Communicating #Brexit

There are a number of lessons to be learned for both the Leave and Remain campaigns about campaigning.

On Thursday PRCA held an event on “Communicating the Brexit” where the communication challenges of both the Leave and Remain campaigns were discussed by a panel consisting of Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick UK and EMEA, Matt Carter, Founder and MD of Message House, Gill Morris, Executive Chairman of Connect Communications, and Lionel Zetter, Director at TEAS and Chairman of PRCA Public Affairs Group. The debate was chaired by David Gallagher FPRCA, Chairman of the PRCA Fellows and CEO of Ketchum Europe.

The event covered the challenges and opportunities of both campaigns, and a number of lessons was learned about the trials around communicating a potential British exit from the European Union.

  1. It must be personal

The first observation of the evening was that there is innate need to make any campaign message personal. Brexit has thus far focused mainly on the opinions of the elite and has the air of being a question for big business. However, the referendum will have a great impact on the everyday lives of the British public, and both campaigns need to ensure that they attract a human face, that they make it personal. People need to feel connected to the issue and feel motivated to vote.

  1. Clarity must be achieved

Overall one of the major challenges for the Leave campaign was the lack of clarity on what leaving the EU would mean. There is a lot of internal fighting in the Leave campaign and the perception is that they spend more time fighting internally on who should run the campaign, who is in charge of the funds, and what should come after an exit than to make the case for leaving.

When the Leave campaign has sorted itself out, they also need to be much clearer on what would a post-EU UK will look like. While it is argued that it would entail more freedom for the UK to trade and grow its economy, there are no tangible visions on what that means.

  1. Demographics matter, but engaging the youth is a challenge

Demographics continue to matter. Many of the younger echelons are heavily in favour of remaining in the EU, but evidence from past election show us that they are less likely to vote in elections. The 40+ are more in favour of leaving the EU and they are much more likely to vote. A critical challenge for the Remain campaign is then to ensure that they are effective in mobilising the youth vote and get them to the ballot box.

Women are also most likely to use services that benefit from an EU membership, so a case needs to be made which speaks to their interests and they need to be engaged.

  1. There is a role for digital

Consequently, digital communications will constitute a vital medium for campaigners. Via online sources, it is possible to engage the young people of Britain and make them feel passionate about EU referendum. Equally important, however, will digital be for the Leave campaign as they would want to convince as many as possible to opt out from the EU. Every vote can tip the scales.

  1. Lessons can be learned from Scotland’s Independence Referendum and Corbyn’s leadership campaign

Generally it is possible to note that many of the tips from the evening is that there are several lessons we can learn from the Scottish Independence referendum and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. In both instances we saw a revitalisation of town hall meetings and face-to-face campaigning. As well as making it personal for voters, there needs to be a personal engagement. Social media may help to galvanise supporters, but the most persuasive argument is still the one that is made in person.

The Independence referendum also demonstrated that while social media is growing, the content is still driven by traditional media. While the avenues through which people access traditional broadcast media is changing (mainly online rather than via a television), the main spurts of activity came after each TV debate. Campaigns should therefore not forget the power of traditional broadcast.

Ultimately the outcome is less than certain, and every indicator points towards a close call between Leave and Remain. Every measure should be deployed to make the clearest case for each campaign and to have an informed debate.

The personal aspect of the campaigns is critical to achieve in order to mobilise the masses, and this should the main focus of the campaigns from now until the referendum day. For business, there are avenues to help navigate the complex political environment around Brexit, and to this end, Weber Shandwick has developed a Brexit Risk Assessment Tool.