How To Write A Good Communications Plan – Part 11 – Issues

You’ve planned-out your announcement to perfection – your objectives, your strategy, your tactics. Your communications plan is almost complete! But what if something goes wrong?

Be prepared

Issues management is all about catching problems before they become crises. Your communications plan should help you to prepare for that. It’s rarely possible to anticipate everything that may come up, but with some careful thought you can usually catch most things.

In the communications plan format I’ve recently worked with, the issues section is often used as the basis of your media Q&As when you draft your products later. As such, we usually wrote them in a Q&A format. This has the added benefit of making the issues easier for those further up the chain to understand:

Q: What about X?
A: Here’s our response.

Identifying issues

Think through your initiative and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is changing?
  • Which parts are controversial?
  • Are any advocacy groups paying attention to this?
  • Who might not like it, and what might they not like?
  • Are any stakeholders expecting something different?
  • Have any aspects of this attracted media attention in the past?
  • Which blogs write on this topic? What have they said in the past?
  • Will this have an emotional impact on people?
  • Will anything you’re doing affect others directly? Have you (as an organization) talked to them about this?
  • Are any parts of this hard to understand? What might need explaining further?

That’s a lot of questions, but fortunately you’ve already done much of the work to answer them. Read back through the other sections of your plan – through the context, the environmental scan and the stakeholder analysis in particular – with those questions in mind. You’ll find many of the answers in there. Also talk to your subject matter experts – the people that are closest to the initiative – and ask them for their thoughts.

As with some other parts of the communications plan, you should think about your issues management section throughout your planning process and not just at the end. Whenever you think of something that might crop up, note it down for inclusion later.

Mitigating the issues

Once you’ve identified the potential issues, think about how you might be able to mitigate them.

Sometimes a simple Q&A will suffice for an issue. Other times you may want to revisit parts of your announcement (strategy, messages, audience, tactics etc) and tweak them. In some cases it may require more than just communications to resolve – you may want to go back to the subject matter experts and flag something for them to resolve before the announcement is made. Working issues management into your entire plan will provide you with a solid foundation to build on.

Your thoughts?

I’m a strategic communications guy, not an issues management expert. Fortunately I’ve been able to attend multiple courses on this and I’ve had some great colleagues to learn from, but I’m sure there are gaps in what I know.

What do you think? How would you approach the issues management section of your communications plan?

The “Communications Plan” Series

This is post number 11 in a series of 13 posts exploring how to create a good communications plan. To read more of the series, check out the other posts here.

(Image credit: nickobec)

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.