With three months to go until decision day, the importance of the EU referendum to the UK can be measured on continually growing column inches and air time being dedicated to the subject. Much like businesses, media commentators are trying to unpick the potential outcomes of either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision.
As we saw with the Scottish referendum, business plays a hugely influential role in such referendum decisions. With polls such as that by the FT indicating that 85% of businesses could have left Scotland on a ‘yes’ decision, the nationalist ideology of many voters gave way to consideration of financial wellbeing associated with the uncertainty of what an ’out’ vote might actually mean.
For the EU referendum, the uncertainty surrounding an ‘out’ vote is potentially even greater. Companies have no indication of what an ‘out’ decision would do to trade, exports, labour force regulations and international relations, the impact on sterling, and a host of other significant areas. Equally, there are further questions about how our relationship in Europe might develop off the back of an ‘in’ decision, and the results of such a decision on British politics.
Recent market jitters only hint at the disruption even the run-up to the decision is causing; deals, partnerships and investment are all being put on hold. And this is before the significant polling and shock tactics by either side begin.
Our role at Investis is not to help shape an opinion one way or the other – advisers, lawyers and accountants will support leadership with this. However, we do believe that the position your company takes – or that of your CEO – should be well communicated via your digital channels. It may be that your company and leadership do not take a position, which is perfectly acceptable, but even this should be clearly communicated to ensure that your company owns your message and avoids any undue speculation.
BMW Group are a good example of this with leaked internal communications suggesting that an ‘out’ vote could impact jobs within the company. All publicly listed companies should assume that internal communications will make their way to an external audience, indeed, I am sure that they would have anticipated this. It will be interesting to see if and how BMW respond to the issue as campaigners on both sides of the debate develop their cases.
Beyond political positioning, companies should demonstrate that they have considered and prepared (as best possible) for the impact of an ‘in’ or ‘out’ decision. Stakeholders need to know that you as a company are managing the risk that the referendum imposes on your business.
Depending on the relevancy and impact of the referendum to your business, one solution could be to have a page titled “EU referendum” within the news and media section of your website. To begin with, this could include a holding statement, cautious if needs be: ‘We are still considering the implications of an out vote...”. It could be that this remains the only public acknowledgement of the EU referendum if the vote is unlikely to have any significant impact on your business.
On the other hand, if your business has the potential to be impacted by an ‘out’ vote, you might add to this page in the coming weeks with:
- More press releases
- Links to media commentary or political positioning
- Links to leadership statements
- Videos of your leadership team discussing the matter
Above all, ensure that content is relevant to your company and industry and designed to demonstrate to stakeholders your comprehension of the issue and the potential impact that either result has on your business.
If you are unsure about how your company should be using your digital channels in the lead up to the vote, please contact us.