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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:

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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