Often in my line of work, clients become very worried about complaints coming in from stakeholders or criticism appearing in the media. They invariably want to know how we are going to win them over. In most cases I say that we may never be able to do that… and that’s okay.
In the field of issues management, where you’re dealing with contentious matters, you have to recognize from the get-go that you’re not going to get everyone to support your side. Unanimity is an impossible target, so don’t even try for it. If there’s the least bit of controversy, there’ll certainly be a minority of people dead set against your interests. On the upside, there’ll be a corresponding minority of people who are your core supporters – whose loyalty will almost never waver.
We counsel our clients that our goal is to persuade the middle. Acknowledge your loyalists and pay respect to your opponents, but our aim is to sway the opinions of people whose minds are not completely made up, or who are perhaps completely indifferent to your cause. (I know it’s difficult to imagine people indifferent to an issue that is life or death for your company or organization, but trust me when I say they’re out there in great numbers.)
Take a look at the success the anti-tobacco lobby has enjoyed over the years. Thirty years ago they were facing an uphill battle trying to get people to quit. Smokers puffed away in theatres, on buses, at the office and even in grocery stores. It wasn’t even easy to persuade people of the health threat that tobacco smoke posed to smokers and non-smokers alike. A steady campaign, armed with science and consistent, urgent and credible messages eventually won over the middle. Bylaws gradually banned smoking indoors and smokers began to give up the habit in greater numbers (myself included). And today, the overwhelming majority of people in our society see things the way the anti-tobacco lobby sees them. But there’s still a rump of dissenters. And there will always be.
In public relations, our efforts are focused on appealing to the self-interest of our target audiences. Make your issue connect with their needs, their wants, their lives, and you’ll be on the road to success.
We excel at helping our clients navigate issues in Northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. We know how to reach key influencers and how to carve messages that persuade and mold opinions. We use traditional and new media to get the job done.