09 August 2016

By Giles Read, head of campaigns

Giles Small

For many international companies based in the UK, it’s time to pick up the megaphone. Foreign-owned businesses largely kept quiet as the Brexit debate thundered on – understandably so, for fear of attracting vitriol from outspoken Brexiteers, or perhaps because they were simply unclear what a “Leave” vote would really mean for them.

Now, like domestic UK companies, they need to have their say. Britain’s terms of trade with Europe and the rest of the World remain unclear, of course. But for that very reason, it’s time at last for overseas investors to unmuzzle themselves and enter the Brexit debate with full cry.

Discussions are moving towards negotiation around some form of Brexit, with politicians, pundits and myriad interest groups clamouring to have their say. But in the noisy echo-chambers of Westminster and Brussels, businesses that supply this country with actual jobs, skills and tax revenues need to fight to get their voices heard. Effective communication will be a vital tool.

For foreign and domestic companies alike, it’s time to switch the corporate communications function into campaign mode:

  • Map out your stakeholders to consider what they need to hear and what you would like them to do for you. Consider everyone - a holistic strategy will get results
  • Identify new allies to assist with your campaign. If your employees have a trade union,for example, consider pulling in its support. Protecting your business equates to protecting the wellbeing of your employees
  • Map out who you need to talk to and what they need to hear at all levels in the political arena from local authorities through to MPs, MEPs and Commissioners - especially if your business operates under the auspices of bilateral agreements 
  • Trade associations are important, since the interests of your peers and competitors will no doubt chime with your own. Combined, your voices will be stronger and more likely to be heard by policymakers and national negotiators in London and Brussels. The CBI in particular has been effective in aligning business interests recently and has a clear agenda for this period:
  • Engage your employees in the effort by communicating regularly with them about what you’re trying to achieve and how they can help. Don’t just try to reassure them, rope them into the campaign. They are ambassadors for your business and can help. Grass roots activity in the age of social media is more effective than ever before
  • The media is, of course, an important channel for you, especially if you don’t feel you’re making headway in Whitehall. Commentary in articles, letters to the editor etc… Consider all avenues to get your views out there and protect your interests.
  • Finally, regularly communicate with your investors around the topic. Make them understand the efforts you are making

At this epoch-making moment, there will be winners and losers. Company Boards have a responsibility to make sure that their shareholders are not among the losers. If they do not, they may not survive what looks likely to be a series of troubled AGM seasons in the years ahead.