Can Advertising and PR halt the rise of xenophobia?

First of all, let me tell you a story.

I started doing stand-up comedy when I was 18.

One of the common misconceptions people have about comedians is that they must be super confident.

For me it was the opposite.

I was incredibly shy and awkward.

Humour, though something I was skilled at, was a crutch for me.

It gave me a context.

It gave me an identity.

It carved out my own little space in which I felt able to express myself.
When I was around 19, an attractive girl was chatting to me after a stand-up gig.

I’d met her briefly at a previous gig and it seemed like maybe, incredibly, there was a bit of a spark.

I was speaking to her when another guy came up to chat to me, in theory about the possibility of me doing a gig for a charity he was involved with. 
From there, he basically inveigled himself into the conversation and made it something of a competition for the attentions of this girl.
The approach he took massively irritated me but also grudgingly impressed me and has stuck with me.
If I said something funny, he said, “Alright, you’re not onstage now.”
So after a couple of light-hearted comments receiving this response, I couldn’t try to say anything else funny without looking like a d*ck.
It’s quite awkward to have a relaxed, getting-to-know (but impress) someone chat once the option of saying anything remotely amusing has been taken off the table.
Particularly when you’re looking down at the hand life has dealt you and every card you’re holding at that point is a Joker.

The young lady in question simply eventually bowed out of the awkward situation and I never saw her again.

That may well have been the outcome either way, we’ll never know.
What you’re wondering is, why am I telling you this?

The other guy who liked that girl understood the strategy highlighted in that Tweet.

Use your opponent’s strength against them.

The effect was this:

Now the thing is, since the Brexit vote, there have been significant changes in the mood of the UK.
Things have happened that I just don’t associate with the UK I grew up in.
For the first time, I worry about the possibility of my Slovakian wife potentially facing open xenophobia.

That’s not down to everyone who voted for Brexit.
Brexit was a binary question…
… covering a massively complex situation made up millions of different perspectives.
In that sense, there’s no such thing as a typical ‘Leaver’.
There are just people.

People covering a wide spectrum.
The ones causing the problems that concern me right now are racists and xenophobes.
They’re at one end of that spectrum.
They can’t be reached initially.
They can’t be changed initially.
They can’t be targeted initially.
The ones to reach are those in between them and me.

The ones with whom I may not agree on everything, but who still feel discomfort at moments like that Polish lady being booed.

Because if you voted to Leave but you think about the treatment of that Polish lady and it makes you cringe, then you have a part to play.

You can speak out.

You can be visible.

You can change the context of the national mood to one in which the people who booed her don’t feel like it’s acceptable.

If you’re reading this and you feel no discomfort at it though, then put simply- you’re not who I’m trying to reach.

However, the nature of the original campaign battle creates a challenge for framing future ones.

I’m talk about the writing off of “experts”.
That seems to rule out a fact-based argument.

Ordinarily, that would leave emotion.
The problem with that is that I watched the debates in the run-up to Brexit.
Anna Soubry in particular argued with real passion and emotion.

It connected with me.
She clearly cared and was affected by what she was seeing and what she was feeling.
And I watched the people she needed to convert heckle or ignore her as a result.
You can be too close to things.

You can show too much emotion.

When you do that, only the converted listen.

Those you’re seeking to convert switch off.
I have the same problem with this situation.
I care.
I get emotional.
I take it personally.
This week, I even allowed myself to bite and commented on a Katie Hopkins tweet.
Even though on both a professional and a personal level I understand that her power lies in generating a reaction.

So I was doing nothing more than feeding an already well-fed emotional vampire.
What’s needed to make a difference to the current atmosphere in the UK are cool heads.

The task is to make a difference to the atmosphere of the UK.
To create a situation in which a Polish person can give their personal experience without being booed down.
Because the people who would boo them no longer feel that the prevailing atmosphere of the country renders that normal, acceptable or welcome.

Formulating a way to reach people?

Having it change perceptions?
Generate results?
That’s a joint-brief for Advertising and PR.
It’s a campaign.
The UK is filled with professionals who have the kind of skills and experience needed to bring this change about.

To find a way round the argument roadblocks that have been put in place.

I’m happy to help.
But I don’t really know where to start.
When it comes to this situation I don’t really know how to turn down my own emotions, take a step back and consider how to achieve a result.

But I’m sure others do.
So I’m just putting this out there.

Teddy Craig is a Social Media Community Manager and member of PR’s PRCA and Advertising’s IPA. He’s a former stand-up comedian, still writes comedy for BBC Radio shows and is generally bewildered by 2016.