Senior Adviser at Burson Cohn & Wolfe, John McTernan, offers four essential rules for making your voice heard
This is the year that the UK stops talking about Brexit and starts doing it. It is also the year that all Britain’s trading partners need to focus on the potential upside of new trade deals. The shouting is over, and now the talking has to start. The best trade deals are always ‘win/win’ ones – but central to ensuring that your country gets the best possible deal is making your case in the best possible way. There are four essential rules for success.
First, communicate, communicate, communicate! If there is one thing we know about the 2020s it is that the regular means of getting your voice heard through meetings and traditional media need to be accompanied by new channels if they are to have the impact you want. A tweet can now be as important as the communiqué of a summit. The world is always on 24/7, and you need to be there too.
The second is that the UK’s business and trading partners have to switch mindset rapidly. In the run up to Brexit, the wise move was to plan for the worst. No Deal was a real possibility, so plans had to be made to mitigate that eventuality. That is now off the table, definitively. There will be a deal between the UK and the EU by the end of the year. For two reasons: on the one hand, there is always a deal with the EU; on the other, Prime Minister Johnson needs one to show forward momentum. The question now is – on what terms? And are those terms favourable to you and your interests? It is time to stop planning for the worst and start taking advantage of the negotiations. The truth is that some will win and some will lose – so the hard question is ‘do you want to win?’ And never forget, the winners will be real people, in villages, towns and cities across the countries who are trading. Crafting a message for your domestic audience is critical too.
Thirdly, the whole game is now in government. For the last decade British government has been a series of coalitions, minority governments and hung parliaments – a lot of the action was in the House of Commons. Now there is a government with a large majority, and the confidence of a landslide majority. Brexit became an almost obsessive focus on what was happening in the Commons – that moment has passed. Partly because of the election, but mainly because trade – and the associated trade treaties – is an executive competence. Ministers set the mandate, lead the negotiations and sign the final deal – the only parliamentary moment is at the very end, and the only power is delay not amendment.
Which leads to the fourth and crucial point – Britain’s trading partners need an experienced and trusted partner to take them through the trade negotiations as well as provide every level of support with communications and reputation building. From the final withdrawal agreement with the EU to free trade deals with the US and further abroad, the truth is – as many national and commercial interests have learned in the past – ‘if you are not at the table, you are on it!’ That’s why BCW London have launched an International Affairs Communications offer to support these challenges, from politics to media, to trade, to opening doors and everything in between. Whether there is a specific issue or a broader sectoral one, a campaign in one territory or a multi-channel, multi-market one, we can support with a full spectrum of expertise from issues management to digital to strategic counsel.
The key to the coming decade is that while change is certain, opportunity must be seized. Fortune favours the brave – and the well informed!
Burson Cohn and Wolfe’s (BCW) International Affairs Team