By Nikki Wright, MPRINZ, Managing Director, Wright Communications Limited
The changing nature of public engagement has made the role of public relations practitioners in issue management more important than ever, according to a new book.
The role of PR in responding to issues and crises is explored in Issue and Crisis Management: Exploring issues, crises, risk and reputation by Tony Jaques (Oxford University Press, 2014), the first specialist book on the subject in Australasia.
Jaques, an Australian, established Issue Outcomes in 1997 as a provider of management training and consulting services. He has worked for more than 20 years in Corporate Issue and Crisis Management, mainly in Asia-Pacific.
A key message of his book is that companies can tick all the legal and technical boxes but still be found guilty in the court of public opinion.
Importantly, Jaques warns that being factually correct is not enough: if something is seen by stakeholders and/or the public to be a problem then it is a problem.
Because of this, clear communication is crucial and public relations practitioners have an important role to play in making sure the message is easily understood.
“Engineers and other executives in technical fields are prone to using complex language and jargon, which might be accurate and legally approved, but comes across to the stakeholder as arrogant and insensitive,” he writes.
“As the organisation’s language expert, the public relations person needs to produce communication that is technically correct, but that ensures all stakeholders understand its intended meaning.”
The book draws lessons from a mix of prominent international case studies and ones closer to home, including the infamous “Where the bloody hell are you?” advertising campaign in Australia and the Pike River disaster in New Zealand.
It also draws a clear distinction between issues, crises, emergencies and disasters, offering easily understandable definitions for each.
As it explains, an ‘issue’ can do much more damage to a company than a ‘disaster’, which can create immense disruption but does not create any reputational harm to the individual company unless it worsens the situation through its own actions (or inaction).
One of the areas Jaques explores is agenda setting, which has traditionally been dominated by mainstream media playing what he describes as a ‘gatekeeper’ role.
He says the growing use of social media now allows individuals and organisations outside of the traditional forms of media to set the agenda, meaning organisations need to do more than just read the newspaper each morning to keep across potential risks.
“Internet-mediated agenda-setting has dramatically increased the number of ‘gatekeepers’, so that bloggers and other online activists now have powerful new tools to push their own priorities onto the public agenda.”
He expands on the role of the internet in a chapter looking at activism and the tactics used by activists to promote their views and attack their opponents.
“Without doubt the greatest advance in issue management in the last 20 years has been the rise of the internet and social media,” Jaques writes.
“For activists, the digital revolution has brought particularly profound change, giving them a new weapon that can alter the organisation-stakeholder dynamic, potentially increase the power of activist groups, and make their concerns more salient to organisations and society.”
For new entrants into the public relations industry, Issue and Crisis Management provides a clear and comprehensive introduction to these crucial concepts.
For more experienced practitioners it offers a useful refresher to keep them up to speed with developments in the sector, especially in the rapidly evolving online landscape.
Tony Jacques is a speaker at the 2015 PRINZ Conference in May, presenting two sessions; Issues and crisis; Best and worst. How do you stack up? And So what REALLY is the role of a CEO in a crisis?
Read more here.
Book tickets here.