The morning the referendum result was announced Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye was one of the rolling news guests invited to give post-Brexit feedback. His answer to every question was “don’t delay, now’s the time to build another runway at Heathrow”. The kindest thing you could say about this was that it is appallingly mistimed. In truth, it was a poor attempt to hijack the news agenda to push a personal corporate line that just had no relevance to the immediate story at hand.
There are wider lessons to be learned here. While in the immediate aftermath it is certainly the politicians who lead this story, there’s the underlying question who informs the politicians. How you voted on Thursday is no longer important. The referendum was a simple yes or no vote, which box we crossed could be for any number of reasons. The future choices we have to take as a result of the referendum result won’t be as simple to settle upon as as putting a tick in one box or another, or as easy to weigh up as “I don’t like X”. What happens now is what counts and unless you make your views on what is important public, there‘s no prospect of them being taken into account during the decision making process.
Our politicians need guidance. This is after all uncharted territory. Nobody has the answers here which makes hearing from stakeholders both an urgent and important priority. This is where the need for a sense check comes in. As Heathrow’s CEO found out the hard way, what may have sounded like a sensible, consistent and well rehearsed corporate line on June 22nd just didn’t stand the test of time on June 24th (and won’t for quite some time). Longstanding messaging needs to be revisited and reversioned so that it is fit for purpose for the new reality. I’m not just talking about a tweak here or there to make an existing idea seem more newsworthy, but taking a good, hard look at what you’re saying and whether it fits the contemporary world at all.
Then if it is relevant run with it. Valid insights will reach the people who need to draw together policies for our new outlook and it will chime with a news agenda that has followed the political paradigm shift we are now experiencing. Get it wrong by not reacting at all by leaving the same old messaging in place and you will at best become irrelevant to the debate and at worst stick out like a sore thumb.
My colleague Lindsay Vetch has written about how personally expressed views can rapidly become corporate policy by default so let me draw on her points to conclude mine. Even if you don’t have a corporate line on Brexit yet, take a look at what you’re saying, is it still relevant? Provide informal guidance to your staff about how you’re evaluating things. Brexit is all anyone is going to be talking about for quite some time to come. Lastly, think about audiences you might not have considered before. The sector knowledge you have will be highly valuable in informing the decision makers in the months to come – get it out there.
Brexit : Time for a sense check
by Christian Mahne