3 PR Lessons we can learn from Brexit | Milner Strategic Marketing

3 PR Lessons we can learn from Brexit

The hour draws near. What was merely an idea 26 months ago will become a reality in October. Or some version of reality. Or might be put off to a later date, or we’ll have a general election, or perhaps no-one will agree on anything. Again. No-one seems 100% sure. Whichever way you voted, and whatever the outcome, here are three key PR lessons we can learn from Brexit (so far).

The Truth Will Out
Many of the claims made by both sides turned out to be, at best, a little exaggerated and at worst outright fabrications. From finances to fisheries, the public discovered post-referendum that the future of the UK looked nothing like either side had promised and many felt let down. After David Cameron’s resignation, the Brexit issue became more and more contentious and confusing.

A simple lesson for business leaders is to ensure that the information disseminated by them and their companies is not only true, but can be proven if required. Companies, unlike governments, do not have the luxury of losing the confidence of their customers and still staying in business. To avoid damaging your brand, your reputation and your profits, ensure that what you say about your product, your company and even yourself, bears scrutiny. #authenticity

Preparation, Recognition, Communication
Yes, Britons voted Leave by around 52% to 48%. However, no specific version of Brexit was put to the electorate and at no point between 2016 and the present has there been a majority in parliament or society for a particular version of Brexit. Everything from Theresa May’s Brexit deal(s) to a no-deal “hard” exit has been discussed and for the most part rejected by parliament.

“The result is that a (new) prime minister now presides over both a divided cabinet and Conservative party. Those divisions also extend to parliament and, indeed, the country as a whole,” says Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe at Kings College London, in “Cost of no deal revisited”.

This feeling of division promotes uncertainty and mistrust on both sides, and no-one is communicating the next steps clearly enough to reassure not only the UK public, but the world at large. Consequently the UK’s reputation – and its status as a financial powerhouse – is seriously waning. “Whilst the long-term impact of Brexit is still uncertain, what is clear is that the Brexit campaign and the outcome of the referendum have and are continuing to have a dramatic impact on the strength of the pound, leading it to fall by 19% post the referendum” says Jon Ostler of Financial site Finder.com.

The lesson for business is when things do not go to plan, not only do you need to understand the problem and quickly develop a plan to resolve it, you need a communications plan that will be put in motion even before a solution is found. The communications can be as simple as “there is an issue and we are working on it” to “contact us on this number if you are affected”. Communicate to both internal and external stakeholders, through all appropriate media channels, including direct email, telephone calls and social media. There needs to be a balance between exacerbating the problem with too much information and reassuring customers, and colleagues within your own company, that the problem will be resolved. After the problem is fixed, you want your customers to say “I didn’t like the problem, but they kept us informed all the way through. We trust them.” #keepcalmandcommunicate

Admit when you’re wrong
Many believe that David Cameron probably shouldn’t have held a public referendum to decide on something as complex as the UK’s relationship with the EU. He did it because he believed that much of his party did not share his vision and worried that he would be unable to control the decision-making process if he held such discussions internally. However, once the referendum was held and things did not go as he expected, many believe he should have admitted it and tried to create a resolution, as opposed to quitting and leaving someone else to clear things up.

Whilst it is not easy, responsible business leaders should have the confidence and humility to hold their hands up when they are wrong and – gulp – apologise, before doing everything feasible to make things right. We are all human, and all fallible. Where business leaders acknowledge this and make efforts to remedy previous actions or inactions, stakeholder trust may be able to be earned back. It is easy to recall examples of bosses that got it wrong – Boeing, Oxfam and Thompson holidays immediately spring to mind – and harder to recall leaderships that got it just right, because when it IS done right, people tend to forgive and forget. #integrity

So as business leaders, it is important to ensure that our actions are #authentic, to act with #integrity and humility and, when things go wrong, implement a thorough #communications plan, alongside the recovery plan to maintain trust.

We will have to wait and see what October holds for the UK, but if you are interested in learning more about how effective PR can help your business in the meantime, contact me at: chloe.purcell@milnerltd.com.

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