Brexit, Football and Project Communications


Communicating Projects – The Series

By Ann Pilkington

The PR Academy

United Kingdom

 Here in the UK Europe is dominating the news agenda and many peoples’ social media feeds.  First, a referendum resulted in a vote to leave the European Union and then England crashed out of the Euro 2016 football tournament in spectacular style. Northern Ireland are out too, but with their heads held high and as I write, Wales is still in.

There are lessons to be learned from both exits.

There were two official campaigns in the referendum – leave or remain.   The polls showed that it was always going to be close, but many people were still surprised when the leave camp won.

The usual adage is that people don’t like change. The first time there was a referendum on the EU back in the 1970s there was a bit of a to-do because the wording on the ballot paper was felt to be leading – it asked people if they wanted to “stay” in the European Community with just a yes or no answer. At that time 67% of people voted to stay. Well people certainly decided to embrace change this time around. So, what does that tell us about communicating change?

I have never really believed that people don’t like change. There are some changes that people don’t like of course but others can be very well received.  The idea that all change is bad and people are going to react negatively to it influences a lot of project communication. We go into it expecting trouble and trying to “sell” the change instead of concentrating on engaging stakeholders.  I wrote about this in April. Engagement means giving stakeholders a voice, but also ensuring that it is an “informed voice”. It is hard for stakeholders to make a contribution when they don’t really understand what they are being asked to comment on.

One of the biggest cries that we heard during the run up to the referendum was that people didn’t have enough information. Where were the facts? Of course, providing the facts isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Neither side could really say for sure what would happen if their view prevailed.   Dealing with this level of ambiguity was difficult for many; they felt that they couldn’t make a decision about which way to vote.  Unfortunately ambiguity is a feature of many change projects in the early phases.  However, change projects have an advantage over the UK referendum in that they usually have a clear version of what things will look like post implementation. The ambiguity comes in being able to explain exactly how that will happen and when – this is hard in the early days. This is why, along with Lou Horton, I developed a new stakeholder model which maps stakeholders to different project stages and acknowledges the challenge of ambiguity.  (See below)


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Editor’s note: This series of articles on effective project communications is by Ann Pilkington, founding director of the PR Academy (UK) and author of the book Communicating Projects published by Gower in 2013.  Ann is one of the UK’s leading experts on communications; she shares her knowledge with project managers and teams around the world in this series in the PM World Journal.



About the Author

Ann Pilkington

United Kingdom



Ann Pilkington
is the author of Communicating Projects published by Gower in 2013.  She is a founding director of the PR Academy which provides qualifications, training and consultancy in all aspects of communication including change project communication and project management.

Information about Ann’s book, Communicating Projects, An End-to-End Guide to Planning, Implementing and Evaluating Effective Communication, can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/isbn/9781409453192.

Ann can be contacted at [email protected]

To see previous articles by Ann Pilkington, visit her author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/ann-pilkington/