issues management in PR

What is issues management in PR?

How can you spot emerging trends that could significantly affect your business operations and plan? We explain how issues management PR can help with damage control and keep your reputation on track.

In PR, it’s crucial that you can spot emerging trends and prepare for any eventuality they could bring. If you don’t, your business is at risk of spiralling into a crisis and incurring serious reputational damage.

Issues management is all about being ahead of the game. This means evaluating trends early and monitoring the direction they’re taking. Then you’re in a stronger position to define your own narrative around the theme as it emerges.

In this blog, we explore issues management and how to use PR to manage a crisis.

What is issues management in PR? 

The Institute for PR defines issues management as “an anticipatory, strategic management process that helps organizations detect and respond appropriately to emerging trends or changes. These trends or changes could crystallize into an issue, which could raise the attention and concern of important publics and stakeholders.”

AS PRs don’t have a crystal ball, they must actively monitor and assess trends and developments within their client’s industries. From here, they should evaluate whether an issues management plan of action needs to be developed.

How is issues management different from crisis management? 

We covered the issue of crisis management in-depth here: What is PR crisis management and when do you need it?

From social media blunders and poor press interviews to product recalls and bad reviews, we all recognise a crisis when it’s happening. Issues are different as you have more time to take a measured, proactive approach as part of wider risk management work. It should be part of your strategic decision making planning.

In a nutshell, a crisis is:

  • Your team may need to make decisions without having all the facts available.
  • This often involves working out of normal hours to resolve the problem.
  • Managed in the moment. There may not be a full range of options available to you.
  • You may be under pressure to get the situation resolved.
  • Being forced to deal with an immediate crisis can be expensive.
  • The business founder or CEO will often need final sign-off, and stakeholders may need to be consulted.

In comparison, an issue is:

  • You have time to monitor situations and trends to get ahead of future issues.
  • This means you can weigh up the different possibilities and take the best route for your client.
  • Business as usual. The work can be done during normal working hours.
  • Cost-effective. By preparing ahead of time you can choose a course of action that is cost-effective.
  • Senior staff have time to assess the plan and sign off their responses.
  • Can be built into the strategic planning process.

How issues can affect your business 

Let’s look at a few examples of issues management in public relations to better understand their role:

  • Economic issues. Have a good understanding of the economic outlook in all the countries where your client operates. Could financial strains lead to supply chain issues, for example?
  • Changes in regulation. What changes could be imminent in your client’s industry? A new tax on sugar or changes to advertising laws could severely affect big food businesses.
  • Social trends. How are people’s attitudes and behaviours changing? The increased awareness of climate change is a good example here.
  • Lifestyle patterns. How is new technology developing and being adopted in our daily routines?
  • Material shortages. This has become a wider issue for many businesses as supply chains are breaking around the world, making access to resources much more challenging.

What is the issues management process in public relations? 

 By identifying and addressing issues early on, you can ensure your issues management process works towards a positive outcome.

  1. MONITOR

It’s impossible to plan without a full understanding of what could be on the horizon. Start by actively monitoring trends and developments in your client’s industry. The news media is always looking for emerging stories about businesses.

Look at:

  • Emerging petitions and campaigns. Who is lobbying parliament and what is gaining traction?
  • Bills going through parliament. Keep abreast of those that are successful and unsuccessful. Often the same issues will reappear in future.
  • Traditional media. What themes are getting the most press coverage and how could these affect your client or business?
  • Social media. How are people responding to these emerging themes and is it changing the way they think or behave?
  1. ASSESS

Next, it’s time to assess the themes and trends you’ve identified. A simple SWOT analysis can help here. This involves considering the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each issue.

For example, are new regulations on business carbon emissions on the horizon? This could be an opportunity to position your business as a leader if you have already made significant changes. But you will need to get your facts and figures straight to avoid any threats of a media backlash around greenwashing.

  1. PREPARE AND AGREE

Documenting your plans is crucial. Lay out the potential issues and how you plan to respond in each case. Your strategy should be well-informed, so collaborate with senior staff and get their sign-off in plenty of time.

A resolution process means that a formal process is in place so the team is able to manage issues effectively as they arise. Each team member is aware of their part in resolving issues.

  1. PERSEVERE

Unfortunately, issues change and evolve over time, so you need to treat this as an ongoing process. Keep monitoring and evaluating, and update your strategy as necessary. What are the high priority issues? What are the potential problems on the horizon? What are the emerging issues and how will they affect you? Does a potential problem now require immediate attention?

A solid issue management process

It’s essential to get an issues management process sorted before an issue becomes a crisis. Start by identifying a person responsible for managing issues from staff members and who can project manage the situation should issues arise.

Having a clear process means the issues manager can identify the risks ahead for the business. They will implement the plan and tactics so that the negative effects of a story are safely managed. A story can be reduced or even stopped as a result.

What’s next?

Does your business need help getting to grips with issues management? Our team is skilled at anticipating trends and advance planning for a range of issues and crisis situations. Contact us now for a chat about how we can help you.