A guest blog by Gay Flashman
Speaking to colleagues, associates, clients and friends in recent weeks it’s obvious that the vote for Brexit has had an impact on all of them on some level. The dominant emotion and response – now that the dust is starting to settle on the decision itself, and on the country’s leadership situation – is that of uncertainty. There is no precedent for what is about to happen, there is no rule book and there is no process with which to respond to the challenges and opportunities the next few months and years will bring.
Lack of clarity
For those dealing with communications in any guise – whether internal or external – this is akin to an ‘extended crisis situation’. By that, I mean that we are in an extended period of uncertainty from which we are unable to predict any firm consequences. At this stage, Donald Rumsfeld might describe us as within the period of ‘known unknowns’, coupled with even more unknown unknowns.
How will communicators engage with stakeholders to reduce uncertainty, reassure them they are acting effectively to mitigate against negative outcomes and ensure that they are in charge of an effective response? If you’re not entirely sure how to structure your ongoing engagement, then you are not alone.
Establish your message and channels
Most of us whose profits and/or sales are not immediately impacted by the vote are working to establish what the outcome will mean in the near to long-term. The message around Brexit and Europe may not be your primary focus or primary comms message, but, if you believe you and your organisation will be impacted at some stage in the future, it is vital to start to engage on the subject early. If you create a clear channel of information to external stakeholders demonstrating that you are working to address the situation, this gives you the option and the opportunity to broaden and build on that message in the future.
The Institute of Directors has developed what they call a ‘Brexit Hub’ to harness discussion and debate on the subject; in future this can be used as a space to discuss the issues and concerns of members and stakeholders. KPMG has also drawn together its insight and thought leadership on the subject into one space on its website.
Maintain a clear flow of information
As you would with a crisis response, ensure you’re delivering information about how you are responding, rather than expecting to answer all the questions about the situation. At this stage, no-one has all the answers, but explaining what you are doing to tackle a situation, take charge and drive strategy is vital if you are looking to reassure internal and external audiences.
Sustain your messaging
If you distil the situation down to basics, it seems unlikely that any organisation or company will not be affected by the Brexit vote, even if the impact is minimal. The challenge is to maintain enough of a flow to demonstrate that you are aware of the ongoing situation and challenges, without over-delivering on communication and irritating audiences.
Flex as the situation changes
Don’t expect to “set and forget”. You’ll need to return to your messages on a regular basis and be prepared to flex your response and commentary according to how people are responding, how concerned they are and how the market is responding. Social media is a simple way to ‘take the temperature’ of your audiences – whether yours is primarily a professional B2B audience (LinkedIn and Facebook), or a B2C stakeholder base (in which case Twitter and Facebook might be more appropriate).
Drive the debate
This is an opportunity to reinforce your commitment to your stakeholders across the board. What we clearly saw demonstrated during the Referendum campaign was a desire of many voters to have more information. Use this as an opportunity to reach out and start a conversation. HSBC has been running regular webinars to customers and non-customers alike outlining the likely challenges coming up – the bank has rolled these out weekly since the vote took place.