Will London remain the centre of PR in Europe post-Brexit?
Daney Parker, Editor, PRmoment.com
Despite the existing infrastructure, and the power of the English language, London could lose its place as the centre of PR in Europe post-Brexit. Industry chiefs debate whether London will hold onto its crown and discuss the threats, and opportunities, that Brexit presents.
London will still rule
But the devil will be in the detail says Rod Cartwright, EMEA regional director at marketing communications agency Text100: “I have real personal concerns about the eventual impact of Brexit on the UK as a whole and Britain’s place in the world. However, in line with the CIPR’s research on this topic last month, I am rather more positive about what it will – or rather won’t – mean for London’s decades-long position as a European PR hub.
“London’s role as home to multiple international media brands and European HQ to a growing number of technology firms make any existential threat to that position unlikely. Equally, the continued role of English as an international business lingua franca should not be underestimated.
“At the same time, the services sector is unlikely to be as vulnerable to trade barriers as sectors like manufacturing. With services making up four-fifths of the UK economy, HMG is likely to make a services agreement with the EU27 a priority.
“That said, the impact of restrictions on the free movement of labour and any hit on overseas students on EU-sourced talent – together with concerns about equivalence of qualifications – could create very real issues.
“In short, whilst I don’t see any fundamental risks, the devil will be in the detail of the final deal struck.”
We must make sure to do PR for London says Jacquie Boyd-Coleman, managing director at integrated communications agency Beattie: “Is Brexit an unmitigated disaster, the end of our economy as we know it – or the greatest opportunity for growth we’ve ever known? The honest answer is, we simply don’t know.
“What we have to do as an industry is what we’re good at – we need to PR public relations. London is THE global creative hub for PR. The energy, skill and experience cannot simply disappear in a puff of smoke as soon as Brexit happens.
“Britain will always be an island, but it’s never going to be uninhabited. Clients need to know that there is still a market of 65 million people to communicate with in the UK post-Brexit, so let’s tell them.”
The capital must invest more in talent says Louise Vaughan, managing director of PR agency Acceleris: “Whilst London will remain a strong hub of the European PR landscape, it’s clear strategies need to be considered so no agency is too reliant on its London location to bring in work. London’s PR industry will be safeguarded to some degree by having English as the common language of the EU, but the best way agencies can prepare for Brexit is to invest in talent which can unlock opportunities in the post-European landscape.”
London could lose its crown
Talent and money may migrate to the continent in the long-term future says Nico Kunkel, journalist and founder of talent initiative and network #30u30: "As the final details of Brexit are not on the table yet, I have not received strong opinions from the industry about it. I don't think it will harm London's status as a PR hub instantly, in the long run suppliers often follow their clients though. However, we already face talent shortage in all mature markets and attracting smart minds will become even tougher for non-EU countries. As people are a critical resource to the industry, this will definitely be a disadvantage to UK-only players. Already today we see PR agencies increasing their investment into continental Europe as well as into insights to encounter clients’ concerns regarding Brexit. So the issue will certainly foster PR business in the near future – over here in Germany and in the UK."
Other cities could take over says John Ozimek, director at marketing agency Big Ideas Machine: “Throughout my PR career I have worked mostly with European and international businesses that see the UK as an essential gateway to key markets, and also a country with a hugely influential and respected media. Ever since the issue of the referendum and Brexit reared its head, clients and contacts from outside of the UK have reacted with a mixture of alarm, shock and amusement. I have met with European start-ups who simply cannot understand why we would effectively kneecap our own economy and status in the world. So I am very worried that if Brexit does happen, London's position as a key start-up hub will be affected, and companies will instead choose Dublin, Berlin or Stockholm as their base. Similarly, we work with several Chinese tech companies who I know are considering shifting their EU base of operation from the UK to Germany, as they seek greater certainty and stability alongside continued access to the EU.”
Berlin will definitely benefit says Guy Walsingham, CEO at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: “Red Lorry Yellow Lorry has opened a fourth office in Berlin – driven by client demand and the uncertain Brexit future. And uncertainty is the key word here. No one knows what Brexit will bring in terms of talent, working practices and business. Whilst London will remain a European anchor point for North American and Israeli companies - due to shared language and cultural similarities - we’ll probably see a longer-term shift to other thriving European cities such as Berlin. So, whilst nothing will happen immediately, more diversified market and communications strategies may well develop over time. For smart PR agencies with the expertise and strategic know-how, this presents an opportunity to help clients bridge the gap between global strategy and local campaigns. Whatever Brexit brings, one thing is crystal clear; in times of uncertainty, clear communications is critical.”
London will become a different sort of hub says Candice Debleu, associate director at agency firstlight PR: “The simple act of switching off EU investment in the UK will have implications across a range of industries. For our healthcare clients, it is business as usual, but behind the scenes, understanding and preparing for leaving the EU is becoming an industry in itself. For UK life sciences as a whole, the move of the European Medicines Agency out of London is huge and will directly impact the healthcare market and agencies in the future. Cynically, all these changes will need careful management in the shorter term. More optimistically, arguably they might create space for new market entrants.
“But whatever, London will undoubtedly lose by withdrawing from the EU, a decision many of us are still scratching our heads over, in the longer-term it may yet benefit from the sheer happenstance of its geography. In the future we may find ourselves becoming a different kind of hub – one that sees London act as a jumping off point between Europe and other markets.”
Roberto Napolitano, managing director of marketing agency Intelligo Consulting, sums up key threats and opportunities:
Headquarters will move. “International companies might not see London and the UK as a strategic door to the European market. They might decide to base their headquarters somewhere else in Europe.”
There will be a talent drain. “Many international PR professional might see London and the UK as not the best place to be and might decide to move to other international PR hubs.”
Tax issues. “From a PR agency point of view, exiting the single market might mean that services provided outside of the European Union can be taxed, posing a disadvantage for London and UK-based agencies.”
More work. “Organisations might still require advice on Brexit and how this can potentially impact on their reputation outside the UK. Think about how brand ‘Britain’ could be affected, as the vote to leave the EU can be perceived as a sign of rejection and intolerance towards Europe. The PR industry has the opportunity to work on limiting the negative effects of Brexit on the British brand.”
Recognition of London’s expertise. “Expertise, established PR networks, renowned trade bodies like CIPR and PRCA, the availability of international PR professionals based in London, and an industry that is still very competitive globally, might keep London and the UK a strong market for PR even after Brexit.”
London will always remain a creative, exciting and vibrant city. But whether it will remain the centre of European PR is not so certain.
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