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With one-year to go before ‘Brexit’ how much longer will it be ‘business as usual’

Written by

Michael Zdanowski

Last month Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever announced that it had chosen Rotterdam ahead of London as its new global headquarters. The official line from Unilever was that this decision would enable the firm to be one legal entity in the Netherlands and more ‘agile’.

While Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, stressed that the move was not ‘Brexit-related’, the decision to move the firm’s HQ that had been in the UK for more than 90 years, was interpreted by many, as concrete evidence of business’ concerns over the UK’s future outside of the EU and its institutions. Unilever, like many firms, seemed reticent to talk in public about Brexit. But what do businesses in the UK and EU really think of Brexit?

This is the question that Madano sought to answer in a recent study of UK and European businesses’ attitudes towards Brexit. The study, led together with Brussels-based firm BOLDT, focused on how 1000 leading firms across the UK and Europe, including multinationals, communicate using their own social media channels (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn). The findings were revealing.

Firstly, our study showed that companies are still keeping their heads down with regard to Brexit. It is very much a case of ‘business as usual’ for them. In 2017, only a small number of companies (165) of the 1000 studied tweeted about Brexit and the potential disruption it might cause. When companies communicated about Brexit, they talked about three main issues related to stability, namely commitment to the UK, customer support and company robustness rather than emerging business opportunities or relocation plans.

Over 21 months since the Referendum, we found that many companies have delegated communications to trade associations, which have played a much more vocal and active role in talking about Brexit than the companies themselves focusing on issues such as trade, labour shortages and regulations.

Secondly, where companies have communicated about Brexit on social media, UK and European companies have expressed clear differences. UK firms have been far more concerned about the specific sectoral impacts of Brexit whereas European companies have been worried about the wider macroeconomic consequences.

Thirdly, we examined the attitude of key sectors towards Brexit and found that the Financial Services sector is by far the most active on Brexit, expressing major concerns about future market access. In the Healthcare sector, UK companies have been preoccupied by future market opportunities and supply chain arrangements while European pharma firms appear publically to be relatively unconcerned about life after Brexit. In Energy, future business opportunities represented the primary issue for UK energy firms. European energy companies have been focused more on regulation, preparedness, and industry robustness.

Our research questions how long companies can continue to keep their heads down on the most significant political and economic issue of our age. The complexity of Brexit logically dictates that companies can no longer rely solely on trade bodies to tell their story and that the risk for companies not communicating directly with customers or business partners will be too great.

For more details, you can read the BOLDT-Madano research: What do European and UK companies think of Brexit? A social media perspective on the following link.

This article was first printed in the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce’s Spring 2018 newsletter.

——— Written by Michael Zdanowski, Director, Energy
Madano, sister company of NATIONAL Public Relations