Brexit actually brings new opportunities to prove the value of PR

The referendum results in the UK came as a surprise to the majority, including the Brexit campaigners. The advent of post-truth communication, the emergence of fake news in social media and even in traditional outlets, polling, activist leadership and media bubbles lead us to re-think the old ways of interacting with the general public. PR practitioners have agreed to state that we are facing new levels of uncertainty following British and American wake-up calls with the recent votes.

Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and professor, recently commented: “I don’t think public relations is in crisis but we do need to be brave and ask tough questions about our business.”

Recent examples in the media have further eroded the trust relationship with audiences. In #FuturePRoof, Second Edition, Rob Brown, Managing Partner at Rule 5 and President of the CIPR talks about two instances whereby inaccurate information particularly resonated amongst the public. An example of this is the £350 million a day to the NHS pledge from the Brexit campaigners which evaporated as soon as polling stations closed. Elsewhere, Trump announced on Twitter: “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” seemingly oblivious about the 68% of Scots who voted in favour of remaining.

Through uncertain times, PR practitioners can and should act as strategic leaders, making sense of complexity, maintaining influences and managing corporate stories as it seems that we have reached the threshold whereby it is crucial to do so. Communication should help brands navigate in the tumultuous waters brought by the Brexit referendum.

More than ever, PR practitioners are urged to bring clarity and do more than just put their spin across and persuade communities. Robert Wynne predicted the end of mass persuasion in a “post-factual fake news world” for organisations using the media and social media to promote their products and services.

Professionalisation is key Brown argues. Concretely, we need to promote transparency and accountability within organisations, act as watchmen towards brands’ doing. We must be explicit in the way news is provided and share evidence-based information.

Public Relations’ ultimate goal is based on listening and understanding audiences, it is by doing so that communication professionals will restore trust. In this way, PR departments need to explain to board members this reality so organisational strategies are guided accordingly.

In the Brexit aftermath, PR’s crucial aim is to reshape the organisations’ place within the communities they operate in, making sense of themselves by displaying professionalism and accountability.

From the Brexit results, we have to acknowledge that the messages put across by the corporate world and the establishment more generally were not taken into account by a majority. Interrogations have arisen regarding our borders, our trading relationships and our relationships with European subsidies.

With these challenges rise new opportunities to evolve and improve within the industry to prove our value. “The time is now” says Brown.




How Trump has revolutionised political communication

Clinton and Trump’s differences in the media are quite sharp as we have all witnessed during these last few weeks. Both embody two different visions of politics and more broadly, America’s image. This resulted in tailored and antagonistic communication strategies for their campaigns. Nobody thought Donald Trump would be the last one standing, particularly the media. Still, this strategy turned out to be successful despite the onslaught of negative journalistic reports and polls.

What the media investments tell us

First, the financial aspect of both campaigns puts forward interesting points on how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump utilised their budgets towards the media. One striking fact is the Democrat candidate collected the important budget of almost $500 million, while Trump’s donations represent half of this amount.

Clinton’s strategy was centred on elite mobilisation as recently reported. On the other side, Trump failed to win the favour of wealthy conservative donators such as the Koch brothers or the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, forcing his communication team to innovate with a new “cheap” approach.

A “low-tech campaign”

Since the internal Republican’s elections, Trump has made the strategic choice of utilising the social media and the “free” coverage as much as possible. “That is the reason why his rhetoric was often the one of provocation” Vincent Michelot explains. More importantly, as the Trump patriotic brand was already known by a vast majority of Americans, his strategy has been held on the assumption that “any publicity is good publicity”.

Another important point could be drawn on his choice of not micro-targeting voters and building gigantic databases as Clinton did. Instead, the Republican Party was focussed on organising impressive mass meetings.

The failure of pop culture

Conversely, Clinton’s communication team aimed at purchasing advertising space and controlling the candidate’s reputation in the media as much as possible. The same strategy was implemented for Obama’s elections with a PR success demonstrating a solid understanding of all the previous known techniques: political marketing, television speeches and debates, flyers, direct mail, newspapers, phone calls, canvass, etc. Wanting to benefit from the hype period triggered by Obama’s equality and tolerance image, Clinton’s team aimed at perpetuating Obama’s pop culture legacy through celebrity support and multiple appearances on famous TV shows.

The Clinton’s defeat at the last U.S. presidential election symbolises the failure of pop culture and the advent of a post-true society promoting emotional and impulsive reactions over objectivity in the public debate. Trump has enforced new rules in the political communication game albeit political communication should remain centred around salient values inspiring mutual aims and rallying communities.