Viewing Brexit Through a Communications Lens

Daniel P. Simon

Daniel P. Simon


If you’re looking for a historical comparison to Brexit, the forthcoming referendum that will determine whether or not Britain will withdraw from the European Union, don’t.

Just one year ago, the chances of Britain leaving the EU seemed remote. Now, investors are signaling that there is a real possibility that the vote is to leave: In the six months leading up to April, investors pulled 77b British pounds out of the UK’s economy, up from just 2b moved during the previous six-month period.

Britain’s Vote on Brexit

Prime Minister David Cameron wants to stay and polls tend to support his position. But support is far from universal. The Economist ran down some of the opposition: “Mr Cameron strongly believes in the benefits of continued EU membership, but a handful of high-profile MPs, including justice secretary, Michael Gove, and London’s mayor Boris Johnson, have pledged support for the ‘out’ campaigners.” Celebrities are also in on the action, with actor Michael Caine, actress Joan Collins, entertainer Noel Gallagher of Oasis and “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes voicing support for an exit.

The point isn’t to prognosticate on what will or should happen on June 23, when Britons take to the polls to vote. The point is to acknowledge that Brexit is a completely new, unusual, and — from a communications standpoint — nuanced news subject.

It’s unlike the Great Recession in that there’s no exploding bubble of asset class driving the markets downward, only the dim hum of a massive economic change that’s growing increasingly louder. It’s unlike the calls in 2010 for Greece to exit the Union in that Britain is currently in a position of relative strength. It’s unlike an election in that there are no candidates to choose, rather a massively important economic policy position to take.

As communicators, part of our job is to use the news cycle to advance our clients’ business interests. And from now until June 23, reams and reams of ink will be spilled on the consequences of this historic vote.

Here’s a bit about the lens through which we’ll be viewing the Brexit news cycle.

1) We’ll watch the markets and resist the urge to fixate on opinion polls. Markets tend to be more predictive than just about anything else short of exit polls, and monitoring how investors behave leading up to the referendum should provide context, allow us to contribute something to the news cycle, and maintain restraint.

2) We’ll stick to the facts as we see them. It can be easy to get caught up in debates that many people, including some of our clients, have passionate opinions about, but we’re always mindful to add clarity instead of noise to these sweeping subjects. The way to do that is, first and foremost, to know the facts.

3) We’ll help illuminate the right questions. The point at which a company’s owned media becomes truly dynamic is when it absorbs a journalism-like mandate of asking tough but fair questions. Brexit should provide ample opportunities to do this for our teams and their clients.