Recently the majority of the British people voted to leave the EU. This has come as quite a shock to many, and it is still unclear what will happen in the future. At the moment anything seems possible. In the following interview Tom Berry, the CEO of Storymaker’s partner agency in the Global PR Network, Chameleon in London, is giving his perspective on what he thinks could happen.
Björn Eichstädt: Tom, with Brexit around the corner, what are your thoughts on this situation from a PR agency’s perspective?
Tom Berry: For the record, I voted to remain in the EU – as our industry (and most of London) did so too. But the result is binding and we have to deal with it in a constructive and positive manner. On one hand, Brexit is yet another reason to be thankful that we are an independent agency and not part of an owned global network. For those agencies that have wholly owned offices across UK and Europe, predicated on the free movement of people, standard contracts, common regulation and centralised HR and operational departments, then I’m sure there is some serious legal work and headaches ahead. But that’s not to say that, as an independent agency, we have no problems at all with Brexit. We do – and they are largely about its impact on good people. The first and most immediate problem is that I have two brilliant members of staff who have joined us from elsewhere in the EU. Not only are they uncertain about the long-term future of free movement across Europe and their long-term rights in the UK, but we are all worried that the Brexit vote will create a national and international culture of division and unease: the old vs the young, the left against right and – horribly – increased threat of racism and xenophobia. This is a problem that we are seeing emerge across Europe and in the US, so it is universal and deeply troubling. I don’t actually think that the rights of EU citizens working in the UK or UK citizens working in the EU will change that much – and certainly not in the short term – but we are a creative industry based upon new ideas, new approaches and open-mindedness. Isolation, protectionism and closed-thinking has no place in communications. And should have no place in modern society. In short, we have to remain positive and stay true to our principles as a profession. This will not change – no matter what happens in the coming weeks, months and years.
BE: You work for a lot of international clients that use the UK as an entry point to the European market. Do you think that Brexit might affect these projects? Will foreign companies relocate their EMEA headquarters to other countries?
TB: Ha! I’m sure you would love me to say that multinationals will all relocate from the UK to Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich or Hamburg 😉 But I’m not sure we will see either a mass exodus of companies from the UK to mainland Europe in the short term. And certainly I do not see an immediate drop off in investment in the region as a whole. After all, the 28 EU member states (soon to be 27 unless there is a miracle), account for about 25% of global GDP with Germany, UK and France the major economic contributors to the region. My US clients certainly haven’t slowed down their efforts of investing in Chameleon, the UK and the wider EU region. Just take our client DocuSign’s recent announcement that it is continuing to invest millions of dollars in the region.
There are also three arguments that are often made for the natural choice of London as the gateway for Europe for US companies in particular. One of the reasons – the language – I think is now largely irrelevant given the prevalence of English spoken as the language of business across Europe. The other two reasons are still important – the fact that the City of London remains the world’s largest financial centre and that Heathrow remains the busiest airport in Europe and the world’s third largest. London, therefore, retains the infrastructure to keep it as the main gateway into the continent. For the time being at least.
BE: How might Brexit change Pan-European PR work?
TB: The UK won’t float off into the Atlantic just yet, even if our political masters haven’t quite figured out which direction we will be travelling in as a single, independent nation. The UK remains European, and Europe remains important as a single free market for trade and a single common digital market – the most mature of its kind. Pan-European PR work will continue and groups such as the Global PR Network will become even more important to offer agile and scalable PR execution as multinationals invest further into the region as they look for alternatives to the large, and inflexible global networks. In short – even though the immediate future is uncertain, I remain very optimistic for creative and entrepreneurial comms businesses.