What Brexit teaches us about communications

  • Facts alone are not enough to win the argument
  • Relying on expert opinion to build public engagement can sometimes backfire
  • Tell a good story
  • Identify messages of hope

What can we learn from the EU referendum campaign?

The first lesson confirms that effective communication creates narratives around people’s values and identity. In particular, as Climate Outreach has always argued, political change requires mobilising support across boundaries of class and politics. Top down information-driven media cannot compete with personal contact and peer-to-peer communication.

A second lesson re-iterates the importance of peer-to-peer communications for complex technical issues. Although it had the usual panoply of media outreach tools, the ultimate success of the Leave campaign was down to its ability to organise a mass movement that reached deep into neighbourhoods and communities and could initiate conversations.

A third lesson is that public silence around an issue can be broken by effective communication focused around a ‘moment’. The Leave campaign generated a political moment of debate and attention around an issue that had previously been of little public interest. Like climate campaigners, advocates for leaving the EU have always struggled to overcome public apathy and indifference. In a poll taken just two months before the referendum, scarcely 15% of people rated “Europe” as a major issue facing the country. The referendum broke this silence and made EU membership a salient issue, around which people were required to have a position.

Blog: What Brexit teaches us about climate change communications