What exactly is issues management in public relations?
The term is widely used by PR and communications professionals, but what exactly is does it mean and how is it done? More specifically, what can and does it mean for organsiations and businesses in the creative industries?
Broadly, issues management is the ability to anticipate risk factors that may impact an organisation’s interests or reputation, while also preventing crisis situations from occurring or escalating. Potential issues in a financial, consumer or corporate context can be somewhat easier to identify and anticipate because there are more well-defined variables in these categories. In contrast, issues can have a greater impact on smaller and/or more specialised industries like the arts, because arts and culture projects increasingly have more diverse internal and external stakeholder profiles across sectors, and have more unpredictable risk factors. For example, in this age of social media, artistic content and subject matter can occasionally serve as a flashpoint, igniting impassioned conversations that can alienate audiences and jeopardize attendance and revenue. As a result, issues management is increasingly seen as an essential business strategy for more and more arts organisations, but few have the experience or understanding to properly address and neutralize the issue.
At Sinclair Arts we approach, plan, and think ahead, actively monitoring and assessing trends and developments within the industry to identify the potential issues and threats which could impact an organisation, and then work to develop and evaluate the strategy needs for development.
We also prevent potential issues by ensuring that core messaging is clear, cohesive and consistent across all communication channels. The nature of the arts means that projects have an inherently greater visibility and more impact on public perception and understanding, which can mean various problematic scenarios. An unpredictable issue can attract more attention and become less manageable from the organisation’s point of view if the communications strategy and consistency of messaging hasn’t been strategically addressed at the planning stage.
The art world is global. Whilst the target audience for a specific project may only encompass a small public or region, creating meaningful and credible artistic initiatives almost always means engaging with creative practitioners and experts globally. Why? Because the arts have a universal language that are often used to foster and promote inter-cultural and creative exchange. This means that arts institutions and their stakeholders need to consider and anticipate potential issues in diverse cultural contexts particularly when projects are designed for public engagement and community benefit. Issues management can easily be viewed as a nonessential part of a communications strategy, but that is shortsighted. As the cultural sector continues to grow globally, so does the number of organisations vying for audiences, patrons and sponsors. When issues arise, wallets often close and funding is redirected towards other projects that are deemed safe or less controversial. While issues management planning may seem like hedging a bet, the alternative could be disastrous for those organizations caught unprepared.