Are you ready for Brexit? It's time to get your head out of the sand

When I woke up at 4.30am on 23 June 2016 I was stunned to learn that the UK was well on the way to voting to leave the European Union.

The time to get your head out of the sand with regards to Brexit is now, urges Jo-ann Robertson
The time to get your head out of the sand with regards to Brexit is now, urges Jo-ann Robertson

I spent the day shocked, and the last nine months with my head firmly in the sand, following the birth of my little boy, Keir, in July.

Now I’m back at work, and as Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 today and the official start of the Brexit process, it is critical that I, our industry, and our clients, get their heads out of the sand and make sure they are ready for the next two years.

The next two years will offer both challenges and opportunities for all businesses in the UK.

Most organisations are grappling with how to manage trade agreements, employment rights and public engagement in the UK and within the remaining 27 EU nations.

Managing communication over the next two years is going to be difficult. But the organisations who plan, underpin their approach with research, and are flexible enough to adapt when things inevitably change, will be the ones who can capitalise on post-Brexit opportunities.

The impact and opportunities will be different for different sectors, and while much of that impact remains unknown, there are practical measures organisations can take.

Impact assessment

First, undertake an impact assessment on your business. Ask yourself, "how is Brexit likely to impact your employees, suppliers, clients etc?" "What is the potential impact on your competitors and how do you think they are likely to adapt?"

Could it present opportunities for you, either through partnerships or replacing an existing service? Think about what your trade association’s position is on the impact on your industry and ask "are they demonstrating leadership or are they remaining silent on the big issues?"

Engagement strategy

Second, develop a Brexit engagement strategy. Over the next two years, the Government will have to negotiate the most complicated treaty since the Treaty of Versailles. As a business, once you have assessed the potential impact on your company, you will be well positioned to provide valuable counsel to policymakers.

The Government is under enormous pressure to identify post-Brexit policies that will protect and boost the economy and will be looking for external expertise to help guide policy development. There will be opportunities to engage with sympathetic policymakers and identify mechanisms by which you can provide more detailed insights, such as select committee inquiries and All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meetings.

Call to action

Finally, establish a clear coherent narrative, messages and asks. Once you understand what issues you need to respond to, and you know the audiences that you want to engage with you, you need to ensure that you are conveying the most effective message you can, that it will resonate with the Government and hat it will spur them into taking action, and supporting your position.

To be successful, you will need to think about your key call to action. What would a successful Brexit look like for your business? The reality is, there will be a number of segmented audiences you want to reach out to (either to take action or share your messages more widely), so tailor your messages accordingly, eg for government, parliament, media, employee, customer, consumer.

The next two years will go by very quickly. Don’t be caught out, be ready for the Brexit negotiations and ensure that your business and your industry are well positioned to influence the Government’s position, and thrive no-matter what the final agreement brings in 2019.

Jo-ann Robertson is partner and deputy chief executive, London, Ketchum

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