3 Things to Consider Before Your Organization Jumps into a Hot-Button Issue


The world is certainly not experiencing a shortage of hot-button issues these days, and many public relations professionals are faced with the daunting task of deciding how their organizations will communicate (or refrain from taking a stance) on polarizing issues that could affect their brand.

Civil rights and election law attorney Emily Seawell from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice recently shared some advice on this topic during an FPRA Issues Management Webinar. Seawell, a former Tampa journalist, offered a unique perspective for PR practitioners as she has spent months meeting with community and civic groups to talk candidly about transgender issues, redistricting and voter suppression allegations related to recent changes in North Carolina state law. These hot-button issues have made headlines throughout the nation, and Seawell explained how her organization decides when to get involved on an issue and what actions to take.

When debating whether your organization should step into spotlight or take a stand on a hot-button issue, Seawell suggested asking the following questions to help shape your decision and your messaging:

1. Should we get involved in this issue?

Things to consider:

How does getting involved in this issue advance our organizational values or mission?

How does getting involved with this specific audience advance our organizational values or mission?

Is this issue or message currently resonating with that audience?

2. If so, what are our options for involvement?

Things to consider:

Join someone else’s message by signing on to a statement, sharing messages and branding, or partnering with others working in the space.

Build your own narrative by using your own voice, highlighting your own stories, and inviting others to join your version of the narrative.

3. How do we effectively engage audiences on a hot-button issue?

Things to consider:

Direct messaging through your usual channels. (Members of your existing audience are likely to be most attuned to your organizational values.)

Involve members of the audiences you’re trying to reach in planning your strategy.

Consider who you aren’t reaching, such as parts of the community that you don’t regularly serve or hear from, and people who you would assume are against your position.

The Power of Partnerships

Seawell also stressed the power of partnering with other organizations to strengthen your messages, saying that partnerships:

Increase visibility and credibility for our brands and messages

– Help us come up with and promote responsible language for discussing difficult or complicated issues

– Promote counter-narratives that reflect shared values implicated in stories and issues that are getting traction with the public

Emily Seawell can be reached at emily@scsj.org. Learn more about the Southern Coalition for Social Justice at www.southerncoalition.org. Or follow SCSJ on Twitter or Facebook