The New Issues Management Tool Kit: How Companies Are Rethinking Strategic Advocacy
May 17, 2022
An internal team composed of multiple viewpoints, roles, and regions is key to managing expectations now and in the future.
Has the public environment fractured conventional issues management into a thousand pieces?
It certainly seems so given the new wave of challenges companies face today. In a departure from the past, well-organized and well-funded oppositional campaigns that seek to challenge corporations through multiple and varied avenues — simultaneously — are becoming the norm. Further, a single issue may emanate from geographies across the world all at once. The sustained pressure demands response across a spectrum of business functions that goes beyond the traditional governmental affairs, investor relations or communications functions. Challenges can touch on areas such as regulation, litigation, reputation, investigation and activism, among others.
These kinds of sophisticated strikes call for a new, coordinated approach to managing issues that considers all angles. Informal or ad hoc committees are not enough to do the job; companies need a cohesive team of issues management experts representing various departments, roles and regions across the enterprise — one that essentially reflects the public environment itself.
Drawing from core competencies (e.g., media relations, direct advocacy, coalition building and owned content) with a broad set of skills, the issues management team would focus on understanding the root problem and origins of the sustained pressure campaign as well as the commercial, reputational and social impact on the business.
From there, the team would develop and execute a multi-stakeholder issues management program to address the root problem by:
- reexamining current policies and business operations and making necessary changes
- stopping the flow of misinformation
- rebuilding the company’s reputation
For complex existential issues, the process could extend for many months or years and subsequently require a dedicated team of professionals to help manage the issue and mitigate further risk to the business.
One of the lingering problems with issues management at many companies is that it is sometimes considered secondary to business strategy. Ad hoc committees or working groups are often pulled together, sometimes hastily, from traditional core business units that are often siloed within their own respective lanes.
While the goal of creating a team with a 360-degree perspective is good, the execution in this instance is shortsighted. Team members are often focused on managing their own day-to-day business units, leaving the question of who is in charge hanging when addressing a challenge. Beyond their individual expertise, not every member will have the knowledge and skills to manage issues or run an advocacy campaign. Trying to schedule busy professionals whose plates are already full also risks losing critical response time.
Perhaps the most critical concern for ad hoc groups or committees is whether they are given the resources to operate and are empowered to actually do something.
The Starting Lineup
A proactive issues management team requires a mandate to operate and to act. It requires opening a direct line of communication from the team to the C-suite (ideally, the CEO and GC) and access to the most innovative issues management tools and platforms on the market. A system of metrics to demonstrate progress and measure KPI is a must.
What follows is a look at six elements that go into assembling and empowering the team.
Identify the team leader
An experienced issues management expert, whether internal or hired independently, can go a long way to setting up the best response team. Ideally, he or she should have substantial practice in managing difficult challenges that require a diverse skill set, such as complex, multijurisdictional litigation, cross-border M&A and regulatory change across several markets.
Select the members
Think cross functional and geographical. Start by reviewing proposed members from select business segments and regions across the enterprise. Consider those from areas that may be little understood by other business units, such as legal, and those that interact with nearly every other area of the company, like HR.
Empower them to act
Give the team explicit power to act swiftly and definitively when a challenge arises. Make clear the steps to be taken to review and remediate challenges, whether the C-suite will need to approve actions and who has the final decision. Because speed is essential, look for ways to streamline the decision-making process.
Back them with resources
Whether it’s a travel budget to organize people for a large-scale social push, a consulting budget to hire additional outside expertise, or producing a quick response video or PSA, issues management requires money. Be sure to provide the issues management team with adequate resources to achieve results.
Give them the tools
Today’s technology-driven landscape features a number of innovative tools that can help the team plan and react to the challenges of tomorrow. Digital platforms that leverage sophisticated algorithms to monitor and analyze online conversations are critical to identifying issues early and taking necessary steps to mitigate them. Additionally, other tools, such as network analysis, can help determine who and what is driving online conversation.
Monitor the results
When assembling the team and building the strategy, start with the end in mind. What are we trying to accomplish, and what does success look like? Use your answers to these questions as the basis of developing a multilayer set of direct, associated and behavioral metrics to monitor progress and measure success.
The public environment has certainly become more contentious over the past decade. It’s a given that all companies are vulnerable, and a response is expected when challenges arise — so much so that every management decision is under a microscope. Operating within this climate is a challenge unto itself, but just as companies are evolving their work environments to broaden recruiting and better serve their employees, so too are they evolving their understanding of how the public expresses its will. A company can either wait and react or it can get out ahead.
© Copyright 2022. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.
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