Treat Brexit as crisis communications to protect your reputation

It’s important for organizations to treat Brexit as they would any other crisis management situation, where reputations are at stake. We’ve put together a 10-point guide to the communications minefield that lies ahead.

It might be tempting to grab the mic and aim to become a “leading authority” in the media in the coming days – especially since, four days later, the initial “leave” story is moving into the analysis stage.

If you do need to comment – for example because currency changes in the aftermath of the Brexit vote mean you need to make adjustments to your pricing – then make sure you stay on message, no matter how tempting it may seem to add your own voice to the current cacophony of debate.

  1. Don’t rush to comment and especially don’t get drawn into a knee-jerk reaction of any kind. This is a big story that will run and run – so don’t feel the pressure to make a rash statement too early, or at all. It’s generally too early to comment anyway until the full implications of the situation are known – for example, when Britain formally announces its plans to exit the EU. That’s when you will really need to comment externally, because then (and only then) will the full implications for your organization become clear.
  1. Apart from the vote itself, remember that nothing monumental has happened in terms of UK withdrawal from the EU… the world continues to turn, and your internal communications should reflect this. Your organization has a responsibility towards your customers / stakeholders, who will continue to require and consume your goods and services, and they will do so regardless of who is the UK’s Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, and whether the UK is in or out of the EU.
  1. Avoid complaining – the people of Britain have made a decision on Brexit. Regardless of your position on that, it’s still a decision.
  1. Remember that it doesn’t hurt right now to say that you don’t actually know what will happen regarding the bigger picture of Britain’s exit from the EU – because nobody really does, and anyone who claims to know shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
  1. Respond only when Brexit has a direct impact on your business or organization. Be disciplined and focused. Keep it factual and take out all the emotion. For example, for price rises linked to currency exchange rate changes, don’t cast the blame but focus on maintaining the standards that your customers expect. If on the other hand you are dropping prices, don’t gloat. If you have already decided to cancel any investments in the UK as a result of the Brexit vote, keep the news factual and take out the emotion. Make sure you have the facts to hand that reporters will need – the original value of the investment, the number of jobs, and of course your Plan B …
  1. Don’t get embroiled in longer-term topics like the location of your customer data, your production, work permits for employees, etc. None of this is really clear yet. All your speculation can do is exacerbate the situation.
  1. If you do get asked for comment, don’t respond immediately, but give yourself some thinking time, just as you would for any other situation. Map out your comments in bullets, just as you would for any other media interview.
  1. If you have not already started, then it really is time to start planning out those different scenarios. If you’ve already started, keep going. Either way, make sure you keep one thing in sight – the relevance to your organization and your customers, or stakeholders. Your personal opinion on Brexit should be just that: personal.
  1. On that note, try and avoid getting drawn into speculation, or into making “off the cuff” remarks, ESPECIALLY when it comes to talking to reporters … because they are fishing for controversial comments to fuel the fire. Don’t burn your reputation.
  1. Don’t be tempted to shoehorn a Brexit angle into every press release for the next three months: Reporters will genuinely hate you for it.

Looking for advice on Brexit-related communications? Get in touch.

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