There’s no doubt that Brexit’s a hot topic. You can’t open a paper, surf a site or click on a post without seeing Brexit. It’s also a contentious issue. In a little over two weeks of campaigning, fissures have torn apart the Tories, the BCC’s head John Longworth has resigned and the “in” campaign has been daubed “Project Fear”.
Clients are now constantly asking me, “Should I have a view on Brexit?” or “Should I share my views on Brexit?”
This is a tricky one. There’s no doubt there’s a significant opportunity for comment with the media. Those with strong - or original - views on Brexit will get coverage. But that’s different to having a view on “in” or “out”.
I would hesitate to advise clients to share their “in/ out” views.
I think companies need to approach any Brexit commentary with their eyes open. Brexit is a political decision. It’s also a decision for the people, not the companies, of Britain to take. There’s a lot of noise, confusion and vitriol. It’s the Wild West in media terms.
Messages can be mixed, hijacked or plain misinterpreted. Individuals within companies may have totally different views. It can create conflict, division and resentment. It could cost your business or your job.
So when should companies engage in the debate, if at all?
Certainly, if you have any link with the public sector, I would steer well clear. There are a few occasions where you might just consider it:
If Brexit (or not) would materially damage your business, then lobby for the best outcome. In this case, companies need to clearly articulate why they want in or out.
You also need to be prepared for the politicisation of your response. Large companies who’ve openly supported staying in have been attacked for having their “nose in the EU trough”. Companies opting “in” for export reasons have been told they’ll get a better deal later. Those voting “out” have been attacked for trying to avoid EU legislation on human rights and minimum wages.
2. The raised profile outweighs the risks
If you’re publicity hungry, risk-running and don’t mind being singed on social media, you may want to publically side one way. Most other companies will position themselves as neutral. If you can give pithy, insightful comment to the media you’ll be in demand.
3. You’re too big to veil
Brexit may not be business critical, but there may be strategic reasons why corporate behemoths might want to share their view. Large companies can carry real authority and are used to attacks and enmity. They will, however, have to expect animosity – especially on social media.
4. You’re a personality led brand
If you’re Virgin, the owner’s part of the brand. The same goes for the 4.1m non-employing business owners in the UK. If you are your company, you’ll probably feel free to say what you feel. But don’t forget your customers may not feel the same way.
So my view is - unless you have to, sit it out. Some fights aren’t worth having. Relax and watch the mud fly. Keep your head down and let the politicians duke it out. Muse over whether Boris or DC will win the day.
Ultimately, let the public listen to the debate and decide unhindered. It’s their choice and their vote.