Eight Steps to Establish Issue Ownership

Issue Ownership.  It’s a great marketing objective for a company – or for any largish organization — that wants to build a reputation that’s bigger than the products or services it offers.   As I defined in the last post Thought Leader Versus Issue Owner – What’s the Difference? an issue owner has made a commitment to a particular field/issue/topic and has dedicated significant resources to advance it.

But how?  Below, I have taken a stab at what I see to be the progression, but we love this topic and we invite your input as well.  Keep in mind, our examples are drawn from the worlds of financial services, professional services including accounting, law firms and consulting firms, and healthcare, which are the sandboxes we play in most.

The process MUST start with the product or service that the company offers.  If all roads don’t lead back to Rome (= revenue), it’s more likely a leadership ego-stroke that won’t continue beyond the next executive suite shuffle.   Once you know the primary product or service, then you have to:

  • Elevate – What’s the bigger picture?  What are the issues that touch the future of the company?  What’s the core of the organization’s contribution to its clients?  Where can it make a true difference?
  • Articulate – Draw the boundary around the issue and define what it is and what it is not.  You should be able to name the topic in fewer than four words.  As we know from @jaybaer, brevity is our new watchword.
  • Validate – Take the time to gather data and hard evidence around who cares about this issue, what they care about, why, and where the topics are trending.  Without this step, the organization won’t have a strong enough foundation.  It’s like an “interest only” mortgage – more likely to foreclose.
  • Elongate – While abbreviation is key to definition, you also need to elongate – draft the white paper, the study, the research paper, the congressional testimony, the in-depth piece.   This is where the organizational claim is staked.
  • Disseminate – get the word out.  Write, speak, blog, testify, rent loudspeaker trucks (if that’s consistent with your style).  Be noisy.  No hiding under a bushel – that’s not commitment.
  • Debate/ Curate – with nods to Steve Rubel and John Byrne , ‘curation’ of a topic is central to this premise.  Know the “key influencers” in the space and invite their input.  Dialogue, debate, disagreement is part of discourse, and the organization cannot and will not have the last word on the topic it “owns.”  Nor should it.   
  • Pollinate – find the next generation of people who do care, or should care – inside your organization or in your client community or in your alumni group, and give them to the tools to make decisions.   Create a community.
  • Prognosticate.  Look to the future.   See how far you have come, and then set your sights on where the organization can break new ground.  Re-name the present, and re-envision the future.  There’s no end to this path, because unless the issue (like a regulation or a disease or a technology) has evaporated, there’s still work to be done.   There’s no end to the path, just up.

Of course, in a list that is dominated by words that end in “ate,” I have to limit myself to eight.  But there’s really one more – “Levitate.”  As a B2B public relations professional, working with a client that commits to being an issue owner is the next best thing to nirvana.  So you may find your chair hovering a few inches off the ground.

The issue an organization chooses to own does not have to be sexy.  Most will not be.  One of our best case examples at BlissPR is the institutional side of a major insurance company, and the claim it has staked in the realm of employee benefits.  While it’s not eye-poppingly compelling, employee benefits are the core of its offering to corporate clients, and it has taken pains to commit resources (there are those terms!) to be a leader in this field.  Our client followed the process above, and is now in its eighth year reporting the definitive word on employee benefits trends, both domestically and globally through media relations and other integrated marketing communications.  We are proud to be affiliated with the program.

Commitment and resources.  Also known as “care factor.”  These are the hallmarks of issue ownership.  Just as not all thoughtful professionals become thought leaders, not all thought leaders become issue owners.  But it sure is fun to discover that one of your clients is willing to invite you on the journey toward that destination.

(photo by jenny downing)

To reach Abby:

Phone: 212.840.0088
Email: abby@blisspr.com
Twitter: @abbycarr
LinkedIn: Abby Carr