How To Plan For Issue Management And Successfully Engage The Marketplace

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Earlier in this series we talked about the life cycle of and issue, which moves through four distinct stages.  Additionally, in our previous post, we defined an issue as a trend with the capacity to alter how your company operates as the trend  evolves. Here’s a prime example:

Of late the “pink slime” issue has been plaguing the beef producers of America, not to mention retailers and eateries that sell or serve ground beef. Primarily, Beef Products, Inc., the maker of “pink slime,” happens to be the whipping boy for this media migraine, which has garnered national media attention. Before pink slime became beef filler edible for human consumption, it was used in dog food. After the maker of this by-product sanitized it with ammonia gas, it began using the substance in the ground beef you and I eat.

When the controversy hit mainstream media, “Two former scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who reviewed the product advised against using it in ground beef and told ABC News that it was not the same as ground beef,” according to Scott Van Camp, writing for PR News.

Now that grocery stores and eateries are beginning to push back, change their buying habit in light of public dissent and the potential of losing business, Beef Products, Inc. is being forced to change its game. This is a prime example of how an organization failed to manage an issue before it changed the course of its operations and tarnish its brand along the way.  But you don’t have to manage issues like this company. Do it differently.

Although managing issues can be hard work, you can’t afford not to, especially with the proliferation of social media. Today, issue cycles move fast, very fast sometimes, and with social media messages move lightening fast. Don’t let this happen to you. Here’s a four-step process to help you manage issues effectively for your business:

  1. Planning. In this stage of issue management, it is important to watch media and government regulators to identify trends that may affect you business or industry. In this stage you will also analyze these to determine which phase they are in, and which engagement strategy is appropriate to address the trend. You will also want to determine a goal and objectives to support the strategy and document the current status of the issue.
  2. Creation. After you have determined the strategy, set goals and objectives, its time to begin developing the messaging behind your strategy. In other words, during the creation stage, its important to understand what you will speak into the issue and to whom you will be engaging.
  3. Execution.  This is the issue action program portion of this four-step process. This where you engage the issue in the marketplace of public opinion. Depending on the strategic approach your company outlined, you may use newspaper editorials like EXXON did in the 70’s to manage the oil embargo crisis. Or, you may use social media to engage a grassroots approach to manage issues through a groundswell. Your strategy should drive the execution.
  4. Evalution. While this is technically the final stage of issue management, it may not be the end of the process. As an issue develops conditions change. This stage is designed to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. The key measurement is to evaluate the conditions now with the conditions at the beginning of the engagement. If change is favorable, but not optimal, you may want to revisit the planning stage and tweak your strategy.

The goal of issue management is the attempt to shape the outcome of the issue before it becomes a crisis, such as the pink slime case. You want to control the issue, if it can be, for the sake of honoring your stakeholders, your company and the community it affects.

Previous posts in our series:

How To Manage Issues Before They Become A Crisis

What Is The Life Cycle Of An Issue?

What’s The Difference Between An Issue, A Crisis & An Emergency?

About The Author: This is the fourth in a series of articles on issues management from our digital colleague, Rodger D. Johnson, who is a social media public relations counselor. He helps global companies, small businesses, and non-profits use public relations and social media strategies to strengthen brand equity. You can learn more about him at Get Social PR

About the Author

Harry Hoover
Harry Hoover is a partner in My Creative Team, the agency that makes Fortune 1000 clients look good. His communications career spans 35 years and runs the gamut from print and broadcast journalism, government and corporate communications to advertising and public relations agencies. He is the author of Born Creative: Free Your Mind, Free Yourself and Moving to Charlotte: The Un-Tourist Guide.

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