Written by Lauren Probert • Published 22nd January 2019 • 5 minute read

Trade secrets

Brexit. The word on everyone’s lips and minds right now. What with infighting, plotting and a row over the phrase “stupid woman”, it’s safe to say that Brexit, and the circus surrounding the preparations will continue to dominate headlines in 2019.

Rather than groan at yet another day of confusion and convolution in the papers, industry bodies should see the ongoing Brexit coverage as an opportunity for untapped positive communication.

Effectively and appropriately commenting on the issues surrounding Brexit is crucial if trade bodies are going to garner stakeholder trust and support in uncertain times.

Major Brexit developments, of which we have many more in store for this year, provide a prime opportunity for senior figures at trade associations to share their concerns with the wider world and effectively raise the profile of their organisation in the process. Here, we look at how the proactive trade associations do this.

The importance of acting quickly

Responding to news quickly is crucial to success.

Trade bodies need to be on-the-ball by keeping track of the news agenda and identifying any key dates that could be hijacked for a PR opportunity. Often pre-emptive comments can be drafted in advance, ready to be tweaked at the last minute for accuracy, and then sent to the media at lightening speed for maximum impact.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Association (FDA) has been notable for prominent and powerful reactionary comment on Brexit developments, making cut through in both trade publications and national media.

In August, when the Government released the first of 25 notices detailing the potential effect of a no-deal Brexit on several sectors, the FDA was one of the first trade groups to share its voice in public domain. The speed of his association’s response put his members’ views ‘on the map’ and drew attention to the sector.

Wright, on behalf of the FDA’s members, has continued to be vocal on the very real effects of a no-deal Brexit and in December called the possibility “grisly” adding: “The British people would not forgive anyone responsible for it coming to pass.”

Using a spokesperson

The use of a strong spokesperson is an important consideration for any trade association wanting to boost the public profile within the media.

The right spokesperson puts a human face to the organisation and is vital to any business wanting to build their profile and reputation. However, as an official representative there is also a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.

The key components any good spokesperson must grasp are, a good media knowledge and knowledge of target audience, as well as comprehension of their members opinions and concerns. These points are crucial to delivering key messages effectively.

A good spokesperson can be the difference between very positive and very negative public relations, as James Hookham, the deputy chief executive of the Freight Transport Association, demonstrated recently.

He didn’t mince his words when publicly communicating the groups disdain over Brexit developments by stating that the government “cannot sleep” until some practical issues for the logistic industry are ironed out.

He added: “I’m not going to let the logistics industry take the fall for political indulgence. It’ll be messy, expensive and not end well, and caused by people who suffer from ignorance or privilege. Or both.”

Joining forces

In immediate response to the Government telling businesses to prepare for Brexit at the end of last year, five savvy organisations decided the most effective way of communicating their response was to join forces and issue a powerful joint statement.

The CBI, which represents 190,000 businesses, the Institute of Directors, British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and the manufacturing body EEF released a response stressing they were “horrified” by warring politicians who they felt were focusing on “factional disputes rather than practical steps” to help businesses move forward.

The groups were able to identify that rather than fighting each other for column inches, a joint statement would have more impact and maximise chances of exposure. The message was authoritative and emotive, which also increased the groups chance of coverage. A wishy-washy statement that adds nothing to the conversation is not going to cut it.

The group’s statement read: “Businesses have been watching in horror as politicians have focused on factional disputes rather than practical steps that business needs to move forward. The lack of progress in Westminster means that the risk of a no-deal Brexit is rising.”

The trade associations clearly communicated their collective trepidation over the government’s seemingly shotgun plans and thrust their respective groups into the public eye, showing the benefits of banding together.

Effective use of data

Trade bodies have a vast wealth of data at their disposal and it is those who can tap into that and use these resources that have the most success with raising their profile in the public sphere.

Data can be used to illustrate a manner of member points and arguments and validate media commentary by acting as supporting evidence.

One example of effective use of data came from the construction industry’s leading trade and professional bodies – which joined forces to demonstrate which jobs are in greatest demand.

A survey went out to more than 20,000 companies nationwide and asked respondents which roles they are finding difficult to recruit now, and which they expect to be challenging post-Brexit.

The survey was supported by several different industry groups including the Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Build UK and member trade bodies, Chartered Institute of Building, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Construction Plant-hire Association

Construction Products Association and member trade bodies, Federation of Master Builders, Highways Term Maintenance Association and the National Federation of Builders.

Trade associations and bodies have valuable opinion and insight to add to the public sphere. The ones that can effectively harness the news agenda, not only show stakeholders they are paying attention but are able to communicate to the wider world that they are not afraid to stand up and speak out on important issues.

To find out about how our team can help your organisation speak out on important issues contact us today for a no-obligation call.