With a clear strategic focus, fully engaged team and the confidence of the board, Bidwells beat some big names to become award winners. Matt Allen explains.

There are not many mid-sized property businesses who go up against the marketing muscle of IBM, Mastercard, Adobe and AT&T and come out on top. But that’s exactly what Bidwells did by winning Best Thought Leader Strategy at The Drum B2B Awards.

We were gobsmacked when we found out we had won and were astounded a week later when we picked up two more trophies at the B2B Marketing Awards. Winning Best use of Thought Leadership and Best Limited Budget Campaign. With all the plaudits going to the Radical Regeneration Manifesto we created with our advisers Blackstock.

Yet, this isn’t just about one brilliant piece of thought leadership. Our business has a very clear strategic focus, to be the market leading adviser across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. This is a topic area we have focused on from a business development and marketing perspective since the National Infrastructure Commission launched its report on the region in 2017.

Over the past three years we have led the debate on the Arc, with a sustained campaign of research, blogs, events and roundtables to align our brand with the topic while also engaging our defined BD targets. Through our campaign we have built strong relationships with the key public sector stakeholders on the Arc and brought them together with the development community. We have placed Bidwells firmly at the heart of the debate.

2019 was a big year for our Arc campaign. We brought Andy Teacher and his Blackstock team on board to help us build our business and reputation across the Arc, we won awards for our Arc thought leadership at the PMA and B2B Marketing awards, we organised a sell-out 500-person conference on the Arc at the Francis Crick Institute and launched the Radical Regeneration Manifesto.

When Blackstock first suggested the manifesto concept there were many in our business who had doubts we could pull it off. But our successful Arc campaign had given the board confidence in us and I had the full confidence in my team that we would make it happen. The scope of the manifesto aligned so closely with our business strategy it became clear it was the big idea we needed, so I made sure the BD and marketing team was fully engaged to deliver it – every member of the team had a role to play in the project and it became our lives for six months.

“When the Radical Regeneration Manifesto was suggested I thought it was both exciting and mad at the same time. Clearly therefore something we needed to do,” commented Patrick McMahon, Senior Partner at Bidwells. “The fluency of the whole process was remarkable – something which felt very chunky and difficult to pull off successfully instead seemed to move effortlessly – and to involve some of the most interesting and influential people in the market. Hugely impressive and a delight to be a part of”.

The key challenge for the Manifesto was not internal buy-in though, it was the buy-in and commitment that we needed from some of the UK’s most influential property leaders. Radical Regen was about the industry standing up as one to deliver 16 planning and economic policy recommendations to the UK Treasury, recommendations that would change the way we develop our towns and cities.

We knew we didn’t have the clout to influence government policy alone, but by bringing together the connections of Bidwells, Blackstock and Perkins&Will we were able to form a coalition of some of our industry’s biggest names. Organisations responsible for property assets worth more than £50billion – and importantly a coalition that would be listened to by government and the press.

Our plan worked. The Manifesto was picked up in the national broadsheets and we were invited to Westminster to present to 30 members of the civil service. Our timing was perfect, we launched the Manifesto in the run up to the general election and our PR Manager, Ben Lee, took the Manifesto on the road. Going to the party conferences and putting the report in front of key politicians. So when the Conservatives won the election with a bullish pledge of forging a new Britain we were already there with the policy ideas and had opened the door to Whitehall.

Engagement with government was just one side of the story. We wanted to get our people and the industry behind the manifesto as well. We launched a teaser campaign to create interest and held mock protests calling for change with placards, banners, flyers and stickers in all of our offices and in parliament square. We also held high level think tanks with key clients and targets, and launched a series of seminars to share the manifesto pledges. At each stage we engaged the high profile industry heavyweights that contributed to the manifesto and took them with us on every step of the journey.

“As an integrated agency offering research, PR, PA and strategic advice, we were pleased that Bidwells and Perkins&Will bought into Blackstock’s progressive strategy that broke conventions separating lobbying, content marketing, business development and PR,” commented Andy Teacher, Founder and MD at Blackstock. “We were delighted our report had such impact influencing policy. Aside from simply generating media coverage, the campaign brought many groups together and it is a conversation that will continue over the next year.”

The campaign was not without its challenges though. Having 86 pages of insightful opinion and commentary from over 30 industry leaders is a challenge to get your head around. So while our internal teams loved the Manifesto, very few had the confidence to use it. We tried to tackle this by running workshops across each of our offices and creating presentation toolkits for each of its themes. But while these helped reinforce Radical Regen’s core messages we weren’t able to convince our fee earners to use the Manifesto with clients en masse.

Like so many thought leadership endeavours across professional services it often falls to a few really passionate people to take them forward – those brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and those with the motivation to champion these projects for the greater good.

Where our Arc campaign had got people’s attention and given us credibility on the topic, the Radical Regeneration Manifesto opened the door for Bidwells to central government and some of the biggest players in the sector. We had planned to capitalise on that momentum at MIPIM but when that event was cancelled we were quick to act. We reconvened a high level think tank with three government departments and industry leaders that was planned for Cannes to our London Office. A move that has enabled us to establish an ongoing industry soundboard for government on all matters Arc.

On the back of our Arc campaign and the Radical Regeneration Manifesto, we have been mandated by Government to recommend schemes across the Arc to be fast-tracked outside the planning process. We have seen our manifesto recommendations on development corporations and planning reform adopted in national policy and we are now jointly working with central government and local leadership groups to deliver key announcements on the Arc programme – firmly establishing Bidwells at the heart of the Arc story.

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