Advice from Parker, Wayne & Kent PR
More than one in three public relations professionals (34.15 per cent) state that their organisation has no defined, written down communications – such as key messages, policy documents or backgrounders – for the most sensitive issues they manage.
Organisations are communicating with the media on their industry’s most delicate issues, but often without appropriate planning.
Many organisations ignore or undervalue the importance of issues management, either because they misunderstand the foundation of crisis management, or because they do not take time to formulate public relations strategies.
Unplanned communication on sensitive issues can lead to miscommunication with external stakeholders. Responses to journalists are inefficient.
It can also weaken rebuffs to hostile interviews and place a public relations department under a greater degree of stress should an issue turn into a crisis.
Planned, clear, and consistent communication offers fast public responses when issues arise. Efficient responses and effective contributions to media mark an organisation as an authority on the issue, enabling it to establish some level of control in any media debate.
Take these eight important steps to achieving effective issues planning and management:
1. Identify and prioritise the most sensitive or risk prone issues of the organisation.
This should be undertaken immediately. Once issues have been identified, a weighting should be assigned to each issue. This will influence the amount of resources that should be dedicated to communicating on each issue.
2. Conduct regular environmental scanning and frequent issues monitoring with regards to the organisation’s relevant issues.
The environment to be scanned can be broken down into six milieus - political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. To effectively scan each milieu it is important that relationships are developed with all stakeholders and the media.
3. Develop your organisation into an ‘open system’ by enabling lines of two-way communication.
Companies should receive input from stakeholders rather than being closed to information, opinions or ideas. Establish relationships with any interested parties and the community; this ensures that an organisation can react appropriately to outside interests.
4. Research is key.
Once issues have been prioritised, undertake research to identify the history, current status and potential development of each issue. This should then inform the policy options open to the organisation. Decision makers should be briefed on the findings of the research.
5. Develop key messages and backgrounders on each issue.
Key messages open the door to direct communication. They bridge the gap between your stakeholders’ opinions and the messages that your organisation wishes to communicate. Backgrounders act as a firm reference for future developments. They should also be circulated around the organisation to get buy-in from all concerned.
6. Develop strategies to tackle each issue before it arises.
Simple forward thinking can identify the organisation’s issues and the tactics that will be employed to address them.
7. Media training is a must.
Once in motion, a media process will require slick, smooth and sophisticated execution. Ensuring company spokespeople are media trained on each issue is invaluable.
8. Evaluate the effectiveness of communication on issues after each implementation of the strategy and use of the messages.
This will measure the effectiveness of the communication strategies with targeted stakeholders. Conclusions from the evaluation will aid future planning and management activity.
Combining issues management and effective media strategies through public relations can be a key tactic in marketing strategy to improve the bottom line.
At one time a company’s value was exclusively based on its economic performance. Now, companies are expected to perform well in non-financial arenas such as human rights, business ethics, environmental policies, corporate contributions, community development, corporate governance and workplace issues.
If organisations view the issues management process as a tactic within their promotional media relations strategy, they will enhance its reputation and subsequently increase its chances for long-term financial success.
Links: Parker, Wayne & Kent’s full research report The Issues Management Process & Effective Media Relations: A Drive For Positive Publicity is available online at - http://www.pwkpr.com/downloads/Issues_Management.pdf
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