A 30-second radio advert launched by the government department on Tuesday features people asking how leaving the EU will affect them. But no answers are given; people are directed to a website for more information.
There was no press release or news story issued on gov.uk to announce the new campaign, and prominent journalists complained that the DExEU press office had refused to provide them with copies of the adverts.
Govt launch No Deal public info radio campaign - but won't let BBC have copies of the radio ad. Er..... hello....public information ??— norman smith (@BBCNormanS) January 8, 2019
Wondering why the Government is refusing to send out its no deal Brexit radio ads to the press - it's meant to be a publicity campaign!!— kateferguson (@kateferguson4) January 8, 2019
If anyone hears the Government's radio adverts advising us what to do in the event of a no deal please can you email me a link because the Department for Exiting the EU can't at this stage. #Brexit— Christopher Hope (@christopherhope) January 8, 2019
Simon Hodgson, a former senior comms manager at the Department for Work and Pensions, commented: "The comms team responsible will have it on their desktop, so for a press officer not to provide it is staggering."
There is no way these would go live without at least a Grade 5 signing off the media buy and listening to an audio file of the advert sent through by the agency – the comms team responsible will have it on their desktop so for a press officer not to provide it is staggering.— Simon Hodgson (@SimonCHodgson) January 8, 2019
The https://euexit.campaign.gov.uk/ site being promoted in the new campaign features a grinning construction worker, a smiling farmer and a jolly pensioner among the cartoon faces depicting the British public.
But there is little new content, with the website serving as a place to direct people to numerous links to government information.
Labour MP Jo Stevens mocked the website, saying it "looked like it was made by some children in their lunch break."
David Noble, PR & communications director at the Bluewater Group, described the website as "pathetic, horrible and patronising."
So the Tory govt under PM May is running a 'pro Brexit' campaign featuring happy farmers, construction workers, old-timers and others? Does she think WW11 propaganda works in 2019... Pathetic, horrible and patronising https://t.co/raPMeExfMq.— David Noble #FBPE (@_noblewriter) January 8, 2019
And Mark McCaughrean, senior advisor for science & exploration at the European Space Agency, said: "It is so far from reflecting people's real concerns & needs, it's shameful."
Don't waste your time on this. After all, the government clearly didn't spend more than a few minutes on it, so why should you? It is so far from reflecting people's real concerns & needs, it's shameful. #BrexitMadness #StopBrexitNowhttps://t.co/cQGressld0— Mark McCaughrean (@markmccaughrean) January 8, 2019
Responding to the criticisms of the way the campaign has been handled, a DExEU spokesperson said: "The public information campaign is designed to inform citizens and businesses about how leaving the EU might affect them, and advise on the steps they may need to take to prepare for EU Exit."
They added: "We have tested the website with a range of individual and business users and conducted thorough research to ensure that the website is readily accessible. The content will be continually updated to ensure that the most relevant and useful information is constantly available to the businesses and citizens that use it."
Asked why the launch of the new campaign had been so low key, DExEU pointed to a comment piece written by Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, in The Express the week before.
But there was just a cursory mention of the new campaign in his 900-word article. Barclay wrote: "On Tuesday, we will start a new phase in our public information campaign, using radio and social media to further raise awareness about the need to prepare."
And DExEU did not issue a tweet about its campaign until a day after it was launched.
Asked how the campaign is being promoted, a DExEU spokesperson told PRWeek: "We will promote the public information campaign on radio, social media and out-of-home sites such as billboards and posters to ensure that people and businesses are aware of the guidance on preparing for EU Exit that is available."
DExEU declined to comment further when asked to clarify details of its handling of the campaign.