The first theme clearly apparent with our clients in terms of points of action for the year ahead is the plan to diversify in terms of sectors and client portfolios.
It is no secret that the prime and super prime residential markets seem to have cooled in conjunction with economic uncertainty on the horizon given overseas financial instability and the Brexit question over our heads. As a result, there is definitely mild caution out there that has prompted some consultancies to avert their eyes towards other sectors and away from what has, in these post-recession years, been nothing less than a rife spend on high-end, residential development.
The residential sector is still clearly busy but with a distinct focus on the Private Rented Sector as savvy developers lean more and more towards building and retaining their assets in tune with the explosion in the rental market that does not look set to stop. This seems to be a long-term agenda for many developers given the affordability crisis in the capital that headlines the twitter feed for property professionals daily. There is also a rising prevalence of joint ventures taking place with this model proving more fiscally attractive to many residential developers out there looking to streamline their approach to the market.
For those consultancies whose niche has mainly been prime residential to date, heads are also naturally turning towards the seemingly more stable yet fairly predictable commercial market. Perhaps a twist can be observed here, however, with some clients seeming to explore more 'bread and butter', often fit-out type work with larger corporate end-users, rather than just chasing luxury, new-build, city towers.
Nonetheless, the most interesting shift of sector focus seems to be on what can loosely be described as the 'leisure' industry. With numerous consultancies indicating that stadium and sports facilities work is on the horizon as well as hotels from three stars through to six, this spike of interest in such a relative, wealth-affiliated sector reflects both community and investor spend that seems economically reassuring. As the shuffle away from pure luxury and foreign funded core development becomes evident, the pursuit of work in these leisure sectors seems to bring together the desire to maximise what is still a recovered and buoyant construction industry with the hushed anxiety about what might be around the corner. Overseas investment in alternative commercial assets such as hotels soared last year which backs up the revised agenda for many consultancies seeking to future-proof themselves.
The other notable trend in the strategic approach to growth and stability for my clients is a focus on recruitment, branding and digital presence. The age-old questions around how to retain good people and the revisiting of benefits such as flexible working hours, training & development, etc are still floated year on year as the shortage of good quality professionals becomes more acute. However, there is definitely a new interest in recruitment trends combined with a concerted consideration of different ways to integrate recruitment drives with marketing campaigns. Clients are rebranding and freshening up websites. Belated but necessary attention is being paid to social media and its role in attracting the younger generation of graduates and newly qualifieds into a business. Many consultancies are actively looking to become more innovative with their approach, more digitally present for example, aligning their general marketing strategy with recruitment methodology as a whole.
Market presence and perception, especially for SMEs and smaller businesses without a formal in-house marketing or recruitment function, is key to growth; both as a successful business and as an employer. Stability and consolidation will no doubt be at the forefront of business development strategy and client services for the remainder of the year but or many, innovation and re-evaluation of company identity is very likely to be the framework within which everyday business is conducted.