By definition, “issues management” is the anticipatory, strategic management process that helps organizations detect and respond to emerging trends or changes in the socio-political environment. At its core, issues management is stewardship for building, maintaining and repairing relationships with both stakeholders and stake-seekers.
It’s a common misconception that you need to worry about the public image of your business only after an issue has occurred. In fact, one of the major tenets that public relations professionals recommend is to be proactive rather than reactive. Distinctly different from crisis management, issues management enables businesses to own their narrative and assess a situation fully before it becomes imperative to react. After all, most crises began as minor issues.
Being able to strategically deal with issues before they arise benefits a company in numerous ways, namely by:
- Strengthening the image of the organization. By spreading key messages proactively, companies have the ability to control the conversation and generate positive public reactions.
- Keeping costs low. Instead of making snap decisions that may not always be the most cost-effective, proactive public relations allows businesses to assess all options and find a solution that fits their budget.
- Allowing time for proper research. By working ahead, businesses have the time and opportunity to carefully consider research and gather and analyze all relevant information, leading to informed decision-making.
- Establishing credibility. The general public commonly perceives public relations messaging as more trustworthy than advertising because the publicity was earned, not paid for.
- Giving the opportunity to capitalize on weaknesses. Issues management is a long-term strategy that can take place over months or years and lays the foundation for a positive public image, even in crisis situations. Through thoughtful planning, businesses can leverage issues and weaknesses to their advantage by becoming industry experts or thought leaders, leading to a positive outcome of what might have been a negative issue.
- Enabling businesses to act quickly when the unexpected happens. Crises do occur, even when companies are proactive about staying ahead of the game. Identifying potential threats gives businesses the opportunity to strategize about the “what ifs” of their environment, ensuring they are ready to tackle any issue that comes up.
Having a proactive approach to public relations is just smart business. Reactive approaches can make a business appear as though they’re only worried about themselves, rather than being concerned about the public at large. While some organizations spare no expense to keep the media and general public in the dark about internal problems, success lies in open and strategic communications.