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Issues Management



            By the mid-1970’s, corporations had engaged public relations specialists to identify emerging public policy issues and to develop corporate responses. The process became known as “issues management”. Rather than waiting until issues reach the legislative or regulatory stages of the public policy formation process, this process emphasizes an active role in formulating public policies.


            Because issues management operates in areas of public policy, it is part of public affairs, which in turn is part of the larger public relations function.


           “ A crisis is unpredictable but not unexpected.” – Timothy Coombs




In this module, you will learn about:

1.      What is an Issue?

2.      What is Issues Management?

3.      What are the benefits of issues Management?

4.      How can technology support Issues Management?

5.      Arvato systems and Issues Management

6.      Crisis vs. Issues – what are the difference?

7.      Crisis Management – 10 things that can save you


What is an Issue?


An issue relates to a gap between what your company is currently doing and what stakeholders in your business except of you. Stakeholders are individuals or groups internal or external to a corporation that are affected by the corporation’s performance. The stakeholders can be employees, investors, customers, media, community groups, activists, etc.


An effective response plan is the key to whether an organization’s reputation can successfully navigate a crisis or an escalating issue. Public relations are management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.


One of the key changes in contemporary public relations is the emphasis on relationship management – building relationships, maintaining and valuing them. With these relationships internal and external communication is two-way, inclusive, builds trust and works slowly to incorporate attitude and behavioral change.


What is Issues Management?


As originally introduced by public relations consultant, W. Howard Chase, issues management includes identifying issues, analyzing issues, setting priorities, selecting program strategies, implementing programs of action and communication, and evaluating effectiveness.


Issues management (IM) is the process that allows organizations to know, understand, and interact effectively with their environments. The approach to issues management practices in organizations is posited to mediate the relation between perceived environment complexity and the type of public relations practiced in organizations. Outer directed IM is a proactive, open-systems approach based on symmetrical presuppositions that uses IM instrumentally to make strategic decisions.


Issues Management is the proactive process of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and responding to public policy issues that affect organizations and their publics.


Conceptually, if not always administratively, issues management is part of the public relations function. When viewed merely as persuasive communication to influence public policy, however, it becomes part of tactical decision-making, not part of an organization’s strategic planning. When concerned with adjusting the organization and building relationships with stakeholders to achieve mutual goals, it makes public relations part of management. As a result the Issues Management Process Model was formulated in 1977:

a.      Issue identification – doing a gap analysis between social, political, economic and technology trends and corporate goals.

b.      Issue analysis – determining the extent of these differences, how the corporation and others deal with the issue, and the possible consequences.

c.       Issue change strategy options – map out alternative solutions for dealing with the issue.

d.      Issue action program – deciding on goals, strategies, and tactics for dealing with the issue.

e.      Evaluation of results – to make sure strategy is working.


Organizations planning for crisis are concerned with:

         Organizational performance

         Organizational member’s performance

         Communication to all publics (audiences, groups, stakeholders) who may either:

a.      be affected by the crisis

b.      affect the organization by the groups’ response to the crisis in the short-term or long term.


Organizations use two distinctly different planning processes:

         preparing for a crisis

         managing a crisis

                                                                                                                                                       Relationship Management Considerations:

1.      There is often not enough information for public to change or form an opinion.

2.      Conversely there may also be over communication from the organization.

3.      Loss of trust can ensue.

4.      Face-to-face relationships need to be encouraged to restore and build trust.

5.      Value and service is not the main issue – the way the organization. Individual or public relations practitioner relates to the public and how the public perceives them is of more importance.

6.      Need to personify organization to stakeholders to make them identify, form coalitions around the organization’s perspective on the issue.


Issues Management Involves:






What are the benefits of issues Management?


  • Avoid or mitigate conflicts both internally and externally thus avoiding crises.
  • Deal with issues and crises more effectively.
  • Monitors strategies to determine their benefits and sharpen their approach.
  • Identify trends and discover opportunities that can lead to creation of products and services meeting hidden demand.
  • Sharpen internal strategy by comparison with external trends. 


How can technology support Issues Management?

            In the digital age, monitoring and identifying trends, as well as managing processes are the perfect areas for the application of online technology. In the past, reading news, conference reports, legislation results, etc. was a time-consuming manuals process. The comprehensive analysis of these sources of information was an even greater task, and making sure this analysis resulted in positive action that was verifiable, again a painful process. All of these sources are now available digitally or can be converted through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to a digital form.

            These digital documents can be categorized and taxonomies created through such techniques as Topic Maps, Case Based Reasoning, PLSA (Probabilistic Latent Semantic Analysis), etc. This process can also be performed by data supplied by the corporation in the form of Meta-data or unstructured documents. These techniques are key to current online Knowledge Management Systems. Through these automated technologies, internal and external trends can be identified and compared, allowing new issues to surface. These issues can then be automatically monitored and routed to the correct decision maker. Business process management tools can then automate the process of the following through on all the further steps of the Issue Management Process Model.


Arvato systems and Issues Management


            Arvato systems teaming up with the Corporate Communications Department of Bertelsmann can now offer a web-based packaged solution that utilizes the cutting edge technology described above to aid large corporations or Public relations firms solve the problems of Issues Management, IM net. Digital news feeds, online website content and corporate or external clipping services can all be integrated into this solution to provide the digital data to identify and monitor issues. Issues can be assigned to Issue Champions. Follow-ups can be monitored through electronic routing, and resolutions can be monitored through electronic alert using very possible channel of communications: email, SMS, etc. in addition resolutions can be implemented such as PR email campaigns, informational websites, etc. 


Crisis vs. Issues – what are the difference?


            The management of issues and crises is a core communication function for any organization, regardless of size and industry.

While the phrases are often used interchangeably, it is important to be aware of the differences between an issue and a crisis when it comes to developing your PR plans, to ensure that you are prepared for all eventualities.


An issue: is an external or internal factor, usually lasting over a mid-to-long timeframe, and usually involving an organization within an industry, topic or situation. It can represent a serious obstacle to achieving the organization’s objective and cause damage to not only its reputation, but also its fundamental business, if not managed well. 


A crisis: is an actual event or occurrence, usually of short timeframe, which puts a single organization, and its methods of operation, under intense public and media scrutiny and which can, if not handled properly, materially impact on the business.


In simplistic terms, it is often the case that an issue is an implied or potential event, which can be proactively managed, while a crisis is an actual event or occurrence, which requires a reactive response.


How an organization responds to an issue or crisis can often have more impact on public awareness than the event itself. That’s why it is important to develop a plan for dealing with both issues and crises.


The aim is to have strategies and tactics in place that will allow your organization to always be perceived not only to be in control of the situation but also sensitive to the concerns of key stakeholders and others with a legitimate interest in the matter.


An overview:


Issue                                                                  Crisis

   An issue is (usually)…

A crisis is (usually)…

    Long-standing, slowly developing, or predictable,
     that impacts on an industry or product category

An emergency or event that is unforeseen or seen as only a remote possibility, that impacts on a single organization

    Something that can be identified, monitored and

        managed as it emerges

Short-lived (although a crisis such as product tampering or extortion can last for several weeks)

    Brought into the public arena (or at least fuelled)

    by protagonists or activists and reported on by


Attracts significant – and sometimes hostile – media attention. In extreme cases, the crisis can be ‘championed’ by media


    Examples of issues are:

Examples of crises are:

I   Impact of new technologies e.g. genetically

    modified foods, stem cell research

Accidents that kill, maim or injure people e.g. industrial accidents, fire, explosions, plane/train crashes, food poisoning         

    Alleged side-effects of products e.g. food products

    that causes obesity or IT products that emit


Environmental concerns e.g. discharge of waste, not meeting environmental standards, OH&S practices leading to injury or death

I   Industry-wide corporate practices e.g. director or

     management corporate remuneration

Organizational-specific corporate malpractice e.g. fraud, embezzlement, anti consumer practices

   How to prepare for or manage an issue…

How to prepare for or manage a crisis…

I   Identify probable issues and analyze the real risks

    and vulnerabilities and potential outcomes

Assess probabilities/ likelihood of crises specific to your organization. What unique areas of your operation can lead to crises?

    Undertake ongoing monitoring to keep abreast of

    all developments, breakthroughs, research etc. in

     the area

Set up a plan and procedures specific to each likely crisis

    Develop a clear position and key messages on the

     issue and ensure this is part of the business    

     communication plan

Establish an emergency response team covering management, legal & communication

   The role of the communications pro…

The role of the communications pro…

    To put in place a comprehensive and ongoing

     monitoring program

To identify possible/potential crises and put plans and systems in place to handle them

    To persuade the organization to acknowledge,

     front and proactively manage the issue over its life

To persuade the organization the key to successfully coping with a crisis is how the communication is handled – especially with the media


In business there are three main types of crisis:

  • Financial crisis – short term liquidity or cash flow problems; and long term bankruptcy problems
  • Public Relations crisis – negative publicity that could adversely affect the success of the company
  • Strategic crisis – changes in the business environment that call the viability of the company into question – for example the introduction of the automobile was a strategic crisis for buggy-whip manufacturers

If the prevention has not been successful, then the following six steps should be undertaken immediately:

1.      Do an objective assessment of the cause(s) of the crisis.

2.      Determine whether the cause(s) will have a long-term effect or whether it will be short-term phenomena.

3.      Project the most likely course of events.

4.      Focus all the most capable people (including yourself) on activities that will mitigate or eliminate the problem.

5.      Look for opportunities – there could be a “silver lining”.

6.      Immediately act to guard cash flow.


If it is a public relations crisis, act immediately to prevent or counter the spread of the negative information. Containment may require intense media activities. Use every media available to you to provide a counter argument or question the credibility of the original negative publicity. 


Common Mistakes in handling a crisis:




         Taking short cuts

         Underestimating the extent of the crisis

         Not acting quickly about the important and urgent matters which need attention

         Allowing small crises (which were manageable) to escalate to a stage where the crisis is not only difficult to manage but long term implications may effect the organization adversely



Who is involved in a crisis?

         The organization

         Target publics

         Wider public

         Media – local, national, international

         Other organizations – they may not be part of the initial crisis but be affected by ‘indirect crisis’ management

Crisis Management – 10 things that can save you:


  1. Don’t think a crisis can’t happen to your business. A crisis can range from a customer relations or product problem through to a prolonged strike or disruptions to business caused by a bushfire. Other crises that need to be considered include Employee Safety and Health, Environmental; and Labor Issues.


Below is a list of possible crises, which can be ranked, based on their likely impact on your business:









Natural disasters






























Customer relations






Product failure






Product recall






Product tampering






Consumer boycott






Service complaints






Product rumors






Management issues






Plant closure












Class action







  1. Crisis management is about having plans in place to manage the information that is given to key audiences and stakeholders, the public and media. Plans cover topics such as appointed spokespeople, key messages, contingency plans etc.  


  1.  The key outcome from a crisis management plan is to ensure that your business emerges from a crisis with its reputation intact and support from its key stakeholders.
  2. Being prepared for a crisis needs the support and endorsement of top management. They have to buy into the concept of preparing for it and devote resources to maintaining preparedness at a reasonable level.


  1. A key audience to address during a crisis is the media. They assume the position of the ‘public’s watchdog’ and the way they perceive and report on the crisis can make or break your reputation.


  1. The key principle in communication during a crisis is to ‘tell the truth and tell it quickly and convincingly’. To achieve this, business needs to have policies and principle in place in advance.


  1. It’s equally important in a crisis to admit any accountability and to be prepared to verbalize regret, empathy, sympathy or even embarrassment.


  1. Any business that develops a crisis management plan needs to establish a team of executives – operational, legal and communication – which know their respective roles and how they relate to each other.


  1. It is important that business have a designated spokesperson to ‘front’ for the company when a crisis breaks. This person should chosen for their ability to communicate and represent the company.


  1. Preparation is essential. Key management need to participate in a formal training session and then periodic’ refreshers’ need to be conducted.  



  Submitted by: Erika D. Gonzales

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