Despite the fact that the EU Referendum is due to take place before the end of 2017, and most pundits believe in June 2016, many businesses are yet to think about, let alone make a decision on, the communications strategy they will use during this uncertain time.
Personal feelings on Europe aren’t relevant. Your company has an obligation to communicate effectively with its various stakeholders about the issue.
It was this challenge that Communicate magazine addressed at its Referendum Ready half-day event on 26 January 2016. A host of speakers spoke about their communications strategies, and how best to prepare for the EU Referendum and the possibility of a Brexit vote.
The event was hosted at the ellwood atfield gallery in Westminster, London. Speakers included John Telling, group corporate affairs director at Mitie, David Yelland, former journalist and editor of The Sun and founder of Kitchen Table Partners and Barry Neville, former head of government affairs at SABMiller. The latter took part in a trial radio interview with Matt Guarente, head of coaching at Bladonmore, to demonstrate how best to communicate with the media within the context of the EU Referendum. Neville skilfully batted away Guarente’s difficult questions, delivering a clear company message while avoiding any potentially controversial statements.
Most of the professionals in attendance at Referendum Ready appeared to agree that there is no need for companies to state their position on the EU Referendum unless they have a vested interest ie. it directly affects their business. If a company does decide to speak out in the interest of its business, its position must be entirely devoid of emotion or personal preference. Communicators then should deliver their highly considered position to their stakeholders, all the while reassuring them that the brand is in a strong enough position to ride out this particular storm, irrespective of the outcome.
Referendum Ready speaker, Peter Swabey, policy and research director at the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), explained how his organisation’s research showed that:
61% of businesses have not even begun to think about the implications of Brexit, let alone report on the inherent risks in their annual reports.
As the date moves nearer and debates become more heated, companies will have no choice but to decide what their stance is on this issue, even if that decision is to say that they have no stance at all.
The conference ended with a thought provoking case study from Maria Lazarimou, co-founder and CEO at Advocate/Burson-Marstellar, who spoke about the communications catastrophe surrounding the Grexit crisis. Businesses and their communicators can learn from this and from the Scottish independence referendum when shaping their comms strategy in the run-up to 2017.
Written by Emily Andrews, Communicate Magazine.