What is Issue Management and How Should You Incorporate It Into Your 2024
Public Relations Strategy?

02/05/2024



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When you are doing your public relations planning for the year, are you thinking about just highlighting the news your organization wants to be known for? If so, you are missing a major component: issue management. This risk management effort is a practice every public relations department should consider when completing their strategic planning process. In this blog, we will help break down what issues management is, why it is important to public relations, how you identify issues, how you can set your organization up for success, and what to do when unexpected issues pop up.

What is Issue Management in Public Relations?

Let’s start by defining this corporate-feeling phrase. Issue management is the process in which public relations professionals develop communications plans to address future issues that organizations might face based on a variety of internal and external factors. Essentially, PR practitioners monitor popular trends that could develop into potential problems that might relate to an organization’s reputation.

Another way issues management can be implemented is within public relations strategies for an organization’s announcement or product launch. A major goal for any PR practitioner is to ensure your organization’s point or message is communicated to its desired target audience. This means that every public relations plan should include some element of issue management planning so you are prepared to address any possible road bumps that might affect your communication strategy.

Why Should You Care About Issue Management?

Imagine this: You’ve worked for weeks or months to build the perfect public relations plan and the day comes to launch your communications. Out of left field comes an emerging trend that looks like a potential issue for your organization. Now you must scramble to develop a plan to manage these potential issues. This has now become a crisis communications issue that requires a quick response, leading to unnecessary stress.

Now imagine being at the beginning of your entire planning process and your in-house public relations team has time to plan an issue management process that includes foundational research with an issue identification strategy. Because you’ve been listening for possible emerging trends, you can incorporate responses and talking points in your communications strategy allowing you to be less reactive to challenges and manage issues more seamlessly.

The lesson? Save yourself the stress and consider how you would approach this at the start of all of your projects.

Save yourself the stress and build an issue management process today!

What to Look for When Building an Issues Management Process

The key to getting ahead of any emerging issues is to incorporate important resources that can help you monitor and analyze trends and communication happening between stakeholders, special interest groups and other groups. Setting up Google Alerts is a great free option to help monitor news postings on target keywords. Paid services like Cision are helpful in also monitoring media coverage around specific target searches and will even provide insights like sentiment monitoring and social amplification.

Apart from media-focused tools, consider implementing social listening tools like Hootsuite or SproutSocial. These tools are critical to monitoring emerging issues as they can directly track trends and conversations on social media platforms. To have a foundational understanding of the issues you are trying to manage, you need to know what the general public is communicating on the platforms where they share their ideas. Social listening can monitor sentiment around a particular brand or topic. For example, if a new public policy is introduced and as the public affairs manager, you want to know what people are saying about it, a social listening tool could greatly benefit you as a research tool.

It should be noted that your issues management process should not hinge on one or two communication tools. It should be rooted in sound research that you’ve developed jointly with the product or announcement you are launching. With that data-backed information on your side, you can then develop an issue management plan to help you navigate any tricky waters.

Analytical tools are incredibly helpful to your issue management process.

Building and Acting on Your Issue Management Process

The way you will build an issue management plan mirrors very closely how you will build a normal communication plan. You will want to identify target audiences and key stakeholders and define the topics you are seeking to provide clarity on or resolve. And designate a course of action and the person who will be managing these communications. When you have the basics set up, it is time to create the strategy and talking points that help communicate your organization’s key messages.

The key to minimizing the negative effects of any crisis or issue situation is to address this head-on with timely responses. Allowing issues to progress too long without a response from your organization puts it further at risk for irreparable harm. Issues will likely not be resolved overnight or through the course of a couple of carefully crafted statements. A continuum of communication can help build and strengthen public opinion of the organization.

Risk Management: What to Do When Unexpected Issues Arise

Now, it is impossible to be prepared for every future possible issue, and that’s ok. These crisis situations should be approached with a thoroughly thought-out strategic plan. This can be accomplished by following these steps:

1. Identify your key stakeholders and target audience that you want to communicate with.

These groups can be the media, your target demographic for your product, and the group of people who are commenting on the current issue at hand. Knowing the right audience will help exponentially in your strategic decision making.

2. Identify your message priorities and customize your communications to your target audiences.

By ensuring that all talking points, social copy and public relations copy are synced up, you will be doing everything in your power to ensure your messaging has a united front approach

3. Identify a primary spokesperson to communicate your messaging to the media.

This person should be a resource to the media and be prepared to take on the challenges presented. Most organizations’ leaders are unprepared to field media questions, so make sure the person you pick has media training.

Most organization's leaders are unprepared to field medial questions Β β€” we can help you get ready.

J.O. has more to say on media training here and here.

4. Track the response to your mass communication.

To understand how effective your issues management efforts were, you will need to use all of your tracking tools. This includes your social listening, sentiment, and website analytics to get the full picture. Make sure you have hard data and not just anecdotal facts.

Risk Management Wrap Up

Crisis communication involves a level of quickness when managing issues. A good way to make sure your in-house public relations department is ready for these types of situations is to develop possible crisis communications protocols, have mock crisis situation training, and have a developed chain of command plan in place. Having a framework in place helps you get off to a good start in any crisis situation.

Having a plan in place β€” from government relations to management function β€” will help you be ready.

Resolve Issues Like a Champ

The issue management process shouldn’t be as scary as it sounds. While it may require some additional steps up front, by incorporating it as part of your process you can set yourself up for future success. Think you need a little more assistance? Reach out to J.O. Agency and we can help you establish an issues management process or manage it for you! Drop us a line at 817-335-0100 or email us at hello@joagency.com.

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