I have something like a Brexit fatigue

Published on: April 30, 2019

“I have something like a Brexit fatigue”
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission
– February 21, 2019

I know the feeling. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016 represented the start of the longest continuous news event in British peace-time history. Of the 1034 days that have passed since the UK voted to leave the EU, there haven’t been more than a handful that were not dominated by Brexit. This shouldn’t really be a surprise. It touches everything – business, law, politics, security, agriculture, art, sport… the complexities, consequences and contradictions are endless.

This represents a unique challenge for media monitoring operations. How do we stay ahead of the curve, keeping our clients informed of the developments that matter to them, in real time – while keeping their desks clear of the unnecessary noise? At Crier we specialise in applying human analysis and scrutiny to the issues that affect our clients and partners. For too long, they’ve had to rely on automated tools that treat every piece of information the same, whether it’s a breaking news alert that could impact their bottom line, or their own press release. Systems that can’t distinguish between a live network news interview in which their regulator publicly slams their business, or their brand appearing as the answer in a game show. We represent the only way of cutting through this – applying human analysis, from experts in the field, to sorting the signal from the noise; curating a quality information flow for our clients.

Nowhere are these challenges more readily apparent than Brexit.

The only other instance where media coverage even comes close to the intensity and duration of Brexit are political campaigns, but they’re short, well-defined periods of time – a 100m sprint  with the finish line always in sight. Brexit is a marathon. The world has yet to see a 1000 day election campaign, something for which I think we can all be thankful.

I must admit to a wry smile when a few weeks back I saw a Reuters headline [Rage within the machine: Brexit headline blizzard overloads FX algos –  April 4, 2019]. Currency trading algorithms are struggling to cope with the volume of Brexit news, making it more expensive and risky to bet for or against sterling. Bear in mind these are supposedly the most advanced natural language processing systems in existence – trusted with making actual buy and sell decisions on a $5.1 trillion-a-day global market. With the best will in the world, and with the greatest respect, if they can’t see the wood for the trees, do you really think the algorithm that generates your morning clips package can?

It’s not just the raw quantity of news articles written about Brexit that can overwhelm automated systems (although it can and does), but the pace and tempo. That same Reuters article notes that the site is publishing up to 400 news headlines per day on Brexit alone, up from around 15 on British politics before the referendum. Indeed, Bloomberg ran over 1000 headlines on March 12th, when Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was defeated for the second time. Would your comms team find it useful to receive 1400 email alerts in one day, all subtly different takes on the same subject? My guess would be no.

This isn’t just about the numbers. Brexit is politics, and the granular, complex and occasionally downright weird nuance of the Brexit debate means developments defy easy categorisation or interpretation. Reuters’ Saikat Chatterjee continues:

“Obscure British parliamentary procedures are now at the center of policymaking and people who typically would not feature in a computer trading models are suddenly taking center stage. John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, for example, sent sterling skidding last month when he stopped May from bringing forward a vote on her deal … On November 6, Britain’s then Brexit Minister Dominic Raab, pushed the pound up simply by giving a “thumbs up” after a cabinet meeting — a visual cue that would outfox machines programmed to analyze words. Raab’s market-moving gesture came after the pound had fallen on a tweet warning of a no-deal Brexit from Jeffrey Donaldson, one of 10 Democratic Unionist Party lawmakers whose support May needs.”

Public affairs and PR firms wouldn’t dream of outsourcing to algorithms the advice they give. Their nuanced understanding of public policy and communications challenges their clients face is their USP; the very reason they’re hired in the first place. But by relying on automated tools for their information flow, I’d argue that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Furthermore, automated tools will allow you to convert your time and your effort into a product. Our service allows you to convert our time and our effort into your product, while you focus on the job your clients hired you to do.

In this way, Crier is a service unlike any other. We don’t do PR, and we don’t do public affairs. We do media monitoring, delivering to all of our clients the news — not the noise.

~ Pelham