Brexit: A Very British PR War

Honestly, I’m just bored by the whole thing now.

I know it may seem reductive to cite an overriding sense of inertia with a debate as momentous and potentially damaging as Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, but I’m sorry, I can’t help it.

My feelings stem from a few key issues. Basically, the conversation has been, largely, asinine. The statistics cited have been totally arbitrary. And the back and forth has often amounted to little more than: “Will!” “Won’t!” “Will!” “Won’t”, as the uncertainty of the future gives speculators the scope to claim seemingly anything, with the amount of overlap between the two sides’ claims becoming depressingly laughable.

Now, despite this, I do stand firmly on one side of the fence, a side which, as I’m North-eastern Labour voter who lives two minutes from Islington, you can probably guess for yourselves.

But when analysing this campaign with my public relations hat on (it’s a rather spiffy red fedora), my feelings are entirely irrelevant. Quite simply, from a PR perspective, both campaigns have been almost universally abject.

The way in which both Remain and Vote Leave have executed their campaign comms has been positively medieval, so much so that they would have been better suited to launch via trebuchet than press event.

Beginning with the Leave side, they have somehow managed to build a campaign fronted by spokespeople (Boris aside), whom the undecided centre (the people who decide almost every vote) find largely abhorrent: Farage, Gove, Galloway to name just a few. And it isn’t even as if this broad church has acted as a unifying force, it simply gives the impression of a motley crew of cobbled-together bits and pieces, with little shared drive or direction past June 23rd.

Alongside this, they seem to communicate solely via platitudes, falling back on the hazy ‘take back sovereignty’ and ‘jobs for hardworking Brits’ safety nets whenever under any pressure from journalist, producer or member of the public. Their uncertainty and inability to accurately and precisely predict the next five years may be understandable. But in that case why not simply embrace the endeavour of a leap into the unknown, rather than allow their spokespeople to go out individually and make wildly different prophecies about jobs and the economy, sometimes on the same morning? It’s all just very schoolboy.

However, they do have some things going for them. A key ingredient to any campaign is simplicity, and while Vote Leave may be divided on many issues, they are able to prey upon good old-fashioned fear, particularly in areas which are increasingly nervous about the refugee crisis.

The Remain camp have struggled to either counter these fears or convince the public that they will address them as directly as their rivals. They have also found it nigh-on impossible to manoeuvre the debate from Vote Leave’s wheelhouse and into more EU-friendly territory.

Indeed, in a recent poll by Atomik Research and long-time 4mediarelations collaborators, Holiday Travel Watch, almost half of the Brits surveyed (48%) did not know that leaving the EU could mean a weaker pound, more expensive air travel and a loss of travel consumer rights (all of which are certainly in play). When faced with this information, almost a quarter said that they would consider changing their vote.

What Remain need to get better at (and quickly) is simply painting the EU in a positive light. Vote Leave benefit from a simple first-step message, which preys upon an inherent ‘grass is greener’ mentality that many of us find it difficult to shake off. The other side need to focus on all of the things that make life better/easier that we either take for granted or never really thought about.

Think of leaving the EU as taking the bulb out of the bathroom light. Yes, all of the appliances are still there and you’ll probably still be able to fumble your way through a shower, but it would be much easier if we didn’t have to shuffle around in the dark and work out how to replace the light bulb over the next three to five years.

Remain needs to paint a more colourful picture of the EU and build its comms around the benefits it has brought and will continue to bring in the future, and take the conversation to a level which is just as accessible over tea (the evening meal) as it is over tea (the afternoon middle class treat).

Ultimately, I have truly no idea which way the vote will go. But I can’t help but feel that whichever side wins will have done so not because of an excellent, transparent, joined-up campaign, but because they simply did less wrong than the other side. Then we’ll just have to deal with the consequences.

You’ve got to love democracy sometimes.

By Jamie Stanley


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