Review: Everyday Communication Strategies

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

Everyday Communication Strategies: Manage Common Issues To Prevent A Crisis And Protect Your Brand
By Amanda Coleman
Kogan Page, 2023, 244 pages

Amanda Coleman’s first book, published in 2020 and which we reviewed here, was on crisis communication. She describes her follow-up book as a prequel to this because it explores where so many crises arise: issues.

For most people in public relations and communication crisis handling is not an everyday task, but all of us necessarily routinely manage issues (even though we may not be aware we’re doing so). What is a standard PEST/EL but an exercise in mapping out those issues that could affect an organisation?

In this book Coleman brackets issues together with incidents, and views them both as negative forces that need resolution. This shows the mind of the experienced practitioner at work, always wondering what could possibly go wrong next. But surely issues can also present opportunities, and can often be neutral in their impact on the organisation and its stakeholders. They’re on the radar; they may need monitoring; but they don’t always require active management.

The definition of an issue cited here is ‘an important topic for debate or discussion’, though she elsewhere conflates issues with problems, while ‘an incident is when something has happened or occurred that could create a problem for the business.’

So, whichever one you pick, we’re dealing with problems and should view ourselves as problem-solvers. 

Her emphasis on incidents comes from the public and emergency services, and she cites examples from education, the health service and policing.

Coleman advocates early identification of issues, and feels this is an area of weakness among practitioners. ‘To be able to identify issues requires a change in the mindset of communicators and key leaders and managers within the business.’

To help with issues identification, she suggests looking at six aspects of business operation: people, product, policies, perceptions, finances and environment.

In a useful section, she discusses how to turn the mass of information available into a communication briefing system. And this leads to an interesting conclusion. The communicator is forced out of their comfort zone (comms) to take on the role of trusted adviser in the area of risk and reputation. At that point, there’s another twist: ‘the primary aim of any issues management should not be to protect the reputation of the business.’ That’s because there are ethical dilemmas posed by an adviser also acting as an advocate.

Some will welcome a practitioner’s take on these dilemmas; others will feel that a more academic approach would add more context to these discussions.

Coleman focuses on the here and now and there are only occasional clues as to what’s come before and where this might lead. But here’s one: ‘PR and communication have always been focused on promoting the business, supporting developments, enhancing reputation and creating innovative campaigns and promotions. The daily approach is to seek out opportunities for communication and to positively build the reputation of the business. In March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way that communicators viewed the work they do. Managing issues and incidents suddenly became a daily requirement and understanding crisis communication a critical skill for all communicators.’ 

To use a sporting metaphor, the cheerleaders suddenly found themselves switching to performing the role of physios.

A highlight of this book are the scenarios presented towards the end (these will prove useful for educators). These illustrate the complexities of real world decision making in contrast to the over-simplification of working from a list of principles and set of checklists. The lesson that emerges is that we should listen first, consult and advise next, and only communicate last – which is consistent with the approach championed by Professor Jim Macnamara who has been advocating the role of corporate listening.

Coleman proposes the four As of issues management: Assess (information gathering), Analyse (use a decision-making model to assist in developing a plan), Articulate (the plan will need a clear narrative), Act (but be flexible and adaptable).

It’s a sensible approach which I’d recommend to anyone reaching the level where they find their role switches from communicating to advising on risk, issues and crises.

It’s useful to view issues management as part of a wider process. To supplement her approach and to add further context and analysis, here’s a short, recommended reading list comprising academic and practitioner sources covering risk, issues, crisis and reputation management.

Academic texts

Coombs, T (2023), Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding (sixth edition), Sage

Diers-Lawson, A (2020) Crisis Communication: Managing Stakeholder Relationships, Routledge

Heath, R and Palenchar, M (2009) Strategic Issues Management: Organizations and Public Policy Challenges (second edition), Sage

Practitioner texts

Dietrich, G (2014) Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age, Que

Griffin, A (2014) Crisis, Issues and Reputation Management, Kogan Page

Hartley, K (2019) Communicate in a Crisis: Understand, Engage and Influence Consumer Behaviour to Maximize Brand Trust, Kogan Page

Hemus, J (2021) Crisis Proof: How to prepare for the worst day of your business life, Rethink Press

Langham, T (2019) Reputation Management: The Future of Corporate Communications and Public Relations, Emerald Publishing

Waddington, S and Earl, S (2012) Brand Anarchy: Managing corporate reputation, Bloomsbury

Waller, D and Younger, R (2018) The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You, Oneworld Publications