Opinion: Is Brexit re-writing the rules of corporate risk management?

For public relations practitioners, says John Orme, senior partner and counsellor at Porter Novelli, Brexit necessitates careful risk management. Trying to understand who the key players are, he says, is the best way to predict and prepare for unforeseen circumstances. 

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John Orme

Is Brexit a precipitous leap into the unknown that redefines the nature of corporate risk, or is it just another chain of events that can be assessed, evaluated and managed?

So much depends on your organisation’s risk profile. Entrepreneurial start-ups are often defined by their large appetite for risk and their ability to seize opportunity from the jaws of disruption. Established corporations tend to build large legal, operational and fiscal infrastructures to manage and mitigate risk. They’re at opposite ends, but still on the same scale.

A starting point for any corporate or brand management team reviewing the hour-by-hour aftershocks of the Brexit decision is fundamental risk assessment, trying to get a clear understanding of the balance between the likelihood of the risk occurring, and the impact if it does.

The difficulty with any calm analysis of the post-Brexit situation is that it is a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of real, reflected and refracted images, with each partial conclusion fuelling the next piece of speculation.

In the immediate aftermath of the result, the exploitative response of the traders in the world’s stock markets and current exchanges created a backdrop of financial shock and awe that has stoked fires of emotional panic, vulnerability and distrust.

Much of this volatility is driven by the arrival of so many different involved participants with an array of financial, political, organisational, personal, family, social, cultural and existential vested interests. What started as one UK political party’s decision to trigger a referendum to resolve internal pressures about its European policy has triggered consequences that have already been felt personally by most people around the world.

As there are so few specific facts available about post-Brexit plans, processes or outcomes, the most reliable starting point for corporate and brand management teams is to try to understand the underlying motives of the players influencing their particular fields of interest.

In a recent Porter Novelli blog on the benefits of using war-gaming techniques for effective risk management, we said: “Working away at the motives of the key players means that the scenarios are based on underlying drivers that are unlikely to change, rather than jumping to try and anticipate and respond to short-term tactics. Focusing on the context surrounding an issue provides a realistic understanding of the external factors that will influence the participants, and even identify new players to the game.”

At a time when facts are overwhelmed by speculation and spin, keeping a careful eye on all the protagonists and doing the hard work to understand their real motivation and goals are two of the most valuable exercises for any brand or organisation trying to plot a risk strategy to navigate through the post-Brexit minefield.

  • John Orme is senior partner and senior counsellor at Porter Novelli. See a previous article on crisis comms here.
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