Brexit: EU PRs see uncertainty, a public affairs boost and an opportunity for Dublin

The UK's imminent departure from the European Union leaves an uncertain future for PR firms based in EU states - but there may also be a short-term boost for public affairs specialists, and an opportunity for Dublin to host non-European firms looking for an entry into the market.

Will further cracks appear in the EU following the UK's vote? (Credit: gabriel__bostan/thinkstock)
Will further cracks appear in the EU following the UK's vote? (Credit: gabriel__bostan/thinkstock)

After 52 per cent of UK voters said the country should leave the European Union, pro-'remain' Prime Minister David Cameron resigned this morning and the UK PR industry began to digest what this meant for its future.

Similar discussions are being had across the industry elsewhere in Europe.

John Carroll, the chief executive of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, said the vote had left his country "stunned".

"The question is what happens next," he said, adding that one of these was what would happen to the 300-mile land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and professionals from one country working in the other.

"There will be opportunities for Ireland to take advantage of the UK’s weaker attractiveness as a stable location for FDI and for multinational headquarters, especially in relation to finance," he said, but added that there would "be a major negative impact on the rest of the economy", given that the UK is Ireland's biggest trading partner.

"From a public relations perspective, there may be opportunities to develop Dublin as the European hub for public relations activity. With an English-speaking workforce and as an integrated member state of the European Union with free movement of people from other European states, and a stable political and regulatory system, I believe that there will be considerable attractiveness for PR firms' European expansion to HQs in Dublin," he said.

Earlier this week, Italian PR group SEC announced its intention to float on the London Stock Exchange and acquire a UK firm.

Tom Parker, a member of the group's board, said he expected an investor slowdown: "As a result, we will proceed with our IPO but the timing is currently under review."

Parker, who is based in Brussels with the firm's Cambre Associates brand, and is also vice-president of the British Chamber of Commerce Belgium, went on to say: "On a more day-to-day note, with the UK voting to leave we anticipate a pickup in our EU affairs activities, as businesses scramble to understand the referendum fallout and seek beefed-up EU representation."

Leonardo Sforza, MD of MSLGroup in Brussels, concurred, saying: "For EU public affairs and PR consultants like us in Brussels, around Europe or in the US, this will mean more rather than less work helping our clients to better assess and address those aspects of their business that will be most affected by Brexit. Those businesses that have not started already to identify their Brexit-related issues should start to do that now."

Sforza also said that the result showed a gulf between those in charge in the EU and the UK, and the man and woman on the street. He said: "The PR industry can and should better contribute to reduce the widening and alarming divide between people and the so called ‘elite’ as confirmed by the results of the British referendum, but also emerging in the US and many other European countries."

Paul Cohen, Ketchum's director of international corporate and institutional affairs in Brussels, added: "Although everyone knew this was a possibility, it will still take people time to process the news." He said that there would be an initial "period of uncertainty and volatility as the markets digest the news", going on to say: "However, businesses have prepared for this scenario, and once the initial reactions have subsided we should get back towards business as usual while governments negotiate."

Jan Kucmas, president of the Czech Republic PR agency body APRA and partner at AMI Communications in Prague, said: "I think that there will be no immediate or short-term impact on PR markets in the Czech Republic as a result of the referendum, but it could be huge in the mid term or long term."

He said that Brexit could be the beginning of the end for the EU, or signal a reduction in its scope, which would "have a huge impact on the Czech economy".

"In the best case, we will see the same situation as now at the end of the road. In the worst case, we will see the reduction of the PR market. Everything depends on how the EU will react on the fact," he concluded.

Xanthe Vaughan Williams, co-founder and director of London's Fourth Day PR, said: "We have had an office in France for 10 years and are just opening in Berlin. The potential ill-effects of leaving the EU for us range from restrictions on the movement of staff between offices to potential nervousness among US clients who were planning to expand European operations." The firm also has a Casablanca office.

"Today we’re feeling an immediate impact from the plummeting pound, but it’s still too early to know what the long-term effects will be."

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