Everyone is well conditioned to jump into action when a crisis erupts. But what about when an issue is simply brewing on the horizon? Two thirds of all crises never need to reach crisis stage and could be prevented if a communications plan had been initiated when the problem was still an issue. Issues management is one of the most important aspects of corporate communications, but unfortunately, one of the most overlooked.
What is issues management? Issues management involves identifying and addressing threats to an organization’s ability to conduct business. These threats could include public policy, financial resources, competitor activities, legal threats, industry trends, investor relations, industry activists, etc. Any of these threats can damage a company’s reputation and its ability to attract customers and maintain profitability.
For the PR practitioner, issues management requires the skills and judgement of a seasoned professional. It’s risky business. Issues are unpredictable and demand flexibility in strategy and response. Things rarely go as planned. Clients are often uncooperative. It’s human nature to avoid confrontation and it can be difficult to get decision-makers to take corrective action and get in front of an issue before it transforms into a crisis.
But woe to those who don’t heed the warnings — an issue can quickly ignite a crisis if ignored or downplayed.
Here are some tips for initiating an effective issues management program:
1. Identify threats to your business and corporate reputation — develop procedures for identifying issues on an ongoing and consistent basis.
2. Analyze and prioritize threats
3. Develop strategies and action steps to mitigate threats
4. Monitor and adapt strategies as needed
5. Involve issues management professional in every step of the process to ensure strategies enhance your corporate reputation.
Well-intentioned leaders often exacerbate an issue by taking actions before fully evaluating the potential public relations consequences. That’s why it is critical to have a seasoned PR professional involved in issues management and strategic planning at all times. Issues management is a process that demands cooperation and collaboration across teams and departments.