Marketers Must Pray For A Remain Vote To Prevent A Service Exodus

We have a week to go until UK voters make the biggest decision for a generation -- remain in the EU or Brexit. Anyone here will tell you a couple of common observations. Nobody expected the polls to start showing in favour of Brexit, and the "undecided" are claiming there is a lack of facts. Anyone with half a brain would have easily forecast, however, that as the vote drew nearer, the gap in the polls would be reduced and that there can be no clear facts because nobody knows what comes next if the UK leaves the EU.

So it's not entirely surprising to hear that nearly two in three marketers are telling the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) they are unprepared for the result of the vote. Obviously, that means, by default, what happens if the UK leaves because if there is a Remain vote, then things should go on as usual economically. The political fallout will be massive either way as colleagues find it hard to sit back around the same table -- but as far as business goes, it would be back to where we were.

The decision for marketers is actually pretty simple. For the general population there are arguments for and against, but it pretty much comes down to whether mass immigration from within the EU is a price worth paying for unfettered access to a market that accounts for 60% of UK exports and brings with it regulations set from Brussels. It's a no-brainer "yes" from me -- but it's understandable that many Britons come up with the opposite argument. However, anybody voting for Brexit would have to admit the first thing the UK would try to do is get a free trade deal with Europe.

It is highly unlikely that such a deal would be offered on better terms than the one Britain currently has. It would be nonsensical to think Brussels will give countries better deals if they leave the EU, wouldn't it? Otherwise, everybody would be off. Take Norway -- it still has to pay a massive price for a free trade deal with the European Economic Area and still has to accept EU migration.

Anyway, the huge question for anyone in marketing and advertising is the most simple of all. The UK has a historically high trade deficit with the EU and the only glimmer of sunlight is a growing surplus in services -- up nearly half a billion pounds in the first quarter of 2016 to just north of GBP21bn, very near the GBP23bn overall deficit in the same quarter.

So riddle me this. What do you think European rival businesses will be thinking if the Brits vote to take themselves potentially out of the game? There would be years of renegotiation around a free trade deal. What do you think European marketing and advertising businesses will be doing? How excited do you think the hubs of Amsterdam and Berlin will be to hear that the giant across The Channel has decided to thumb its nose as its largest market on its doorstep?

It's not difficult to imagine that at least in the uncertain years of renegotiation it will be a lot more tempting for brands to shift focus from the UK and set up hubs in mainland Europe. 

All of this remains uncertain, of course, which is exactly why two in three marketers feel completely unprepared for the referendum result. Nobody knows what will happen, but a Brexit decision can only be good news for mainland European agencies that will have a trump card to play. With no threat of leaving the EU, they will be a far safer bet for one office serving the entire region, compared to a London agency which will probably offer the same reach, once the politicians have thrashed out a deal.

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