If there is one industry that hates uncertainty more than most, it is construction. And there is no doubt that the uncertainties of Brexit are affecting construction companies and organisations across the UK, and marketing directors are wondering what to do.
As the Harvard Business Review recently noted, this shock of uncertainty on the UK economy is unlike the usual type of shock, not least because of its complex political aspects and also its longevity. “The clearest historical parallel that led to such an extended period of uncertainty is the Great Depression, which started with the stock market crash of 1929 and generated continued uncertainty until 1932”, it warned.
HBR also reported the findings of the Decision Maker Panel, a research initiative between the Bank of England, academics from Stanford University and the University of Nottingham. This appears to already show a 6% drop in business investment as a direct result of Brexit uncertainty:
“For three years now the world has watched and wondered whether Brexit would happen, and if so under what terms. And yet the uncertainty has persisted and has risen over recent months. Our research documents the costs of that uncertainty in the form of lost investment and employment. If the UK reaches a deal, some of that postponed investment might be realised. But if the UK opts for “no-deal” Brexit or for a second referendum, uncertainty may increase again…” the panel said.
In other words, it looks like we need to be gearing up for a marathon not a sprint.
Interestingly, the Decision Maker Panel’s latest findings appear to show that the percentage of firms who see Brexit as an important source of uncertainty peaked in at the end of last year and seems to be getting a little bit better now.
And personally, I should say that I am not too bothered about uncertainty (change is the only constant, after all). I am positive about the long-term future after Brexit, although I do think it will take us some years to adjust fully.
But in the meantime, what to do with your marketing and PR?
Do you sit tight, cancel your plans, conserve cash and wait until it has “all settled down”? We saw a fair bit of this happening at the start of the year as the proximity of a 29 March exit date created a bit of panic. Those organisations are still stuck in their holding pattern, as far as I can tell.
Or do you, in true Churchillian style, decide to never waste a good crisis, and forge ahead while everyone else has gone a bit wobbly? We’ve also seen this happening this year, with some extremely agressive new investments from businesses determined to get ahead while everyone else is otherwise distracted.
But maybe the Smart Construction Marketer is playing a more strategic game, and picking carefully what to invest in and what not to do just yet… We have also seen this happening, with a big surge in clients carefully reviewing and rebalancing marketing and PR strategies, particularly since April.
10 top tips for construction marketing, PR and communications in the face of a likely No-Deal Brexit
So what can we learn from all that?
We canvassed opinions from many brilliant marketing folk we know, and here are their 10 top tips for marketing, PR and communications in the face of a likely No-Deal Brexit:
1. Keep looking outwards and keep moving forwards. Pulling up the drawbridge and turning introspective is a terrible option for a country and a terrible strategy for business. While the natural human response to uncertainty is to put off decisions, this paralysis is also extremely damaging to company morale and to customer confidence. All the experts seem to be very clear in their view: successful companies do not ditch their marketing strategies at a time like this; they adapt them. And now is not the time to go all quiet.
2. Take a moment to really research your changing markets. Now more than ever, you need to know the customer inside out, know what is keeping them awake at night, and know how they are redefining value because of Brexit. Use research to segment audiences and to target activity with more accuracy and more impact.
3. Reinvigorate your face-to-face communications strategy. Networking at events, going to industry conferences and exhibitions, arranging to meet up for a coffee with those people you only otherwise connect with on social media… these are the sorts of opportunities to build relationships. Rather than buying the VIP suite for some big corporate hospitality gig, organise your own bespoke event to reconnect with old clients and new prospects. To save costs, we’ve seen clients piggyback on industry events too. For building consultancies, architects, surveyors, planners, digital construction experts, specialist subcontractors and many other parts of the construction supply chain, it’s always those conversations that will generate the best new work.
4. Look again at the balance of marketing spend, and put even more focus on cost-effective, impactful and measurable campaigns. That almost always means more PR and digital.
5. Establish meaningful measurement and evaluation so you can see quickly what’s working and what’s not, and can eliminate wasted cost. And by meaningful evaluation in PR, we are NOT talking AVEs (advertising value equivalents) – there is absolutely no excuse anymore for this shoddy, misleading approach to measuring ROI. If there are pressures on your marketing budget because of Brexit, even more reason to demand proper transparency and accountability from your PR agency.
6. Build a strong core. If you’ve worked with LMC before, you will undoubtedly have heard us talk about ‘core and flow’ – a very helpful model which explains a lot about successful marketing and how to prioritise your communication activities in a digital age. So right now is the time to ensure the core (ie. your website, its content and its ability to convert online interest into new business) is as strong as possible. Check your calls to action, and make sure you’re regularly updating web content with new testimonials and authentic, interesting case studies that build potential customers’ confidence in your brand.
7. Use PR as a strategic management discipline that intelligently positions your business in the best possible way for the post-Brexit world. This includes looking carefully at the pros and cons of using ‘brand Britain’ in your communications. A good PR agency should be exactly that sort of strategic adviser to you, not a low grade press release factory.
8. Stay open to partnerships, joint ventures and outside influences. Now is an excellent time to find new collaborations that help to spread costs and provide added value to customers.
9. If you’re thinking of having a presence at an industry exhibition, then do it properly. Don’t decide to wait until the last minute on the basis of getting that last shell scheme space in the corner by the loos at a mega knock-down price. That’s the worst sort of economising, as you will miss out on all the PR and marketing benefits which come in the three months before the show. And if you’re not planning to exhibit over the next year, then still make use of these events (see 3 above).
10. “Use Brexit as a wakeup call to think about how we can do better”, says the boss of the Advertising Association. If you’re an organisation with an interest in doing business outside the UK, now is the time to seriously beef up your communications and your creativity. Show overseas audiences that you’re brilliant, you’re open for business and have something special to offer that comes from a new found post-Brexit confidence.