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Venice 2010: Make new friends to make new business

Behind the scenes, Venice is an avant-garde Mipim where architects go to schmooze, says Christine Murray

With its cloudscapes and arty debates, you may not think of the Venice Biennale as an avant-garde version of MIPIM, but there was plenty of business being done at the champagne receptions and opening parties of the Giardini and the Arsenale.

One architect I spoke to boasted about having met, and exchanged business cards, with the civil servant who commissions at least 100 public buildings in Austria every year, while another architect paid for a key meeting with a fixer who promised to help him shake the right hands at the right parties.

And whereas MIPIM could only boast London mayor Boris Johnson in attendance, culture minister Ed Vaizey flew in to open the British Pavilion, where he shook hands with more than a few practices, large and small. Starchitects such as Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas were also there, giving small practices the chance to pitch for executive architect work.

In a time of change, with a fledgling economy that is set, ultimately (if not immediately), to grow, Venice was a reminder of the importance of parties. Of the many skills that a successful practice needs in their toolkit, essential to the practice of building is a member of staff who is an effective schmoozer: a people-person who knows that making new friends is a way of making new business.

Lucky for architects, most of whom are based in London or other buzzing UK cities, you don’t need to go to Venice or MIPIM to find opportunities to schmooze. An army of PRs promote a plethora of opening parties and talks on the periphery of architectural practice, which promise to attract politicians, developers and potential clients. From Open House London to the London Design Festival, art events to architecture exhibitions, once you join the social calendar, it isn’t long before the invites start pouring in.

As the economy begins to grow, these nascent relationships will help your business to prosper. Just think: how many of your clients began as acquaintances or friends?

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