Strategic Issues Management: Organizations and Public Policy Challenges


Robert L. Heath & Michael J. Palenchar

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
    • Chapter 1: A Foundation of Community
    • Vignette: British Petroleum—Enlightened Leader or Lightning Rod?
    • Chapter Goals
    • Historical Evolution
    • SIM: Strategic Issues Management Defined
    • SIM: Stakeholders/Stakeseekers
    • SIM: Bringing More than Communication
    • SIM: Cornerstone of Strategic Business Planning
    • SIM: Advocacy, Dialogue, and Collaborative Decision Making
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: CSR and Long-Term Planning
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 2: Historical Foundations
    • Vignette: Westinghouse versus Edison
    • Chapter Goals
    • Opinions Shape Operating Environments
    • Argument Structure in Public Policy Debate
    • Robber Barons and the Making of Mass Production Society
    • The Great Depression and the Redemption of Capitalism
    • Dissent Flowers in the 1960s
    • The Present and the Future
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Science or Sham?
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 3: Scouting the Terrain
    • Vignette: The Greening of Nuclear Power
    • Chapter Goals
    • Things Go Bump in the Dark
    • Logics of Issues Monitoring
    • The Systematic Stages of Issues Monitoring
    • Creating an Issues Monitoring and Analysis Team
    • Issue Content: Basis for Issues Analysis
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: NAACP and Issues Monitoring
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 4: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
    • Vignette: Wal-Mart's Makeover?
    • Chapter Goals
    • Mutual Interests: The Basis of Corporate Responsibility
    • Standards of Corporate Responsibility: A Rhetorical Rationale
    • Changing Organizational Policies: Getting the House in Order
    • Corporate Responsibility Partnerships: Communicating Ethical Performance
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Global Warming
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 5: Special Interest Activists as Foes or Allies
    • Vignette: Fast Food—A Lightning Rod for Big Food Protest
    • Chapter Goals
    • Moral Outrage
    • Power Resource Management
    • Strain: Nexus of Issues, Risk, and Crisis
    • Stages of Activism
    • Incremental Erosion
    • Fostering Mutual Interests Instead of Antagonism
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Is Clean Energy an Oxymoron?
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 6: Issues Communication
    • Vignettes: Activists Speak with Many Tools
    • Chapter Goals
    • The Issue of Issues Communication
    • Narrative Theory
    • The Good Organization Communicating Well
    • Images and Issues: Complements and Counterparts
    • Framing: Giving Issues Argumentative Context
    • Media Effects in a Multitiered Society
    • Communication Technology and Issues Communication
    • Issues Communication as Argument
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Voice of a Trade Association
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 7: Obligations and Constraints on Issues Communication
    • Vignette: Corporate Speech—Free, Free for Some, or Not at All?
    • Chapter Goals
    • Legislative, Judicial, and Regulatory Constraints on Issues Communication
    • The Rationale for Organizations Speaking as Citizens
    • Federal Constraint
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Looking to the Future
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 8: Issues Management and Crisis Communication
    • Vignette: It Takes Two to Tango
    • Chapter Goals
    • Crisis Management: The Search for Control
    • Prevent a Crisis from Becoming an Issue
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Can a Crisis Be Prevented from Exploding into an Issue?
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 9: Issues Management and Risk Communication
    • Vignette: Risk, Risk Everywhere
    • Chapter Goals
    • Community Right to Know
    • The Difficulties of Risk Assessment
    • Risk Management and Communication Approaches
    • SIM's Approach to Risk Communication
    • Risk and Crisis Communication Working Together
    • Conclusion
    • SIM Challenge: Reality List
    • Summary Questions
    • Chapter 10: Brand Equity and Organizational Reputation
    • Vignettes: Proactive versus Reactive
    • Chapter Goals
    • Corporate Branding
    • Brand Equity: Many Faces and Definitions
    • Brand Attributes and Attitude Theory
    • Logics of Brand Equity
    • Brand Equity and Crisis
    • Brand Equity and Risk
    • SIM Challenge: Corporate Responsibility and Long-Term Planning
    • A Brand Equity Case Study: Coors Boycott in the 1970s
    • Summary Questions
  • Copyright

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    The topic of strategic issues management (SIM) is one of those hot-button concerns that has attracted a significant amount of attention over the past 4 decades. In the 1970s, SIM received its current name and was touted as an effective and ethical response to corporate critics. This antiwar, highly introspective, and broadly critical time in America demanded that companies become less isolated and more responsive to rapid-fire and hostile charges that touched every part of the U.S. political economy. The 1980s brought a dramatic increase in regulation, followed at times by often inept private-sector efforts to plan and manage in ways based on effective dialogue that fostered mutual interests. Regulation, however badly designed, was implemented because of the rising hostility to the unresponsiveness of industry and the private sector. Some of that continuing indifference is fueling a new push for change that can again convince business that lopsided decision making and unethical marketing will haunt industries, especially those that claim to be barely able to make a profit.

    The 1990s saw a cooling. In fact, some even thought that the era of issues had ended. The Reagan years added something to the rhetorical positioning of change, as did the Clinton years. Many organizations returned to business as usual. Large SIM efforts closed. Really smart organizations (government, nonprofit, and business), however, built strategic issues management into their culture. At one level, the issues management movement seemed to suggest that it was no longer a vital player in political and economic discourse and decision making. But closer analysis suggested what many of us had argued for years—SIM is not something pasted onto an organization when needed as a result of a crisis, especially not some short-term public relations or advertising cosmetic for dealing with business critics. It is the essence of smart organizations' organizational cultures.

    That trend demonstrates to those of us who have worked in this area for decades that SIM is not really new and not merely a communication function. We have long been interested in the self-promotional efforts of some public relations and even advertising agencies indicating that issues management is a subspecialty. That services-marketing approach would suggest that it is only a communication function and something that can be accomplished, perhaps by a cleverly worded campaign, even though the organization itself makes no corrections or proactive (even reactive) changes in its role in society.

    Over the years, issues have often been seen as merely a matter of contest between businesses that seek to avoid constraint in order to maintain an efficient approach to business practices and activists who blindly despise businesses as they might abhor a virulent disease. Experience has demonstrated that such bifurcation dramatically oversimplifies the narrative of change in society. Some businesses and government agencies continue to prefer to be indifferent to the interests and preferences of others. They often believe that steady as she goes is the best motto and that well-turned phrases and deep pockets of political influence are sufficient to protect their planning and management from external influences.

    Other organizations realize that conflict can be costly, a real inefficiency to the standard business model. Bad regulation and legislation can harm business and society. So, they are confronted with this communication challenge: Is it best to accommodate critics and seem to change but really not do so? Is it sufficient to issue statements that should assuage critics and reinforce the opinions of current supporters? Is it best to engage in dialogue so that the thoughts and preferences can be known, analyzed, and managed in a more collaborative than dismissive or confrontational way?

    As we argue that strategic business planning is one of the pillars of SIM, we advocate that the efforts devoted to understanding the lay of the land and working with other groups and organizations that have aligned interests is vital to the success of organizations, regardless of their type and role in society. In fact, we believe that SIM is inherently able to make organizations more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic. They are more responsive and give themselves more time to plan and constructively deal with change rather than merely go through the process of dismissal and conflict that often consumes vital resources better spent.

    One of the lessons learned over the years is that the best management of any issue is to make appropriate changes in collaboration with groups and organizations that have aligned interests during the issue discussion. This has led to a robust discussion, especially on the part of business, about the nature and benefits of corporate social responsibility. In some ways, that body of literature and consulting practice has split from the larger discussion of SIM. It demonstrates, however, one of the key points that many of us have argued. If through conflict an organization is finally forced to change how it operates as activists and other corporate interests impose change on it, would it not be better to make that change in a more cooperative and constructive manner? Combat can lead to bad policy, hatred, and additional costs and eventual losses by society in the name of making gains. A more constructive approach to corporate responsibility can allow for many thoughts and preferences to collaboratively be brought into the framing of a policy that results from and leads to a more fully functioning society.

    In this effort, we have two very broad interests. One is process, often not that far removed from the principles of systems theory and social exchange theory, one of the leading explanations for how relationships start, grow, and even dissolve. Some treatments of SIM and public relations only focus on process. Process, the quality of how various entities work together, is important; certainly, analysis of structures and functions counts. We also assume throughout the book the influence of resource dependency theory, power resource management theory, social construction theory, discourse analysis, and even critical studies. We bring themes together that are based on the three focal point logic of George Herbert Mead (1934; see also Motion & Leitch, 2007) that in order to understand humans, we must address mind (ideation and cognition), self (identity and identification), and society.

    We believe, however, that meaning, the formation of meaning through words and the forging of ideas, is crucial to SIM as an organizational and societal effort. Meaning matters. Words count. Ideas drive process, as process helps or hinders efforts to build more sound policy that reflects aligned interests. Communication, especially communication process, may not suffice to reconcile the differences that lead to various periodic and ongoing struggles. So, we are interested in not only how meaning evolves through various voices but also how those voices work together to balance and align interests and seek policy that maximizes societal outcomes.

    As we did in the previous edition, we find it useful to quote Renfro (1993), who featured the discipline's management contribution:

    The overriding goal of an issues management function is to enhance the current and long-term performance and standing of the corporation by anticipating change, promoting opportunities, and avoiding or mitigating threats. Attaining this corporate goal, of course, promotes the performance and standing of the corporate leadership, both within and outside the corporations, but this is secondary for issues management. (p. 107)

    In such discussions, whether Renfro (1993) used the term corporate to refer to all kinds of organizations (business, governmental, and nonprofit, even activist) is immaterial. We use the term broadly, in that encompassing way.

    We believe that all kinds of corporate entities, organizations by whatever name, require a sound sense of SIM to maintain effective control of their business planning, to engage positively with other corporate entities that have an interest in some matter, and whose goodwill and support collaboratively bring each organization and society to a better sense of itself and to more harmonious long-term relationships. Thus, we acknowledge the point made by Davis and Thompson (1994): “Management's control within the firm is contingent on rules determined externally by state and federal governments, and the allocation of corporate control thus depends on political struggles among management, capital, and various governmental bodies” (p. 141).

    Based on these lines of reasoning, as well as a general confidence in the dialectic among business, government, and collective nonprofit pressures, this book seeks again to advance the cause for a constructive and integrative role to collaborative decision making as the rationale for the political economy and the balance of conflicting and aligned interests. It features four challenges that are vital for comprehensive, effective, and ethical issues management: (1) strategic business planning, based on mission, vision, and budgeting to accomplish these principles; (2) issue surveillance; (3) aggressive efforts to ascertain and achieve corporate responsibility in ways that foster the alignment of stakeholder and stakeseeker interests; and (4) willingness to openly, boldly, and collaboratively contest ideas relevant to the marketplace and public policy arena. Issues management, comprehensively designed and integrated as function and culture, can help organizational leaderships to enact an organization that meets or exceeds the expectations of key publics and builds mutually beneficial relationships.

    To that end, we thank the previous generations of students, colleagues, and working professionals from all types of organizations whose influence has been positive if not always well expressed in forming our judgment on this matter. We hope we address the thoughts and concerns of these colleagues appropriately and do so in a way that advances this discipline. Dialogue is sometimes shrill and sometimes quiet and patient. At times, people listen to one another openly and honestly. At other times, they can't listen effectively because they don't want to hear what is being said. They distort often without realizing that flaw. In all of this, the process of statement and counterstatement seems to be the best for internal planning and external advocacy. To speak, however, demands that we also are willing to listen and give regard to others' ideas. Planning without reflection is flawed. Don't count on communicators to make lemonade every time a crop of lemons is harvested. And, as a good friend in the consulting industry once asked, “Are we making this up as we go?”


    The authors would like to thank the following professors for their review of the proposal and support of this second edition of Strategic Issues Management: Jeong-Nam Kim, Assistant Professor of Communication, Department of Communication, Purdue University; Robert S. Pritchard, Associate Professor of Journalism, Department of Journalism, Ball State University; Risë Jane Samra, Professor of Communication Studies, Barry University; and Matthew W. Seeger, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at Wayne State University.

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    About the Authors

    Robert L. Heath is Professor Emeritus at the School of Communication, University of Houston, and Academic Consultant in the College of Commerce, Faculty of Management and Marketing at the University of Wollongong in Australia. He is one of the academic pioneers in examining the history and theoretical foundations of strategic issues management. He is author or editor of 12 books (and 2 second editions) and 100 articles in major journals and leading edited books. In addition to strategic issues management, he has written on rhetorical theory, social movements, communication theory, public relations, organizational communication, crisis communication, risk communication, terrorism, and reputation management. He edited the Encyclopedia of Public Relations and the Handbook of Public Relations. He has lectured in many countries, to business and nonprofit groups, and for various professional organizations. In May 2007, he was saluted by the Issue Management Council for his leadership over 3 decades to foster mutual interests between the corporation and all stakeholders and stakeseekers.

    Michael J. Palenchar is an Assistant Professor in Public Relations at the University of Tennessee's School of Advertising and Public Relations, College of Communication and Information (PhD, University of Florida; MA, University of Houston). Research interests include risk communication and issues management related to manufacturing, community relations and community awareness of emergency response protocols and manufacturing risks, community right-to-know issues, crisis communication, front groups, and general public relations. He has more than a decade of professional experience working in corporate, nonprofit, and agency environments, and he is also a risk communication and issues management research consultant for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local government and nongovernmental agencies. His research has been published in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Public Relations Journal, Environmental Communication, and Communication Research Reports. He has 5 book chapters on risk, terrorism, and professional ethics and more than 40 regional, national, or international communication conference papers, winning 12 national or international top paper awards. With coauthor Robert L. Heath in 2000 and Kathy Fitzpatrick in 2007, he won the Pride Award from the Public Relations Division, National Communication Association, for top published article in the field of public relations. He is an active member of Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, National Communication Association, Public Relations Society of America, and International Communication Association.

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