As a communications consultant, more and more of our consulting time is focused on managing issues with our clients. Sometimes, it's a crisis [loss of confidence by consumers, investors such as the current economic mess].
Sometimes it's a sensitive 'risk' issue that has to be managed effectively with the goal of raising awareness, without triggering public panic. [health or safety issues]
One of the pieces of advice we would usually provide is, don't do or say anything that will trigger 'outrage'. Well, guess what? That happened this week in the issue of the bail-out proposal of the Big 3 Automakers.
What was the 'outrage factor'? An ABC News item by veteran investigative reporter Brian Ross. Watch how Congressmen immediately jump all over it to pillory the CEOs before them:
What were those CEOs thinking?
When are CEOs going to learn that the issues that can really hurt you are in the category called "symbols"? It isn't about spending $20,000 on a flight aboard a company jet. It's about 'the message that it sends' when you're seeking taxpayers' money. D'uh!
The Obama Administration will have to watch very carefully this critical aspect of issues management. Heavyweight brains trying to figure their way out of the economic meltdown should use this as a warning. When you expect taxpayers, pensioners and others to suck it up and tighten their belts, then you must conduct a complete analysis of everything you do, how you do it, symbols etc. etc. in order not to trigger such a public relations disaster as this.
What is issues management, anyway?
In public relations, issue management is often used interchangeably with crisis management. The standard definition is: "Issue management is a formal management process to anticipate and take appropriate action on emerging trends, concerns, or issues likely to affect an organization and its stakeholders."
What does issues management involve?
1. Anticipate, analyze and prioritize issues
2. Help develop an organizational position on each vital issue
3. Identify key publics and influential persons whose support are vital to the public policy issue
4. Identify desired behaviors of publics and influential persons
So looking at the above definitions, remember that so-called 'little things' can create more damage than the big-ticket items. A $25 billion plan to salvage hundreds of thousands of jobs could hinge on the power of a 'symbol'. It doesn't have to be fair, but when the public is in a mood for a hanging, don't provide them with the rope!
Until next time...keep your eyes on the 'little things';