Public Affairs: Top tips for your Brexit communication

I recently had the chance to attend a masterclass held by Dr Jon White at the CIPR headquarters in London. Alongside 17 other practitioners, we gathered to review, discuss and map out the communication challenges brought by Brexit.

Nearly two years after the referendum, the CIPR has recently revealed that more than three quarters of PR professionals believe Brexit is an opportunity for public relations to demonstrate leadership. Meanwhile, 38% do not believe that their organisations are ready for Brexit. Now is a turning point for the PR and public affairs practitioners and a decisive time to strengthen strategic thinking in the way we approach intuitional communication.

I work for a research-based consultancy and my clients are automotive brands with factories in the UK. From my experience, it is very interesting to measure the impact of corporate communications around Brexit on organisations. With the amount of negative coverage that appears in the media, it felt necessary to understand how to effectively plan a Brexit communication plan. So here are my key takeaways from this masterclass:

  • Preparation is key. For this exercise, we looked 5 years into the future (two years after the end of the projected period for transition from EU membership) and tried to establish all the different factors and variables that would constitute, in our opinion, a ‘successful Brexit’.

In groups, we picked the three most relevant variables to identity three scenarios around those: the most likely scenario, the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario.

The idea is to spend as much time as possible with decision-makers in the organisation to review all the different scenarios and identify the features that would make a Brexit scenario successful. Once you have the scenarios, you can start monitoring and ascertain when is the best time to act and implement your plan of action.

  • Rethink the way you build relationships. While crisis planning and working out of worst-case scenarios is not a new exercise for PR, there is a need to approach our responsibilities in a more fluid way. PR professionals need to broaden the spectrum of their skills and become lobbyists to the UK government.

During the masterclass, there was a real emphasis on the shift of audiences as practitioners now need to speak to new organisations and ‘door-knock’ instead of the traditional ‘media shout-out’: ‘Brexit issues can be best dealt with through relationships, not entirely through the media’ [1]. One example of this new level of engagement is the Welsh government and their ‘Securing Wales’ Future’ report to the UK government.

  • Decide where you stand. Organisations aren’t addressing Brexit issues enough; one practitioner declared that “businesses were petrified” to take a stand and speak up. Brexit will be happening whether we are ready or not, there is a growing need for stronger engagement plans around Brexit issues. Despite those concerns, the group acknowledged that organisations and professional associations needed to be more vocal about their plans, even if those plans involve neutrality: ‘Organisations need to decide upon their stance; impartiality or involvement’1.

While scenario planning exercises act as guides to action and help us think about the implications of the different situations, communication professionals also have to redefine their roles by acting at a more strategic level and see Brexit as an opportunity for the profession as a whole rather than a challenge.

 

[1] Brexit Scenario Planning Session 2 Report – June 2018 https://www.cipr.co.uk/sites/default/files/CIPR%20Brexit%20Report%202.pdf

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