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150: Business communications after Brexit

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150: Business communications after Brexit
Leave your thoughts Stuart Thomson

By Stuart Thomson

Brexit has changed business communications. Many organisations took the decision to stay out of the debate but, given the result, are now questioning whether this was the right approach. Businesses need to be heard and find the confidence to speak out.

Not all businesses remained quiet during the referendum period. Some, such as Nissan, came out in favour of membership early on. Others appeared to wait until the result was looking much closer. There was an obvious fear that they would be drawn into a very political debate and could be targeted if they do so. Indeed, John Redwood MP threatened as much.

There were a number of letters published in newspapers where businesses felt there was a safety in numbers but these urged voters to get involved. There were fewer direct appeals to their employees. Some of the letters to the newspapers spoke about the benefits to their employees, but not directly. There were some notable exclusions to this ‘rule’, Rolls-Royce made a direct appeal to its employees, as did Toyota. Whilst there will doubtless be other examples (which I am happy to hear about), it was far from the norm.

Apparently, David Cameron asked business to write to their employees and some did. There are though claims that these appeals backfired.

This often comes down to expectations as well. As usual, Richard Branson bucked the trend and gave a very clear statement on what his position was. Not all CEOs were as forthcoming and if the only time that people hear from their employers is when they want something then that is not the best basis for an appeal.

Various reports have suggested that CEO’s need to be more visible in their communications. There are calls for engaged leadership to help build trust in brands and in business itself. Along with politicians and journalist (not to mention lobbyists!), there is a lack of trust in business.

CEO activism is on the rise for some issues but this is, so far more focused in the US, and on transgender and other equal rights issues. It is considered that CEOs are most effective when they are speaking on issues of most relevance to them. Here, getting the basics right, like paying the ‘right’ amount of tax might be needed before some organisations raise their voices.

Taking a practical example, the Northern Powerhouse needs the backing of business. Unless it has that and business help to deliver its agenda then it could well fade as a new Prime Minister and likely Chancellor take office. The Government has already undertaken a number of relaunches for the project and most recently George Osborne claimed that ‘Northern Powerhouse is more important than ever before.’ There is little disputing that but without momentum and pressure, politicians have a habit of losing interest. Especially when there are hugely pressing national issues to deal with, such as Brexit.

So using this example, businesses and their CEOs needs to come in behind the recently launched, Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, If they do not back it, and publically, then the Powerhouse will be hobbled.

So the EU referendum will cause a range of organisations to consider whether they should adopt more public positions, and if their CEOs should be more active than they have in the past. There will be reputational issues to consider but what the period of reflection after the referendum has shown is that there can be economic ramifications by not getting involved.

Brexit: The Questions You Should Ask

  1. Do you know where you are exposed to European regulations or legislation?
  2. How could your business operations change as a result of the Brexit decision?
  3. Does your risk assessment adequately reflect the impact of Brexit?
  4. Do you understand what the Government is planning to do or how to influence it?
  5. How are you communicating with your staff, suppliers and others?

If you cannot answer any of these questions then you are not protecting your organisation, get in touch for further advice at brexit@bdb-law.co.uk.

7 July 2016

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