How to protect your brand and reputation during Brexit; a formula
By Ian Beaumont, Michelle Wang, and James Fitzpatrick
The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 31 October 2019, potentially with or without a deal, or a month after the withdrawal agreement, if it is ratified by the UK and the EU before then.
The impact of Brexit on business is expected to be considerable. As a result, many multinational companies have said that they are ready to move operations outside Britain, with manufacturers such as Sony and Honda choosing to relocate to a different country or cease operations in the country altogether:
“In light of the unprecedented changes that are affecting our industry, it is vital that we accelerate our electrification strategy and restructure our global operations accordingly,” Katsushi Inoue, the chief officer for Honda’s European operations, said in a statement in February 2019. The car manufacturer has said it will close their plant in Swindon, England by 2021.
Sony has said in a statement, made in January 2019, that it will move its European headquarters from the UK to the Netherlands to avoid the disruptions caused by Brexit. In the statement, Sony states that the change would mean that "we can continue our business as usual without disruption once the UK leaves the EU. All our existing European business functions, facilities, departments, sites and location of our people will remain unchanged from today."
With the future of Brexit still very much up in the air, the Crisis Shield team decided to take an in-depth look at what Brexit could mean for an organisation with operations in the UK. For this particular exercise, we looked at how an organisation that chooses to stay in the UK can respond to the potential effects of Brexit.
Regardless of the intricacies of the type of Brexit that comes about, there is a high risk of businesses being affected by staffing, supply chain, trade and reputation-based issues (e.g. a rise in nationalism and the perceived importance of ‘locally made products’).
After identifying the list of possible threats that Brexit poses, our team established the objectives of our response strategy for a fictional organisation; one whose circumstances replicate those that many real companies in the UK are likely to face.
A campaign delivered without an objective runs the risk of being pointless and a waste of effort. Consequently, setting objectives is an integral step to begin any campaign (and one that is often overlooked), as it frames any response strategy you create and the tone and timbre of the language that forms part of your responses.
We came up with six simple objectives for our hypothetical organisation operating in the UK:
To retain the organisation’s current customers;
To maintain its brand and reputation;
To maintain staff morale in the light of changing laws;
To mitigate internal resentment (if the company is forced to make difficult decisions);
To demonstrate the benefits the organisation’s choice to stay in the UK has on the local economy; and
To demonstrate their loyalty to the UK, especially if they chose to stay in the UK.
Next, we used Coombs’ message formula to decide the organisation’s overarching message and response strategy, as appropriate to the Brexit scenario. This formula involves asking yourself three questions:
How much responsibility will stakeholders attribute to our organisation?
Are there are intensifying factors involved?
Which communication strategies are therefore suitable options?
Then we used the Crisis Shield message model to create the key messages that would form the structure of our communications to different stakeholders groups:
Step 1: Establish the facts
We begin by establishing the known facts (as opposed to assumptions).
Step 2: What we know - explaining the facts
Here, we explain the facts that we have established in step 1 and outline the changes in logistics and finances; illustrate how these may affect product prices; and state that it will be a difficult period for both the organisation and the UK.
Step 3: What we don’t know
We then state what we don’t know, e.g. how long the price increases will last.
Step 4: What we’re doing
In this step, we outline what we’re doing to minimise the changes and effects that this decision will have on the organisation: e.g. finding ways to be more efficient (which then lowers prices); sourcing local products; replacing lost employees with local staff; and increasing the benefits and support to all staff in the organisation.
Step 5: What we want you to do
Finally, we outline what we want those who are receiving the message to do. In this situation, we would ask consumers to continue supporting the organisation during this time of change and to support the local economy by purchasing products that are made locally in the UK.
After this is done, we then identify the channels and prepare a schedule for the organisation’s messages to be released and further information to be provided to key stakeholders, as required.
Below are examples of how this would be done for two groups of stakeholders that an organisation remaining in the UK needs to contact; and how they would do so in a way that reaches the stakeholders in a timely manner.
Stakeholders and Channels
Channel: internal communications (as below)
A staff face-to-face meeting held as soon as possible after the publication of governmental post-Brexit regulations for working and living rights in the UK and the EU, to provide information on the organisation’s next steps
A video from the CEO published after the meeting, outlining the organisation’s next steps for those affected by the new regulations, as well as the benefits and support provided for employees
Weekly newsletters commencing after the video and meeting, providing updates about the new regulations and steps that the organisation has taken to assist employees affected by the regulations
A bespoke website launched after the meeting, compiling the information provided during the meeting, the video, and weekly newsletters into one place
A hotline that employees can call for further information
Stakeholders: shareholders, consumers and the general public
Channels: various (as below)
An extraordinary general meeting (EGM) for shareholders of the organisation, held as soon as possible after new regulations are passed, to outline the steps that the organisation will take to remain in the UK and remain profitable while doing so
A media alert about a public press conference held by the organisation to address the impact of Brexit and the organisation’s next steps
A YouTube video from the CEO and a media release published after the public press conference, reiterating the organisation’s commitment to remaining in the UK and setting out how it will support the local economy and its employees
An electronic newsletter that the general public can sign up to for more information and updates
A public website with an FAQ section
Releasing all your communications at once will overwhelm both your internal team, employees and the general public, increasing the potential for crucial information to be buried under the staggering amount of documentation and information your organisation publishes.
Consequently, for the benefit of your internal teams, building a GANTT chart will be beneficial, as it allows for efficient project management, division of labour, and shows deadlines/release dates in an effective and easy-to-understand layout.
The secret to the on-going success of a campaign? Ensure you've installed sufficient feedback loops (including social listening, analytics, and clear stakeholder feedback channels) so that you know how your message is being received.
Review this feedback, and then if needed, start the process again (re-assess objectives > strategy > core messages > channels / stakeholders > timing > publish > review). Keep following this cyclical process until your organisation has returned to a 'new-normal' and is back on solid ground.
Whether your organisation is located in the UK or Australia, this is the process we suggest mapping out (if you haven’t already). If you’d like support in doing so, we have expert communication advisors standing-by to assist you every step of the way. You can book a free initial consultant here.