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Brexit and PR: Is the PR industry a canary in the coalmine for the rest of the economy?

Oh no! Another feature about Brexit! Sorry about that, but you can’t escape it, so you may as well join in the debate. Here PROs discuss their hopes and fears for how our changing relationship with the rest of Europe will affect PR business.

Less UK business, more on the continent  

For agencies with offices across Europe, Brexit may take with one hand, but give with another. Alex MacLaverty, COO at PR agency Hotwire, says: “We haven’t seen much impact from Brexit yet – the lower exchange rate has been a slight issue for clients with budgets in other currencies, but aside from that it’s been fine so far. We’re lucky because we have offices across Europe who are seeing increased interest as the focus moves away from London – so if there was ever any dip in business in the UK as a result, we’d hope to see the upside elsewhere.”  

For agencies with offices across Europe, Brexit may take with one hand, but give with another

The bother of borders  

However, MacLaverty is concerned about how Brexit will affect personnel and travel: “As a resolutely global business, it’s more the practical and cultural implications that are causing concern for the future – because it’s key that any political splits aren’t mirrored across our business. We have employees from all over the world in our London office, and our international teams regularly travel for training, events and clients, as well as our annual bootcamp – so any barriers to travel would be frustrating. It’s critical that we can work borderlessly, both in terms of our physical presence and our mindset, so our focus is on continuing to strengthen that through teamwork, technology and training no matter what Brexit brings.”

Traffic Chaos

Based in Kent, Andrew Metcalf, director of communications agency Maxim, is, in a literal sense, on the front line. He says: “The PR industry is a canary in the coalmine for the rest of the economy, and Kent is likely to feel the full negative impact of traffic chaos and imposition of Operation Stack if there’s a hard Brexit.”

Commercial concerns

Metcalf is also concerned about how the present uncertainty is slowing down business: “As an agency, we’ve had three very busy months and it’s frustrating to think how much better it could have been without the waning business and consumer confidence.

“We’re now seeing widespread commercial concern in the Government’s abject failure to agree between themselves on what Brexit could and should look like for UK Plc or its residents. The PM’s much-trumpeted and hard-fought Cabinet Brexit plan, hammered out at Chequers, didn’t even last the weekend.

“The likes of Airbus, MINI and Jaguar-Land Rover are not to blame, it’s Boris ‘F**k business’ Johnson and co who are hell bent on a hard Brexit who are weakening business confidence and ensuring we remain a polarised nation.

“We’ve done our bit and arranged visits for MPs to major businesses so they can see for themselves the anticipated impact on Kent on a hard Brexit. Let’s hope commonsense prevails.”

Business as usual?

Maybe it will all be more of the same says Guy Walsingham CEO of PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: “B2B technology is a global business and for our clients, PR is at the core of a global marketing effort. The UK is lucky in that English remains the language of most western business – so for us Brexit means business as usual. We haven’t seen any significant slowing of client activities or of new opportunities. Just to be sure however, we’ve a new fully staffed office in Berlin open and servicing clients. Only the paranoid survive…”

For us Brexit means business as usual but to be sure...we’ve a new fully staffed office in Berlin!

We need more clarity

For Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, the frustrating thing about Brexit is the lack of strong leadership, which makes it hard to plan: “There is a memorable scene in episode six of the second series of Blackadder, “Chains”, in which Lords Blackadder and Melchett are captured and held for ransom. Blackadder is already being interrogated when Melchett arrives, who is immediately marched forward to what he clearly anticipates will be a long fall. He lands on the floor only a couple of steps down, dusts himself off and carries on as if nothing had happened. I apologise for the meandering opening, but I think that we in the UK are all a bit like Melchett. We’re being marched along to the edge of a potentially high cliff – as Bremainers would have us believe – but with or without a deal with the EU we will land safely, like Melchett, and realise that there was nothing to fear after all.

“Yes, this is a simplistic way of looking at things, especially for a graduate of political economy, but I like it nonetheless. But if we are hurtling to the edge of a perilous cliff, Theresa May needs to start to take control and reassure everyone (yes, I am talking to you at the back as well… yes, you BMW, Siemens and Nissan) that if and when we get to jump off this cliff that shortly after we leap off, a Union Flag parachute will unfurl and we will glide to safety and – follow me on this – we jump into the waiting Aston.

“With nine months to go before we leave the EU – and we are leaving – we need confidence, clarity and conviction from our leader, but all we have is chaos, calamity and controversy, and far too many alliterations.”

Postcard from France

Whilst us Brits based in the UK are watching, and waiting (some more nervously than others), spare a thought for Brits based on the continent. Mark Pinsent, managing director, Europe of communications firm The Hoffman Agency, describes how his business is planning ahead: “In truth of course, none of us can accurately predict the implications of Brexit as we’re worryingly close to the deadline with few details confirmed. But as a Brit living in France running a European agency, you can be sure I’ve got a keen interest.

“What has been positive is the confirmation that EU citizens will be able to remain in the UK following Brexit relatively simply (though no news, as yet, of us UK citizens living in another EU country!). Whether there’s any industry for them to work in longer-term is another question…

“Given the uncertainty, my planning right now is based on agility. As we grow our European operation, it doesn’t make sense to establish too firm a footprint in any one country until the situation becomes clearer. I’m sticking with flexible workspaces and working practices, and bringing together a multinational (and multilingual) team which can flex to adapt to our clients’ needs. In one way, therefore, a potential positive of Brexit is in helping me to create a new style of international organisation; one that isn’t anchored in any one geographic place or to a network of physical offices, but which uses technology to deliver results for our clients wherever they – or we – are located.”

We may have just lost one battle against other European nations in the World Cup, but here’s hoping we don’t get trampled by our EU neighbours when it comes to business post-Brexit.

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