Emeritus professor Rodney Barker, London School of Economics, said 25th of June on CNN, that British people voted for different thing than EU membership. They voted for limiting immigration and stopping cuts of Public Services. ”Leave” campaign daily repeated this simple and emotional message for two years. Instead ”Remain” campaign relied official EU slang, which was dull. The events of the campaign were like economics seminars, Mr. Barker remarked.
It is obvious that the EU made a gigantic mistake of PR concerning Brexit, because it did not localize communication to the level of ”Leave” campaign and did not support ”Remain” campaign.
On my recent visit the Communication Department in Brussels I met smart and professional PR people, who precisely implement the legal and formal bureaucrats’ communication activities. However strategy and way of doing are incompetent. By the way, it is worth of notice that there are several British people in the Communication Department.
Communication of Commission is stiff and bureaucratic. It has worked rather well in formal matters, but it is not capable to respond politically hostile communication facing the EU. ”Leave” campaign got the chance to act freely without facing any counter PR on behalf of EU.
The EU Commission’s the Directorate-General Communication (DG COMM) budget in 2016 is enormous, 78,8 M€ of which 21,25 M€ are used on corporate communication activities. That means about 600.000 euros of the whole sum will be spent per one million EU citizens. Probably the communication budget of the EU Parliament is not included. The major part of the budget is used for salaries of bureaucrats.
The recent Eurobarometer, which measures the public opinion, indicates that 37 percent of citizens have totally positive attitude towards the EU, neutral 38 % and totally negative 23 %. The target in the strategy is more than 50 percent positive.
In the communications strategy of the EU is mentioned important aims to improve the image of the EU. The strategy lists three main principles: Listen-Advise-Engage. In all of these the EU was unsuccessful as regards Brexit. The EU’s PR staff did not listen to deep voice of British ordinary people outside London, did not leverage persuasive and touching messages and did not engage the British citizens to the positive image of the EU.
The most awful example of the lack of engagement was the President of European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, in his press conference about Brexit. He was rude and uninformative for journalists in his statements, and walked away with arrogance.
What massive EU’s communication department should have been done?
When UK prime minister Mr. David Cameron announced two years ago, that Britain will arrange EU referendum, the EU should immediately have started strategic planing of PR only to influence the final results by supporting ”Remain” campaign. If the EU will stay out of political PR, it cannot defend itself in modern digital world.
Secondly the EU should have implemented PR campaign of positive EU image in social media on the level of ordinary people by giving same kind of emotional messages as ”Leave ” campaign did. However provoking trolling is not acceptable for the EU, because there are plenty of influential transparent PR methods to be used.
Third EU has to simplify the messages through media and journalists. Today the media relations are managed by spokespersons, who as a matter of fact hinder transparent image building. Distribution of press releases and other media material is dull and bureaucratic. Basically journalists are not interested in EU’s press releases, because they do not include enough newsworthy information.
Fourth the EU has to make members of parliament and members of the commission more known around the Europe and especially in their home countries. How many British people recognize the faces of MEPs’ not to mention their political achievements in EU? To make politically famous figures demands active and personalized PR, which naturally is challenging, but necessary, if the EU wants to keep membership of other 27 EU countries.
After Brexit the solution is not to finish democracy or referendums. Democracy is the core of the EU. To keep it the EU must renew and improve its PR and communication to become equivalent with the standards of modern democratic society of digital age.