The difference between a crisis and an issues management plan

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As PR professionals, part of what we do is develop crisis and issues management plans for our clients. It is important to know not only what is being said about your brand directly, but also to know what topical issues that relate to your brand, are being covered in the media. These two things are the two main differences between a crisis and an issues management plan.

A crisis plan is quite simply, a pre-planned plan in the case if a crisis. A crisis (in PR terms) is something that affects your brand name directly – when your brand is directly associated with something that has gone wrong, and when the brand name is mentioned. One of the biggest crises that occurred for a business was the 2010 BP Oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, which were directly linked with BP.

The most popular industries that experience crisis are shelved products, such as food, toys and cleaning products. Often, these types of products are recalled and taken off shelves because of product faults, which can often impact brand loyalty and corporate reputation. One of the most notable examples of this was the famous Johnson and Johnson/ Tylenol case.

In 1982, Tylenol had a 35% market share in the US for over-the-counter medicine, and accounted for 15% of total profits for Johnson and Johnson. One individual laced the drug with cyanide, which directly resulted in the death of 7 people and widespread panic about the product. Johnson and Johnson’s total market value dropped by $1 billion, and their share price dropped almost immediately.

In 1986, the same thing happened – but this time, Johnson & Johnson were prepared.  They immediately ordered Tylenol to be recalled from the shelves of every single stockist in the US – not just for the state that had been affected. Tylenol was held from the market until a better product protection solution was developed. Shortly after, Tylenol was reintroduced to the market with tamperproof packaging, which would make it much more difficult to tamper with. As a result, the company recovered 70% of their market share. Why? Because they were open and honest with their customers, they took extreme measures to ensure that all of their products were safe, and they showed genuine concern for their customers’ safety, which had a positive effect on brand loyalty and trust.

As you can see, what Johnson & Johnson did was reactive. An issues management plan is more proactive than a crisis management plan, and because of this, issues management is often associated with corporate social responsibility. An issue (in PR terms) is a social concern that is getting media attention – such examples include childhood obesity, the ageing population, the environment and the emission of greenhouse gases, the production and processing of palm oil and cyber bullying, just to name a few.

An issues management plan is when a company proactively does their part to try and resolve an issue that is of relevance to their brand. A great example of an issues management plan was Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the issue of self-esteem among women, particularly within the cosmetics industry where advertisements are often photo-shopped to create ‘perfection’. If you haven’t seen their Youtube video yet (which has clocked up over 13 million views) watch it here. Although Dove was never directly targeted for photo shopping advertisements and using ‘fake’ people in their campaigns, their proactive approach to the issue was what made the campaign so successful.

We hope that clearly explains to you the difference between a crisis and an issues management plan!

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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