Businesses being advised to adjust comms for a 'no deal' Brexit

British businesses are quickly adapting their communications plans to the realisation that the Boris Johnson government is likely to force the nation out of the European Union without a deal, according to public affairs chiefs.

Boris Johnson's hardline on Brexit is forcing UK businesses to adapt comms strategies (©Julian Simmonds/GettyImages)
Boris Johnson's hardline on Brexit is forcing UK businesses to adapt comms strategies (©Julian Simmonds/GettyImages)

Public affairs leaders tell PRWeek they are advising clients to assume a ‘no deal’ Brexit is the most likely outcome and to ramp up communicating how this will impact their stakeholders and the public.

Major manufacturers are already warning about dire consequences a hard Brexit could have on UK operations.

The German CEO of BMW, Harald Krüger said it would be a "lose-lose" scenario if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and the carmaker has previously warned it could be forced to stop making the Mini at its Cowley plant, near Oxford, putting more than 4,500 jobs at risk.

The FT reported that Vauxhall owner PSA said the company would shift work from its Ellesmere Port factory to a rival European plant if Brexit made its facility unprofitable.

Tim Rycroft, head of the Food and Drinks Federation, has said a no-deal Brexit is a  "disastrous outcome" that will cause some food shortages.

Beattie Communications director Chris Gilmour told PRWeek that a hard Brexit’s impact on clients will vary, and that they should adopt a reassuring tone where possible.

"Especially with consumers, (clients need to) talk about how they are prepared for all eventualities due to investment, a rolling stockpile of goods, trading links with countries outside of the EU, and so on," he said. 

"For others, while we need to be careful not to be accused of scaremongering, we are advising them to be upfront about the problems they will face."

Political turbulence - 'the norm'

James Morris, managing director of Public Affairs at Edelman, believes there is greater recognition of the need to develop strategies that treat political turbulence as "an enduring feature of the landscape, not a blip".

"That means engagement across the political landscape and broadening campaign approaches so public affairs is fully embedded in a wider corporate affairs strategy," he said. "It also means properly listening to divergent views, not being sucked into the echo chamber of similar views we are all immersed in."

Following three years of uncertainty under former prime minister Theresa May, business now has some certainty over Brexit and it is important for clients to be part of the Brexit conversation.

"Clients now know that something is going to happen, whether is it a no-deal Brexit or not," said Scott Dodsworth, head of political and public affairs at H+K UK. 

"Shortened timelines are requiring clients to communicate more clearly than ever before with suppliers and customers. Simple, clear messages, which are actionable, are paramount."

GPlus partner Emily Wallace told PRWeek her firm had been advising businesses to prepare contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit for the past year.

"Our advice to clients based both in the UK and in mainland Europe has been that a no-deal exit now looks like the most likely scenario to plan for. We are working with them to continue to engage with respective governments and EU institutions to ensure that their specific concerns are well understood," she said.

Ensuring business has a robust voice at the top table of government is something that PLMR is advising its clients.

Head of public affairs at PLMR Mo Hussein said: "Businesses have become more resigned to the very real possibility of no deal, and are revisiting plans for this but also moving to articulate much more robustly to the government the kind of support and mitigation they would like to see now going forward. 

"I think this does pave the way for a much more challenging relationship between the business community and the current government."

Johnson has committed the UK to leaving the EU, come what may, by the 31 October.

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