A company is only as strong as its issues management strategy. In today’s environment – with the COVID-19 pandemic adding an additional layer of uncertainty – having a plan in place is of critical importance.
To devise a successful issues management plan, companies should consider these six steps:
1. Understand the difference between crisis comms and issues management: There’s a significant difference between issues management and responding to a “crisis.” A crisis would threaten to destroy the very foundation and, ultimately, survival of a company. Instead, foster a culture where issues management is an ongoing activity to mitigate future risk – otherwise protecting the bottom line at all times.
2. Establish an issues management team (IMT): A key success factor for ongoing issues management is the establishment of an issues management team (IMT). This should comprise of a designated project manager, along with:
- Decision makers: Individuals charged with reviewing and approving materials.
- Subject matter experts: Experts who are intimately involved with the company.
- Communications lead: Employee charged with managing public relations agency and providing critical information for the partnership.
- Public relations/crisis agency: A team engaged to help facilitate the development of messaging.
Additionally, ensure there are a set of individuals in place to provide ongoing data and critical information to the IMT and to serve as an ongoing resource for all involved.
3. Develop core messaging: Companies with an ongoing issues management strategy should assess potential “issues” and craft core messaging for each. That way, when and if a situation arises, the company is prepared to update the appropriate messaging and respond accordingly.
4. Establish weekly/daily meetings: Should the company be actively responding to an issue, it’s imperative the IMT meets weekly or daily, depending on the gravity of what’s at hand. By meeting regularly, no stakeholder is left in the dark and decisions can be made at an appropriate pace so to not slow response time.
5. Train your staff: Many companies fail at issues management because they do not provide staff-wide training. To succeed at managing any issue, the IMT must look beyond the central team and train key staff members. That way, all employees are educated on the way they should be speaking about a particular situation.
6. Tailor your tactical approach: Issues management is not “one-size-fits-all.” Should a situation unfold that needs responding to, the IMT must meet to decide on the company’s tactical approach. Depending on circumstances, this could include:
- Media: Do you need to proactively conduct outreach around the issue?
- Social media: Should you be engaging and posting on social media during his time? Is there an uptick in social chatter around the issue?
- Tailored talking points: Can you create talking points to administer to employees to ensure message continuity?
- Staff meetings: Do regular staff meeting need to be considered?
- Town halls: Should you hold town halls with key external stakeholders?
- Statements: Are canned statements an appropriate measure for communicating the issue to key audiences?
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking issues management is only needed in times of crisis. By creating an environment where issues management is woven into the fabric of your company, you’ll be better served to protect your business should a situation arise.
Want to learn more about developing a strategic issues management plan or need support dusting off an old plan to help it better reflect today’s world? I’d love to connect! My contact information is below and more information about our Reset for Resilience toolkit is here.