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FEATURE21 January 2019

‘No-one left behind': how are research agencies preparing for Brexit?

Brexit Data analytics GDPR News Public Sector UK

UK – With little clarity over what the UK’s relationship with the EU will entail post-Brexit, market research agencies are concerned by the economic ramifications and the impact to the industry’s talent pool.

We spoke to a few agency heads to find out their views on the most concerning aspect of Brexit as it stands, and ask them what, if any, preparations they are making ahead of the departure date of 29th March.

While it’s no doubt business as usual until more details emerge, organisations are taking steps to reassure their staff and understand the potential impact on industry regulations.

Ben Page, chief executive, Ipsos Mori
We have spent a lot of time preparing for Brexit in terms of the data handling, in structuring our business (as a French-owned company operating across the EU and globally) appropriately, and most importantly, on reassuring our EU staff that we are going to look after them, and make sure everyone can stay and build their lives here. 

We have over 300 EU citizens at Ipsos Mori and we have spent some time and money guaranteeing that ‘no-one will be left behind’ after March – by promising to help with their immigration status, setting up an EU Club, getting in immigration advisers and so on – but of course, in future, London maybe less attractive to EU talent. 

The biggest concern is economic. With negative impacts on client spend in both the UK and in the EU – and that must be the biggest risk – a Brexit-induced slowdown or economic shock will be disruptive across 2019.

A ‘hard Brexit’ also poses some risks on data handling, although given both sides are sticking to the same regime, our view is that standard contracts may mean it can be business as usual provided execs have worked closely with their clients. Finally, EU Commission and institutional spend on research in the UK will stop and may not be replaced by the UK government.

We have no plans to decrease investment in London compared with the rest of Europe – if anything, we are growing our overall UK business faster than the rest of the EU in 2019. 

Adele Gritten, managing director, Future Thinking
At the moment, decision-making inertia on some key projects is a reality as clients wait to see what will happen post March 2019 and postpone decision-making on bigger ticket items. Outside of those making money from political polling, I expect Q1 to be a tough one for our industry as a whole. We have had an active strategy over recent months to look for more global rather than just UK or pan-European based clients/client work – in short, future proofing, in any eventuality, is a key priority for us. Interestingly, only a very small number of clients have asked us for our take on the implications of us doing business with them in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’.

Keep calm, pragmatic and carry on is generally how we are approaching things. We can only control what we can control, so it’s very much business as usual unless or until further notice where we may be required to change things or course-correct.

We have sought advice on GDPR and other industry associated regulation in the event of a ‘no deal/hard Brexit’ and, via our internal risk register. We are monitoring for any material changes across different aspects of our business including supplier relations, operations, infrastructure, clients, etc.

We are also ensuring any EU nationals working in our UK business feel informed and abreast of the on-going draft agreements etc. In short, we are being as proactive as we can in the context of manifold unknowns.

Jem Fawcus, group chief executive, Firefish
There is no doubt the uncertainty and lack of clarity, and the fact that things are getting less clear and more uncertain as time runs out, is really frustrating and will find no favour with businesses (bar the most risk-loving hedge funds). Apart from the added stress and emotional load this can cause, since all options seem to show damage to the economy, our attitude is pretty much to grit our teeth and get through it. It’s going to be shit – let’s hope it isn’t too shit.

We have already had long term European colleagues leave the UK due to their status uncertainty. We have had to set up companies, payrolls, healthcare schemes etc in different European countries to keep them, at pretty substantial cost, not to mention the minefield of different regulatory regimes. It feels like money walking out of the door of not just Firefish, but UK plc too.

We don’t really have much practical advice to give people (beyond various pain-in-the-arse data implications which we are addressing as part of a new ISO27001 supplier management process) and haven’t really seen any from anywhere. The only thing I can think of to tell my team is to make sure you get out and flipping vote the next time an important issue comes up.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited
The uncertainty around Brexit is naturally a cause for concern. We need to be ready to provide support to our EU employees. However, it’s still not clear what support or advice, if any, they might need, and that makes planning difficult – for them and for us.

In the same way, the uncertainty around Brexit makes it difficult for our clients to plan. A recent research study we conducted with a selection of clients showed that although clients are looking for clarity, they actually seem quite pragmatic despite the political chaos, and are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach across the board. 

Strategies are generally being tied to the customer reaction. After all, marketing is (or should be) grounded in what are customers want and feel. It is too early for clients to assess likely changes in consumer behaviour, although this clearly differs by sector and category. For example, one of our telecoms clients expects Brexit to have a minimal impact (people aren’t going to stop using broadband because the UK has no deal with the EU), whereas a retail client is stockpiling tinned and dried foods.

The opportunity in the longer term will be to deliver insight to our clients that helps them navigate the new post-Brexit environment. The challenges, risks and opportunities for our clients will differ by market sector. 

At the moment, we assume everything is business as usual. If there are new post-Brexit regulations, we will deal with them as we would with any other legislative changes. We will be here to support our staff if and when they need it. 

James Endersby, chief executive, Opinium Research
So far, the biggest concerns for the UK and our industry centre around the damage to the existing talent pool, and our future ability to attract the brightest and the best. Of course, we’ll continue to produce extraordinary homegrown research talent, but as we all know, a great number of people, including talented business professionals from across the EU,view the UK as an attractive environment to relocate, live and work.

We also have an extremely strong and vibrant research industry, which has attracted a huge amount of serious research talent from across the EU. They’ve come here to further their careers, learn, develop, enjoy the country and they contribute hugely to our industry and society as a whole.

But most EU nationals – and quite a few other nationalities – I speak to these days feel extremely angry, anxious and let down by this government who’ve used EU citizens as a bargaining chip. Even when reassured of their futures, many still don’t fancy taking the risk, most feel insulted by Brexit, and quite a few have gone, or are planning to go home or elsewhere in the world. This is a tragedy for the UK and our industry. We are all weaker without them.

The Market Research Society has developed a Brexit Hub containing the latest news, position statements and general advice for organisations in the research sector.

1 Comment

5 months ago

Really interesting piece - heartening to see that for this selection at least talent is a key concern. Certainly reiterates what we are seeing with increased applications for roles we are recruiting across mainland Europe. We need more assurance from government on status of existing EU nationals and clarity on when they need to apply to change their status.

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