Opinion: How Abba can guide you through Brexit’s comms challenge

Bill Penn main

Bill Penn, Aspectus Chairman

Bill Penn, chairman at Aspectus, explains why Abba’s enduring pop hit Knowing Me, Knowing You perfectly describes how comms experts should communicate around Brexit. “Silence ever after” is not the answer …

Abba, it turns out, were Brexit communications prophets. Their classic Knowing Me, Knowing You perfectly sums up the real reason why all businesses have no choice but to join the debate about the post-Europe world.

It’s no good walking through a metaphorical empty house, tears in your eyes, thinking that this is where the story ends. We all know that breaking up is never easy, and, yes, we do have to face it that this time we’re through with the EU.

But, silence ever after isn’t the answer. Quite the opposite in fact. Knowing me, knowing you, really is the best you can do.

We all acknowledge that uncertainty is bad for business. And yet many companies risk adding to it by steering clear of the post-Brexit debate altogether, timidly hedging their bets or being so vague on the topic that their real views are unfathomable.

Customers and staff want to know what business thinks about Brexit

The thing is that people want to know. Your customers want to know how you are going to operate in a post-Brexit economy because they need to feel confident about your strategy, your prospects for growth, your physical presence, your support and your services.

Say nothing and you create uncertainty among your customers. You generate the opportunity for your competitors to add to those doubts, and potentially offer better assurances. This creates unnecessary risk within your customer base and the market as a whole.

Let’s take another stakeholder: your own people. They hate uncertainty too. And they will be worried about how Brexit may impact their jobs and long-term prospects. If, while you remain silent or non-committal, a competitor sets out a detailed strategy and plan covering all eventualities, then they might become attractive to some of your key people.

Suppliers, partners, distributors and investors also need to feel confidence in your plans for the post-Brexit world in order to maintain a long-term commitment. Otherwise, they too may be casting round for alternative options.

Silence adds to uncertainty and creates risk

So, in a nutshell, hanging back on Brexit communications adds to uncertainty and creates risk. And that’s very bad for business.

But back to Abba, our biblical source, for a moment. Knowing Me, Knowing You suggests a two-way process. As well as taking the initiative using communications to mitigate risk, strengthen commercial relationships and reassure your people, it’s equally important to know how all your stakeholders feel about the post-Brexit world.

You need to know what your customers’ strategies and plans may be. Otherwise, how can you look after them properly? What about your prospects? It’s important to engage and debate with your market in order to find out how you can meet the challenges they face. And unless you know what those challenges are, that’s impossible.

The same goes for your employees. Talk to them, listen to them, don’t just tell them. Hear what their concerns are under various scenarios and then work with them to reassure them. This is the best way to create trust and mutual confidence.

And let’s not forget the other stakeholders. Key suppliers and partners, for example, may be facing particular challenges in the post-Brexit world. It’s your job to find out what these are because they may have a direct impact on your organisation.

You also need to talk to your investors. Find out how they are feeling about your prospects. They may be very concerned or not worried at all. But you won’t know how to communicate with them properly unless you know how they are thinking. Exactly the same applies to partners of all kinds.

The business world is slowly getting over the shock of the Brexit vote and the mists are clearing around the commercial realities. One of these is that the risk of sitting back, not engaging in two-way communications around Brexit with your key audiences, would not be acceptable to any right thinking shareholder.

And they are the people who really matter. Especially the Abba fans among them. Ahaa…

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