Strategic Planning, Formative Research, and Issues Management
Key Concepts in Strategic Planning
During the course of this week’s readings, a lot of concepts were thrown out, with several definitions. These were words that we use in common, everyday parlance, but they have special meanings in the world of public relations/strategic planning.
Smith covers increasingly difficult positions for a strategic planner to be in. First there is the fairly neutral situation, which is basically just a set of circumstances facing an organization. It neatly divides into opportunities and obstacles. After all, when the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo could have sat tight like everyone else. Instead, ‘you can still dunk in the dark’ was born. Oreo didn’t just tread water – they scored a major victory. And it all happened during a situation that could have gone either way.
A step more difficult than a situation is an issue. Now, concern to the organization is baked right into the definition. There is more potential for problems when it’s an issue. And finally the definitions move to risks and then to crises.
The job of the strategic planner is to minimize and address the risks while, at times, dealing with out of control crises.
In the Reitz reading, a ‘dialogic model’ is mentioned (Page 43), where there is “a ‘communicative give and take’, where the process is open and negotiated between an organization and its publics.” This, in a way, is the essence of social media. It’s less of organizations dictating terms and paradigms to various publics. Instead, the publics are talking back, and it’s up to the strategic planner to carefully listen.
Formative Research’s Role
On Page 15, Smith mentions formative research, denoting three pieces of it, to analyze the situation, the organization, and the publics.
In order to evaluate matters intelligently, the strategic planner must take a look at what’s happening. For a financial services company, it could be anything from a worldwide sell-off to crop failures in Argentina to an employee engaging in what might be insider trading. For a car manufacturer, it could be recalls or new safety regulations or the applicable news from the United States Patent Office.
The organization must be assessed. Is there an opportunity? Is the organization vulnerable? Could this even be fatal to the organization? When Tylenol was laced with cyanide in 1982, there was a very real possibility that the fatal dose could be to Johnson & Johnson as well as the victims of the poisonings.
As for the publics, it behooves the strategic planner to consider how receptive they will be to any actions taken (sometimes the action to take is inaction, e. g. do nothing). For Johnson & Johnson, they were dealing with publics who were used to trusting drug manufacturers, and who felt that trust had been betrayed. If the organization had opted to do nothing, the publics might not necessarily have blamed the organization for the poisonings, but they might have saddled the organization with a reputation for not caring. Seeing the connections between caring, purity, and trustworthiness, the organization built its response around addressing safety concerns immediately. Probably a lot more product was removed from shelves than was necessary. It’s possible that some of the safety precautions added were redundant and/or unnecessary. But the organization spent the time and the money and the brainpower and it paid off with dividends. Johnson & Johnson is still roundly praised for its response to the crisis. It’s hard to see how they could have handled it better.
On Pages 49 and 50, Reitz talks about issues management. On Page 49, Reitz defines issues management as quoting, “Cutlip, Center, and Broom define issues management as ‘the proactive process of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and responding to public policy issues that affect organizations’ relationships with their publics’ (2000: 17).”
A crisis is, by definition, unpredictable, but certain crises can be anticipated. If an organization prepares for inevitable crises, over half of the battle is already won. Here are some instances wherein an organization should prepare, as it is not a question of if, but rather one of when any of these will occur:
- Automobile manufacturers and recalls
- Product manufacturers and product liability claims
- Maintenance companies and snow removal or trip and fall claims
- Transportation carriers and lateness and accidents
If any of these organizations is unaware that such crises could happen, and that they could escalate, then those organizations might want to rethink their business plans.
Life does not come without risk. It’s a foolish organization that doesn’t at least make an effort to plan for it.