One year on from Brexit, why being bold is best

Exactly 12 months on from the referendum, comms directors offer a couple of key lessons on how to deliver compelling campaigns during Brexit and other times of uncertainty.

This week marks exactly a year since we took the decision to the leave the European Union.

If a week is a long time in politics, a year feels like an eternity. Such is the all-encompassing nature of the issue that it has become hard to remember a time before the Brexit portmanteau entered our lexicon and our lives forever.

Of all the emotions stirred, uncertainty continues to top most people’s lists.

Negotiations started formally this week, but we are no closer to knowing what our exit will look like.
It begs an important question: how do brands communicate in such uncertain times?

In the aftermath of the vote, we spoke to communications directors to understand their views on how to deliver compelling communications campaigns during Brexit and other times of uncertainty. A couple of key lessons emerged.

Lesson one: be proactive.

At a time when trust in politicians is low, brands have a critical role to play in actively engaging clients, partners and staff to meet the demand for credible information and insight.

Furthermore, companies could be missing out on a huge commercial opportunity by not being proactive.

Where companies may once have avoided hot-button issues, it is now potentially riskier to stay silent, as our expectation grows that companies should stand for something.

When a brand puts a stake in the ground on a topic like Brexit, it adds support to the cause and allows customers to understand its values and principles.

Lesson two: Be bold.

Those companies that really stand to profit from the knowledge vacuum during times of uncertainty are the ones that speak up on issues that matter to them.

Looking back to last year, firms that were on the ‘wrong’ side of the EU referendum vote still gained significant share of voice and plaudits for speaking out.

Many of the companies we spoke to believe Brexit has injected energy into their communications strategy. It has given them the chance to re-frame recurring work in a new and more topical light; to join conversations that were previously out of reach; and to re-assert organisational values and find ways to raise brand awareness.

Where companies can really get ahead of the crowd is in using these conversations and opportunities to become thought leaders. Though the Brexit vote may have uncovered a tiredness of experts, this has in fact – counterintuitively – opened up space for robust, clearly accredited research where, as one director we spoke to put it, "less really is more".

Yes, we remain in Brexit limbo, but reframe the risks that come with uncertainty as opportunity. Stick your neck out and be bold in tackling it.

It paid off for YouGov in choosing not to follow the herd before the snap General Election, instead trusting its data and predicting a hung parliament.

And it could pay off for brands who use communications to position themselves as thoughtful, insightful and purposeful.

Jessica Nicholls is senior consultant at Linstock Communications

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