Mind the gap: a primer on issue management

I’m often asked about specialized strategies for approaching crisis or risk communications, under the assumption that these are special dark arts for those with nerves of steel. But really they’re not—and the more that communicators understand their broad continuities with other spheres of communications, the more approachable they’ll seem.

In fact, crisis and risk communications are just sub-spheres of the larger field of issues management – the way that corporations deliberately respond to potential or current problems and challenges.  Here’s how I like to think of their relationship:

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As you go inward from the outside sphere, the degree of urgency and risk are heightened, of course, but the guiding principles are the same. In any dimension, issue management isn’t strictly a communications function but rather an activity in which communications leadership marshals different parts of an organization (operations, policy, governance, HR etc.) to achieve a desired corporate goal.

At its core, issue management is about minding—and closing—the gap between an organization’s actions and the expectations of its shareholders. There’s plenty of strategic and tactical wisdom to be learned along the way, of course, but nothing’s more important than keeping that essential goal in mind.