How to phase-out the issues management frenzy

· Trends, Tricks of the trade · , ,

Even if you don’t have much experience in issues and crisis management, you’re probably still familiar with the basic steps involved in issues preparedness. It goes something like this: map out the possible scenarios, decide a sensible action plan for each, draft a Q&A, have a set of key messages, train your spokespeople and continuously monitor your key stakeholders and what’s happening in the media landscape in case you need to respond.

But even if you’ve followed all the rules, you have a Q&A document the size of a novel and know your key messages back to front, the reality is, when an issue arises, it still sends you into a short-term frenzy.

But why? It’s not through any fault of your own, planning helps, but each issue is different and will require a unique response.

Murphy’s law says the day an issue hits your subject matter expert is going to be on holiday, you need to find up-to-date proof points and source the answer to a really niche question that has never been posed before. And not only that, you are so busy fielding calls from media and monitoring the flood of comments on social media, that you have no time to craft a well thought through response. That’s the short term frenzy.

Then comes the ‘quick-fix’ stage – you’ve noticed a whole bunch of media coverage and tweets with factually incorrect information – you’ll need to fix this as well as proactively communicate the messages you want to get across.

It won’t be long before you regain control, in most cases this is all just a couple of hours of intense work for you and your team. But what if you could reduce this little frenzy altogether?

For those operating in issues-rich environments, the answer lies in long-term thinking.

One of our clients operates as a regulator in the forestry sector, an incredibly sensitive area ranging from the obvious environmental and ecological issues through to social and economic debates about the future of forest management and impact on our communities.

Before we began a corporate PR program for the client – involving a sustained proactive press office function – they would often get numerous passing mentions in negatively skewed stories and frequently found themselves correcting mistakes. As they’re also a complex organisation the media understandably struggled to correctly articulate the role they play.

With key messages in hand we set out on an education campaign putting the CEO in front of media, as well as third party government and not for profit influencers, to brief them on the organisation’s aim. We weren’t necessarily pitching stories, but when a stakeholder did get asked by a journalist to comment on the role of our client, or the media referenced them in articles, we had more confidence they’d get the message right. This is a long-term strategy and still an ongoing part of our program as forestry issues become more prevalent.

After just a few months the strategy started paying off – key messages were appearing left right and centre and influencers even started delivering messages for us. There were rarely factual errors and the stories became balanced.

Alongside the education campaign we also ran some proactive communications streams, focusing on the outcomes the organisation was seeking to achieve for the industry. None of this is rocket-science, but the point I’m trying to make is that many organisations treat issues as one-off occurrences rather than a long-term challenge.

While I agree scenario planning is important, what’s actually more essential is having clear key messages about the organisation and a proactive communications plan to deliver these. But most importantly – ensure you’re regularly educating key stakeholders and media on your organisation’s strategy.

At least when an issue fires up you can be sure you won’t need any quick-fixes, the media are less likely to flood your inbox because they‘re already informed and you’ll have an army of third party influencers delivering your messages for you.

Frenzy, what frenzy?

Written by Verity Lowe · · Trends, Tricks of the trade · , ,
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