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Issue-Driven Strategic Communication:

There will be occasions when political stakeholders or the media propose well-intended public policy that is potentially counterproductive in relation to the agency’s primary outcomes. When this occurs, it is generally a result of one or more of the following:

·       The media has written about a crisis, problem, or tragedy. The elected official must respond and does not have the necessary information to do so in a manner that supports the agency’s primary outcomes.

·       The agency has not taken the initiative to cultivate an appropriate, mutually supportive relationship with the elected official.

·       The agency has not successfully cultivated a trusting relationship with the reporters and other staff members of the particular media outlet.

When these circumstances develop, the agency can choose to see this as a strategic communication opportunity and provide needed education and information or can head for the “bunker” in which it will eventually be buried.

In these situations, the stakeholder mapping process as illustrated in Figure 3.2 can again be used very effectively. First, identify all of the key stakeholders surrounding the specific issue. Next, determine the level of value each places on the child protection work being done and the level of understanding each has of the specific issue. Now, identify which stakeholders have the authority to make the wanted decision or significantly influence the elected official’s decision. Finally, decide exactly what you want each stakeholder on the map to do. What specific action do you expect from the stakeholder? This is your issue-driven stakeholder map. Usually, there will be ten or more key stakeholders on this type of special stakeholder map. If your map has fewer names, carefully reconsider who all should be on the map to be sure you are not overlooking someone critical to your success.

Now, carefully answer the following four questions:

·       What is your preferred outcome; what will you consider as success?

·       Who (the people or groups) has both the authority and resources to make the desired action or decision occur?

·       What is your message; what is the most important idea that you want firmly planted in the minds of the key stakeholders you have identified in relation to this issue? (All strategic communications should contain this one-sentence, power message.)

·       What tactics or specific strategies will you use to convey your message most persuasively to each stakeholder on your map? (The message does not change but the strategy for delivering the message usually varies from stakeholder to stakeholder.)[24]

This process may seem excessively elementary. Nonetheless, if you cannot identify the specific action or decision you want, you are unlikely to get it. Carefully identify the people or groups of people who have the authority and resources to take the specific action or make the particular decision you want. Now, determine the message that represents the core of your argument.

Think long and hard about whether the message you have decided upon represents positive outcomes for children and families or merely serves administrative convenience. The latter will have little weight. You will be merely viewed as an entrenched bureaucrat, someone for whom stakeholders have little empathy. Once you are sure that your argument represents obviously positive outcomes for children and families, thoughtfully consider your strategies to convey your message. This package is, then, your issue-driven strategic communications plan.

It is critically important for you to monitor your progress regularly to determine whether each element of your plan is working. If it is, stakeholders should “move” in the desired direction. If it is not, evaluate why not and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Finally, if you have not developed the large stakeholder map discussed above, do it now or be faced with issue-driven planning on a continuous basis. If that occurs, it may well be only a matter of time before you begin to lose significant opportunities to achieve your agency’s primary outcomes.

An agency’s reputation takes years to build but can be compromised in a fraction of that time. Reputation defines the boundaries or latitude the agency has for achieving its mission. The primary function of the agency is to increase the safety of children. If the key stakeholders perceive the agency as being competent to achieve this function, it will receive all necessary authorization. It will successfully garner needed financial and human resources, along with the community support required to increase the safety of children. The community will report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the agency with the belief that it will respond quickly and use its granted authority appropriately. The other members of the Children’s Safety Net will more readily offer their financial and human resources to the agency because it is not only the right thing to do but each will be held accountable to those who have the ability to grant legitimation and support if they do not. When your community achieves this level of mutual support and reciprocity, the safety of its children and the stability of its families will be far better assured.

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