that puts the whole enterprise together. 

Damian Wild

No, I think The Shard’s a good example, I think The Shard and the Olympic Park, you know, as another for instance or King’s Cross, you know, but again the fact that we’re coming back to some fairly familiar examples is part of the problem or Mayfield in Manchester, to pick a more recent example.  I was up there a few weeks ago and hearing children shout “This is the best slide ever” you know, on a project which starts with a park and we see residential and commercial follow soon after.  You know, I think if we can widen that pool of examples then we will start to change that.  If we start with an advertising campaign which says this is what a developer is and does, we’re not going to win hearts and minds, you know the proof of the pudding has to be in the eating or in the sliding. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah.  That’s a good way, that’s a good way of looking at it and so if we, I mean just moving on from you know, the positive things that the property industry does, I think we could talk a little bit about LandAid and you have I think been on LandAid’s fundraising committee for quite a few years and now Chair it and you know LandAid has really become you know very much the property industry charity.  So, I think it would be useful if you told our listeners about, you know, LandAid and what it does and you know how, your involvement.

Damian Wild

Yeah, well from very humble beginnings and I think you were around for the beginnings, I joined soon after, it has grown into something phenomenal and it started, it started you know brilliantly but it really has grown and I think that, that laser-like focus on ending youth homelessness and setting itself a very specific challenge, a very visible challenge and seeking to unite the property industry behind that challenge, which I think it has been largely successful, I think it can go further but when there are, you know 120,000 young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, you know, which includes sofa surfing as well as street homelessness, the need to do something is, is clear.  I think the commitment is clear and growing and the fact that it is the property industry, which you know has influence over some of the solutions, it goes back to our reputation point is, if the property industry isn’t looking to solve a problem like this then how might it change its reputation?  But I think, you know, it’s a problem that needs solving… we’re not living in a golden age of politics, without seeking to get party political, I think there’s not many people who would disagree with that and I think increasingly, solutions to many problems that we might have expected Government to solve, are going have to be solved by business and I think collective action around something like the LandAid cause, and there are plenty of other causes, will only be a good thing. 

Susan Freeman

No, it’s been, it’s been great actually sort of seeing LandAid grow, as you say you know from the beginnings and obviously a lot of it was down to Mike Slade, you know really sort of getting things off the ground and we did have some interesting fundraising events in the early days.  I think we, we’ve talked about the famous London versus New York debate, where Boris Johnson came along to represent London as London Mayor and we’d sort of flown in various deputy mayors from New York and Boris was very, very late and hadn’t read the brief so, we went from the vote at the beginning, where the audience all voted for London, to the vote at the end where they all voted for New York, which I think says a lot but it raised money for LandAid so, it was a great event. 

Damian Wild

There’s so much going on in that comment, isn’t there?  I think, you know, the way that LandAid’s changed being from something that was very events led and that was, you know, there were other more frivolous events as well, that was a, that was a serious one but Mike was tremendous at galvanizing people and you know, persuading them to take part and persuading them to empty their pockets but it had to become a more professional organisation, if you like, or it needed that organisation behind it and you know I think that, its tentacles have spread both nationally and through sectors and the new Chair, Neil Slater from Aberdeen, is just a great example of that, that sort of institutional endorsement, that institutional participation is really important and then I think, you know, to pick on that other aspect of your comment there around Boris Johnson, you know I think, you know underpreparedness is perhaps a, you know, reputation that has followed him a little bit through his various roles but, you know, as a champion for London, you know I think he, he did a great job at MIPIM, you know I remember the Paris tent emptying whenever he was speaking in the London pavilion and so, you know, making sure that London was, its virtues were being sung on an international stage, was vitally important, it’s important that we continue to do that.  So, I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent there but I couldn’t let really the bringing up of our former Mayor go unremarked upon. 

Susan Freeman

And then of course there were the party conference dinners that you and I collaborated on for many, many years and we didn’t have, we didn’t have Boris but obviously we did the Conservative and Labour Party dinner debates which you chaired so professionally and there were some interesting moments there because, you know, getting people of different sort of political persuasions together, getting sort of local government and developers together, you never quite know what’s going to come up. 

Damian Wild

Yeah, perhaps I can confess now that I’ve always had a slight love-hate relationship with those dinners.  Packing on a Sunday, I always, I always found quite difficult, thinking do I really want to be heading up to you know not the City itself but to a party conference, to chair a dinner but once I was there, I always enjoyed them and I missed them when they didn’t happen during Covid but I think if I think back over my career actually, there has been a thread about bringing different groups together, you know when I was talking about Public Finance magazine earlier, it struck me bringing together the private sector and the public sector to try and, you know, push for a different sort of outcome, you know, that sort of pragmatic streak, perhaps in me and perhaps in many people as something that’s always appealed but all of that said, I particularly enjoyed it when the party conference dinners, when there was some tension in the room, when there were some profound, often ideological disagreements and you know, we took Labour politicians like Darren Rodwell to the Conservative Party Conference and Steve Norris, former London, well former Conservative minister of course, to the Labour Party Conference and that always added a bit of spice as well but I can only ever remember one person walking out of one of those dinners, perhaps shouldn’t say who.

Susan Freeman

No, perhaps you won’t name names but you know for the most part they have sparked you know such interesting conversations so, you know, definitely worthwhile doing.  And just continuing the theme of bringing people together, you will be able to do that in your new role at ING Media so, perhaps we can talk a little bit about what the role is going to entail and what you’ll be bringing over to the role from your previous roles?

Damian Wild

What a segway, thank you for that.  Yeah, so I joined here in September this year, after thirteen years at EG, as we said earlier and the thing that appealed about the role was that you know this is a business that works right across the built environment, you know, and I think, I genuinely believe it’s the only comms agency to do so, going from architecture and design, which is a world I’m trying to know better, you know of course I’ve known it, you know perhaps from a developer distance, if you like, but I’m really enjoying getting to know that world better through investors and developers into regeneration and cities and I think there’s, if I look at the people I’ve been speaking to since I joined here, the people that we already work with and you know perhaps would like to work with, they all have a sense of purpose about them, I think you know, many of the people I chose to speak to at EG, I think I sort of gravitated towards those sorts of people as well, people who you know had a you know absolute commercial focus but were trying to achieve more than that as well so, I’m enjoying that and I think you know as this industry really takes all of its decisions perhaps through the lens of ESG, you know I think that’s something that, well I’ve been looking to continue or will be looking to continue here and I think that lens is focussed on cities now as well and you know, again that consideration, that purpose driven consideration, it’s always more than a building, it’s about a place and perhaps it’s a city, perhaps it’s a region, perhaps it’s a country, so that’s something that I’m, I feel able to continue here because there’s been, you know, since Leanne Tritton founded this business 23 years ago, that’s what it’s grown into and there’s a 40-strong team here who are, you know, I think each of them are motivated by that as well and so I’m really, really enjoying that and will enjoy that. 

You also asked what I’m bringing to this, well I think through thirteen years at EG, I’ve got to know a lot of people and I think over that time I’ve brought a lot of people together as well, whether it’s for an event, whether it’s for an advisory board that we set up at EG or even a sort of post London riot Recovery Board, we had going for a little while, just getting sort of the brightest, most relevant minds together to try and face a problem, has been something that I’ve enjoyed and again, that’s something that I hope to be able to apply here and if we can help change real estate’s reputation a little bit in the process, that would be, that would be exciting too, and motivating. 

Susan Freeman

There’s definitely, definitely one suit to work on so, in bringing people together and we talked a little bit about, about MIPIM earlier and your, you know, first experience of MIPIM when you joined EG.  So, I know ING Media have you know have a role in the organisation of MIPIM and I just wondered, I mean it might be a bit early to know, you know, how MIPIM 2003 is likely to shape up but I mean, is there anything that you can, you can tell us about it?

Damian Wild

So, yeah, MIPIM 2023, the plans are starting to take shape now, I think you know many will have seen that Manchester are back, for instance, and I think it’s some of those marquee names are important to have there.  I think in terms of details, it’s probably a bit early, a bit early to say but as you say, you know, we work on the PR and comms for Reed MIDEM, so we’re intimately involved in MIPIM.  I think last year’s show was a, was a strong step back into the frame, if you like, after those Covid disrupted years but I think you know there is further to go in terms of UK representation, UK participation but boy does it matter, doesn’t it, where we are economically, where we are perhaps politically, we need to get out there on the stage and sell the UK as a pre-eminent investment destination and that can and should happen at MIPIM, it should happen elsewhere as well and on other stages as well but I’m looking forward to it, I think many of the people I speak to are looking forward to it as well and I think there will be a stronger, more visible UK participation from what I’m hearing as well. 

Susan Freeman

Oh well, that’s very, that’s very positive because it’s the sort of ideal place to fly the flag and you know we’re always being compared so, you know, the London stand will be compared to the Paris stand and the London stand this year was a little bit inconclusive so, hopefully, it will, there will be more substance to it next year. 

Damian Wild

Yeah, I think so and I think you know some of those who, you know, I think you know someone like Darren Rodwell, he was full of ideas about how, you know the London stand could kick on and I’m sure those are being listened to and I’m sure it will as well and I think not just London but the UK as well, I think it’s very important that that is I think has, has happened at MIPIM over the years, I remember chairing London and Manchester joint events, well going back ten years now, now probably and I think that need to you know to present a sort of collective, united front, is even more important than ever but you’re right, London, you know as the UK’s world city, needs absolutely to be represented to the best possible effect. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah and we’ve got the new Opportunity London initiative so, we will, we’ll be seeing Opportunity London at MIPIM next year. 

Damian Wild

Yeah, well we, it was good to see that at LREF and the side event at the Royal Academy was a really strong one, I thought and I was very pleased to be a part of that with others but I think that is an initiative that’s hugely important.

Susan Freeman

And I think you’ve just been to Expo in your new ING Media role and I wondered how that compared to MIPIM because I’ve not been to Expo for quite a few years?

Damian Wild

Expo, sorry I thought you were going to ask me a slightly different question there, maybe I’ve answered the slightly different question but…

Susan Freeman

Go ahead.

Damian Wild

Well Expo is much more of an institutional investment show, isn’t it, I mean it’s a very big show as well, it’s colossal but it is much more focussed on that institutional investment piece and much more focussed on the German market as well, not exclusively but, but what really struck me about Expo this year was the mood and I think those sorts of events are very good for taking the mood and you know, it wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, it wasn’t, it wasn’t very positive at all actually, but I think there was, there was a feeling, and I was debating this with colleagues who came back with a you know not a different impression but I think you can get different impressions at a show like that but, but I think there was a feeling that in the UK, you know we’re set for a bit of pain in the months ahead and I think you know we’ll, at the moment we’re seeing reports of deals that aren’t happening, I think that will stop and you know perhaps there’ll be a bit more focus on the deals that are happening because they’ll feel slightly more remarkable and you can read that as a good thing or a bad thing.  But I think there was a consensus that we’re in for some, some fairly sharp pain in the UK, it may be short, we may come out of it quicker and then it’s more likely to spread to Europe at that point so, I think we should keep, we should do all we can to try and keep that contraption, however it’s measured, to something that’s as small as possible and for a shorter time as possible, that’s probably the overriding goal for the next several months. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, that’s a much more interesting question than the one I asked you actually, so thank you.  Now, one of the things I was thinking about was your immediate predecessor in the role of Editor of EG, Peter Bill, after he left, he wrote a book, Planet Property.  Now, I just wondered whether you had any yearning to write a book?

Damian Wild

A yearning to write a book?  I was having a conversation at Expo actually, where someone was saying “You should write a book on this” and I thought ooh, that’s a good idea but I don’t know if I’m best placed to write that book.  Someone like Peter is you know excellent at that and he’s well, both of his books are you know on housing and Planet Property are very strong tomes.  Peter’s quite polemical, isn’t he and I think you know people who know me best, my friends and family I think will find it funny that I’ve managed to write, you know 500 opinion pieces at EG and probably 500 before then and so I’m into four figures on opinion pieces when I’m not known for having very strong opinions about things but I don’t know, maybe one day, I’ve dabbled in a, there’s an unpublished book that I wrote on kings and queens once, as a contract publishing job.  I got paid for it but it never saw the light of day, so that was something.  And you know those small Collins Gem books that you get, there was a, if you ever manage to get hold of that series on the 70s, 80s, 90s and Noughties I think, no 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, you’ll find my name on the credit there for contributing for those so, you know, a very accomplished author of hackery, if you like, in book form.

Susan Freeman

Okay.  Okay.  So, we shouldn’t hold our breath then on the…

Damian Wild

Perhaps not.  I’ve will reflect on my Expo conversation though, that was a good idea.

Susan Freeman

And in terms of when you’re not working, what are your main interests?

Damian Wild

Oh, away from work?  A lot of it involves music, actually, I listen to a lot of music and go and see a lot of bands.  I can’t play anything, I can’t even clap in time, as my more musical children are fond of pointing out but yeah, a lot of music and used to be travel, hopefully that will return and I think I need to probably, at my advanced age, do a little bit more exercise than I’ve done in the last few years as well so, I’ve got in my mind, I’ll say this out loud actually, in my mind you know a return the JLL triathlon in some form or another next year.  Now I’ve said it out loud, I’m more likely to do it so, thank you for the platform. 

Susan Freeman

It’s a pleasure and if nothing else comes up on the travel front, there’s always Cannes next March. 

Damian Wild

There is, yeah.  So, I’m looking forward to that.  I’m looking forward to getting the train down there again, actually, that’s, that’s something I’ve missed, a long train ride down to the south of France and I’m busily selling that into colleagues at the moment but I’ll see whether I have any company or not.

Susan Freeman

Okay, you’re not planning the cycle ride down to, down to Cannes then.

Damian Wild

No, probably my most shameful moment in, as Editor of EG, was when I shook hands with someone agreeing to do the cycle to MIPIM and I woke up in the cold light of day, wine may have been taken, in the run up to that decision and had to think about how I could undo it and yeah, it was very hard telling that person.  I’ll give him.  He’ll enjoy it.  Pete Gladwell at LLG, he enjoyed me squirming on that phone call but probably not as much as Sam did when I told her that, McClary, when I told her that I wouldn’t be doing it, I think she was surprised that I even said yes in the first place, to be honest.

Susan Freeman

So you had to pedal backward fast on that one?

Damian Wild

Very good.  Thank you.  I will use that in future, I wish I had up to this point. 

Susan Freeman

Okay.  Well, Damian, it’s been, it’s been great chatting to you and reminiscing about some really good, good times at the EG and really best of luck and I hope we will continue to be collaborating with you in your new role at ING Media.

Damian Wild

Yeah, I hope so.  No, I’ve enjoyed working with you, personally Susan, over the years and hope to continue and I hope being in that chair wasn’t too traumatic.  I found it less traumatic than I expected to be in this one. 

Susan Freeman

You made it very easy, Damian, thanks, thanks very much.

Damian Wild

Likewise.

Susan Freeman

Thank you.

Damian Wild

Thanks, Susan.

Susan Freeman

Thank you so much, Damian, for agreeing to play the unfamiliar role of interviewee and for some great insights into the real estate sector from a very different perspective. 

So, that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast coming very soon. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use.  Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and, most importantly, suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe and on LinkedIn for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, Prop Tech and the built environment.

 

After more than a decade at EG, this summer Damian Wild became managing director of ING, the leading PR + Communications agency for the built environment.

Damian has spent more than 25 years working in business information, as a journalist, editor and publisher. He has worked in the UK and Hong Kong, across a number of sectors.

He began his career at Public Finance magazine in 1993 covering local government and moved to Hong Kong in 1997 where he worked on the South China Morning Post during the handover. 

The following year he worked on CNN’s newly launched financial news website in London before joining Accountancy Age magazine soon after. He was editor of the title during the Enron and Worldcom scandals and regularly appeared on TV and radio discussing their unwinding. After becoming editor in chief of the group, including the titles Financial Director and Management Consultancy, he joined Estates Gazette as editor in 2009.

During his 13 years at EG, Damian led programmes to embed tech, digitisation and ESG, and has interviewed government ministers, business leaders and real estate titans. He has chaired more events than he can remember, including leading public-private delegations to north America and the Middle East. Along the way he managed to come up with something in the region of 500 leader columns. 

Damian is also a trustee of LandAid and has been involved with the charity for over a decade. He also chairs the steering group of the Real Estate Data Foundation and is an ambassador for the British Society of Magazine Editors.
 

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