Britain is in the midst of one of the most significant eras of its recent history. As politicians and civil servants rush to prepare for the process of leaving the EU, the public affairs industry must also rise to the challenges Brexit has created, helping clients navigate the rapidly changing situation. Such challenges to businesses can, of course, be major opportunities for those wanting to trade. This is an opportunity not to be missed.
With the end of the Brexit phoney war, the industry will face four new challenges and opportunities:
The power of digital in grass-roots campaigns
Donald Trump has taken policy-making onto Twitter and, while he may be unique, the shift to digital is broader. We have the chance to build an active understanding of public opinion on specific issues and a real opportunity to engage the public, as well as policymakers. Grass-roots engagement in a populist world could bring huge dividends. This will stand alongside the need to use data and analytics to provide insights into how public opinion can be used to influence decision-makers. Evidence-based campaigns will be more forceful than ever.
Shaping the trade debate
The industry is helping businesses understand the negotiation process. Up to this point, the Government has been through a rapid and ruthless consultation, insisting business be both specific and constructive in its engagement. Invoking Article 50 will not end the need to lobby, and businesses that want to shape the process will continue to need good arguments.
Open opportunity for regulatory change
At the same time, the domestic economic agenda is more open than it has been for years. Policymakers will not be able to give business or the public excuses about EU regulations after 2019. Clients will face new regulatory threats and opportunities as the Government advances its plan for a Britain it believes will be both fairer and the best place in the world to do business.
Initially the Great Repeal Bill will not repeal anything, but will open the door to a policy ‘Narnia’ where many things are possible. Invoking Article 50 will also mark a decisive step toward a global Britain and change in patterns of trade and investment. The UK industry will need to broaden its horizons.
Global public affairs offer
Our industry will need real insight, understanding and ability to engage and influence fast-moving events in Washington, DC. We will need to be able to draw on expertise from around the world as Britain looks at trade deals with Australia and India. Clients will need and expect to have truly global influence.
Britain may or may not end up as the best place to do business, but it will soon be the best place to do public affairs.
Stephen Day is chief operating officer and managing director of public affairs at Burson-Marsteller
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