A latte with Josh Terry

Episode first aired on November 23, 2023

Season 02 Episode 05

In this episode, Matisse chats with Josh Terry about all things issues management, planning, and the fine line between it and crisis management.

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About our guest

Josh, Manager of External Communications at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, has nearly 15 years of experience in communications, leading media relations, internal communications and issues management with a focus on government and non-profit organizations. When he’s not at work, you can find him out walking his dog, reading a book, or on the dodgeball court.

Episode Transcript

Welcome back to another episode of PR & Lattes, where you can fill up your cup on everything PR and communications. I’m your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis, and I’m so happy to have you join me today for a brand new episode. Before we get started, make sure you subscribe to this podcast wherever you’re listening to it now to get notified each week when a new episode drops.

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On today’s episode, I’m chatting with Joshua Terry, manager of external communications at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre about all things issues management. Josh has nearly 15 years of experience in communications, leading media relations, internal communications and issues management with a focus on government and non-profit organizations. When he’s not at work, you can find him walking his dog, reading a book or on the dodgeball court. So I am thrilled to have him on today’s episode to talk about all things issues management and to share his expertise.

So with that said, it’s your time to grab your latte, sit back and enjoy. Alright, so Josh, I am so excited to have you on the podcast today. I have been looking forward to having you on the show for quite some time, but couldn’t figure out what avenue to talk to you about because we could talk about so much. But before we get started into all the good stuff around issues management, tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and your PR journey. Yeah, happy to. Thanks for having me and congratulations on season two.

Thank you. Very exciting. I’m so happy to finally be here. I’ve been waiting. When is it my turn? But yeah, no, I’m thrilled to be here. And as for my journey, like so many of your other guests, I’m a crowd Durham College alumni. So I’m the class of 2010. And I was sort of, I came through PR in kind of a strange way. So I, when I left high school, I was actually my first plan.

was to be a teacher. And then the year that I was in grade 12, there was a federal election. I got involved in the election campaign and I was like, oh, I like politics. So I changed my plans. I went to university. I was doing a double major in history and political science and being political, I was at the University of Ottawa. And so I was working on Parliament Hill while I was in school. And it sort of just happened. The office that I was working on lost their communications person and the chief of staff was just like, hey, you know how to write. Can you take over this file until we find somebody? I was like, oh, okay, sure. I can figure this out. So next thing you know, I’m in university doing communications for a member of parliament and I sort of just I don’t need a four-year university degree. Um, so I left, took a bit of a leap of faith, took a semester off and applied to Durham College and landed there. So, uh, graduated in 2010, as I said, when I was in the second year of the program, I was working for another member of parliament in her constituency office doing communications. So I, thankfully, thanks to the reputation of the program and, and some of the work that I had done, I was able to get in there, get a year of experience while I was still in school. And then from there, kind of have just taken whatever opportunities come my way. I did the agency thing for a couple years. I did media relations and issues management at community housing, Toronto community housing for two years, which was a very challenging place to work. Rob Ford was the mayor at the time that I was there. So I will leave it at that. Yeah. And then.

That’s when we first got to work together, Matisse, was when I left community housing and moved to CNIB. So we got to spend a year together there. Probably the best year of my career, thanks to getting to work with you. And then sort of moved around to a couple different NGOs. Amazing, I love the journey from political science and then realizing, actually, I can still be in that realm, but in a different way. Sort of, right? Yeah.

Yeah, exactly. And not have to do the theoretical, philosophical stuff and just jump right into the doing, which I much prefer. I love that. So speaking of the doing, let’s talk about issues management, the topic of today’s podcast. For those who might be listening who are students and maybe don’t know fully what issues management is, can you explain what that is and its critical role in modern business, especially when it comes to digital communications and social media?

Sure, I can certainly give it a try. I think ultimately what it is, it’s the mitigation of risk. So it sort of sits parallel to crisis management, which is a whole other separate world that is exciting and fun, but stressful. And I think what it comes down to is you’re really dealing with those moments when it’s a person or a company, when their behavior doesn’t match the expectation that the public and the shareholders or stakeholders

So as I said, it’s crisis prevention. But I think where it’s a little bit different is that it also can be around outside issues that impact your business. So a political development, for example, already going back to the politics. So it’s similar to crisis because it’s not always in your control. And it’s funny, I joke about it. A friend of mine is a lawyer.

And he says that people essentially pay him to have anxiety on their behalf. And I think it’s similar in issues management, right? Like I, you know, somebody comes to me with a plan and it’s, this is what we’re going to do. And I’m the one that sort of pokes holes in it and says, well, this is going to make this happen and this is going to make this happen. And you can’t say this because it’s going to cause this person to get angry or this organization to get angry. And so I sort of have that reputation as the no person, which is not a great reputation to have, but they think it’s important. Exactly. I think the other thing that I think is it’s critically important for any communications person but particularly someone working in issues management is you have to have that confidence to speak truth to power. If a CEO or an executive VP is coming to you and says, we are going to do this, and if you’re deferential to authority, it’s yes, of course we’re going to do that. But I think from an issues management perspective, it’s no, we can’t do that because it will impact this. And then it’s about offering alternatives and finding that happy balance to avoid the issue, but to get the message across. And I think to your point, issues management is really critical because an issue is solvable, but when it gets to a crisis, that’s a whole other level.

And if you don’t manage the issue correctly, it’s gonna become a crisis. And to your point, especially in the era of social media, where it’s everyone’s got cameras in their pockets, everybody’s got phones in their pockets, and they can put you on blast in 30 seconds. And I think if people are looking for kind of a way to learn a bit more about issues management, and sort of, it’s not directly related, but one of my favourite books about the online impact of behaviour, or the impact of behaviour online is by John Ronson and it’s called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. And I’ve learned a lot from it as it comes to the world of issues management. So it looks at people who have faced the consequences of really poor decisions. Like I don’t know if you remember, I can’t remember how many years ago it was, but it was that PR executive Justine Sacco, who, and it was the hashtag has Justine landed, and she posted a really insensitive tweet about her trip to South Africa. It was, I mean, it was a racist tweet, let’s not call it insensitive. And so she’s profiled in this book and kind of how her life and her career fell apart and how she sort of has tried to come back from that. And so I think issues management is ultimately preventing someone or an organization from becoming a chapter in a sequel to so you’ve been publicly shamed. That’s a great way of putting it. And I think there tends to be this misconception that issues management is crisis management when really they are separate and one helps prevent the other, like you said. I know I’ve heard some people kind of use the terms interchangeably, I’m like, no, no. They are very different. They each have their role. And one, like you said, is the protection of our mitigating of the issue while the other one is, well, the issue has gotten out there and now we gotta handle it, right? Yep, yeah, I think you’re exactly right. And I think too, sometimes to the detriment of the profession, I think that spin-doctor stereotype comes into play when it comes to issues management and it’s, oh, you know, you’re just gonna come in and spin this and make me look good even though I did this bad thing. And it’s, no, we’re gonna tell the truth and we’re gonna own this we’re going to fix it. So that’s my spiel against please don’t call me a spin doctor. Far from, in my opinion, far from. If anything, you are helping set up an organization or even a person to not wind up in a situation where then, you know, it is, I say traditional, but that’s not the right word.

It is expected, if you will, quote unquote, that a quote unquote spin doctor would know, throw somebody else under the bus or not take responsibility or accountability, do PR wrong. Right. Yes, exactly. You are wrong at that point. Exactly. So when thinking about issues management, how can organizations or how have you helped organizations set up sort of early warning systems to detect those potential issues or problems that might come up? And are there any tools or technology, technologies really that you have used that have helped?

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s one of the challenges, right? Like, it’s not, you know, there’s not a dedicated issues tool that it’s, this will solve all my problems. But I think, I wish that existed, quite frankly. But I think it’s really using some of those basic tools that we all use, whether it’s traditional media monitoring or social media monitoring.

You know, it’s just having those early line of sight, particularly if it’s, you know, an organization that’s known to be critical of your work, for example. So obviously that’s gonna be an immediate Google alert that as soon as they issue a statement, it’s coming into my inbox so I can see what they’re saying, right? But I think more importantly is that it comes down to empowering people internally in your company as that first line of defence.

And it’s about relationship building and building trust and showing and demonstrating to people that communications is there as a support. We’re ultimately a service to any business that we’re a part of. So I think it really comes down to relationships and trust. And I think particularly for organizations who have teams that are in a field or they have engagement teams. So the NWMO has a really significant community engagement process. And it’s actually, I just actually came back this week from a trip up to one of our potential siting communities and getting to see some of those engagement teams have those conversations with people who are in a community who could potentially be impacted by our work. Those people are my first line of defense. So if they’re hearing something in the community that they’re working in, that could potentially bubble into an issue, or if there’s something that’s come up among community members, whereas, hey, you know, we’re getting a lot of questions about this. Can you help us deal with it? I find having those relationships has been so critical to getting out in front of issues and developing messaging and supporting materials for those field teams that ultimately prevents it from becoming an issue in the first place. And I think that’s another good point too, is it’s really about making sure that those frontline teams understand when and who to flag things to. I sort of liken it to a weather radar, right? Like those are the people on the ground and they can see it coming and they’re the ones who can let you know and as long as you have that trust and show that you’re a supportive business partner, you can achieve anything and get out in front of those issues. Yeah. Something you mentioned that with the new bills, Bill C-18 coming in, so the media monitoring or the Google alert component, how do you think that’s going to shift things in terms of monitoring issues from an issues management perspective? Yeah, I think it’s a challenge, right? Because I mean, already, we’ve seen, for those of us in Canada, we’ve lost access to news on Meta platforms so and I won’t be surprised with if you know I don’t think actually Twitter is caught up in that but yeah I’ve actually I ran into that today where there was where there was not an issue but there was media mention of us that’s not covered by the traditional media monitoring platforms and because of the changes that Google has implemented, it got missed and it didn’t get into our media scan and then somebody else was able to flag it and say, hey, this got missed. And so I’m already seeing the impact on my day-to-day work. But I think, it goes back to my previous point, but I think those relationships are so important with your frontline people, right? Because you’ve now lost that immediate access to, oh, you know, the Toronto Star just published an article about this issue and we should get out in front of it and start to develop a plan. So yeah, so having those relationships is so critical because you can get that feedback from what people are hearing so quickly. But I’m by no means an expert on Bill C-18, but it’s already causing problems in my work life and I certainly hope that a solution can be found.

We got to pay our journalists and support media, but I really need my Google Alerts. No, I completely understand. I find it interesting. It’s a question I’m going to ask, particularly this season from those who are on the call, on the show. I mean, how is this going to impact? Because a lot of people set up the Google Alerts. From one of my readings, I found that at the end of the year, Google Alerts is going to take away all Canadian content as well. right from the Google news, the news section. So I set up my Google alerts for Canadian news. What’s gonna happen then, particularly, like you said, from an issues management perspective, what if I miss something, I can only have so many apps that I can check all the time, right. So it’ll be interesting, particularly for those more local publications that, you know, have been really thriving because of social media now with this impact.

Right, where’s the button? Yeah, exactly. And I mean, yeah, and I mean, we just saw last week, the news that of with Metroland that they laid off a significant amount of staff and are switching all of their local, with the exception of their dailies, all of their local papers are switching to online only. Yeah. Which is a whole, that could be a whole episode, quite frankly. It’s a whole other podcast. But it’s alarming, it’s, you know, and I think, you know, as we’re in this era of, misinformation and online churn and all kinds of other issues that have come up, I think it just shows how important quality journalism is. But yes, again, that could be a whole separate episode. A whole other episode. So you’ll be back next season for a chat on this. Good. Yes. Okay. So with so many potential issues for different organizations whether it be super small or potentially very large, how do you help your organization or previous organizations prioritize which issues to address first? And do you find any that you have specific criteria or benchmarks that help you with that? Or is it just, this just sounds really bad? Yeah, no, that’s a good question. And so I think it comes down to impact. And so I sort of look at it, is this a potential issue? Is this a simmering issue that’s starting to get attention or is this a full-blown issue that’s already in the media and it’s already in social media. So here’s an example. A couple months ago at the NWO, we saw a column that was touching on some of our work about the long-term storage of nuclear waste. And it came from an American columnist. It was published in the LA Times.

And I’ll be diplomatic about it and say that it wasn’t the most well-researched article. There was some some issues that certainly from the experts who work inside of our company said, hey, this isn’t right. And I think we need to fix this. And I appreciate them. Cause again, it goes back to the earlier point of you have that first line of defense of, of kind of your people closest to the work. And so as they were coming to me and pointing out some of the issues, I was like, oh yeah, this, this isn’t right. Um, but when I stepped back and I took a look at it, the reality is, is that it looked like an issue, but it wasn’t because a couple of things were happening. The article didn’t get any traction. It wasn’t being widely shared on social media. We weren’t seeing it pop up in our potential siting communities. Um, and, and so it wasn’t generating the questions and it wasn’t creating a sense of misinformation and churn. And so what it came down to was, you know, if we issued a letter to the editor or we issued a column in response that was actually going to create an issue because it was going to make it bigger than it was. So I think with that said, you can look at it from a couple of different categories, you know, potential issue. And that’s where, you know, it hasn’t happened, but you can see it coming. And then I think you can see it as a developing issue. So your key audiences aren’t aware, but something’s bubbling below the surface and you’ve got some time to get ahead of it. And then I think the last kind of criteria that I use is the least ideal, the most concerning is the active issue. It’s the proverbial, you know why this hit the fan, and there’s a reputational risk in play that people are already paying attention to. At that point, where does it switch from issues management to crisis management? You know, that’s always such a fine line, but I think where it turns into a crisis is, you know, if I go back to that article, for example, if that had a sort of engaged groups critical of our work and, you know, led to people sharing it widely on social if it had of led to it being printed and distributed in the community and sort of said, well, you know, the article said this and your website says this and which one is true and sort of again, creating that churn of confusion. I think in that case probably would be a low level crisis, but it still would be a crisis, right? Because there’s that reputational damage that has been done as a result of that piece. Yeah, no, that makes total sense to me. And again, like you said, there is that fine line. And I think that comes with experience. Where does that fine line come in between issues and crisis, right? And people will get a better understanding of it. You’re probably gonna deal more with issues management than crisis, but knowing where that fine line is.

Or ideally, you hope that you’re dealing more with issues than crisis. Yes, exactly. There’s many where I should place that, say. So you gave an example of really a well-managed PR issue or potential issue that could have come up from an article. Is there one where the organization or yourself maybe didn’t handle it so well? And what key takeaways did you get from that? Yeah. I mean, okay. So I have two that come to mind, one is pretty recent as we’re recording and it’s Drew Barrymore. Yes. Like that has, I am so confused about what she is trying to accomplish. And what was it? I think it was this past Friday as we’re recording, she posted her, you know, makeup free Instagram video trying to explain herself. And I loved, I loved when she said, oh, you know, I don’t have any, you know, this isn’t a PR response.

No, it’s not. Cause if you had a PR response, none of this would have been happening. Um, but for listeners who don’t know, Drew Barrymore has a talk show and, um, has decided to return to the air in the midst of the writers guild and the screen actors guild strike and is being rightfully in, as, as another union member, um, is, is being rightfully. Criticized for that, for that decision to, to cross the picket lines. Um, and, you know, she’s, she’s come out a couple of times and said, well, you know, my show started during COVID and it’s been really hard and it’s yeah, okay. It’s, it’s, it’s been hard, but you’re, you’re damaging your, your colleagues. And I think I haven’t heard a clear explanation from her that makes sense as to why she’s, she’s returning to the air. I think, you know, I think there’s some vestiges of an argument there around, well, you know, there’s other crew who need to be paid and are out of jobs. And yes, I certainly empathize with them, but you’re ultimately crossing a picket line and that’s not cool. But the other one that comes to mind for a really poorly managed issue is the CEO of Miller & Noll. I think this was last year or earlier this year. But for listeners who aren’t familiar with the story, the CEO spoke at an employee meeting and she was just berating her employees who were concerned about their bonuses because the company was in a decline.

I would seen a decline in their sales, but she had taken a huge bonus and you know, she said what was it? You know, you got a leave pity city Yeah, it just was it was I cannot imagine being on the other end of that team’s call as an employee and then you know it hit the media and she was taking sustained criticism and You know the first statement they came out with Was oh she was just misunderstood and this was taken out of context and that understandably blew up even further. Yeah. And so after this criticism continued and you know, the news cycle just kept hammering this poor woman. Maybe not poor, I should probably not have much sympathy for her after what she said. But you know, she finally apologized and it took days or weeks, but you know, she said something to the effect of this was me trying to rally my employees and I’m sorry it wasn’t seen that way. It’s that classic apology of, I’m sorry I made you feel this way, which is not an apology. She messed up, she broke trust with her employees and it really should have just been simply I’m sorry. And frankly, she probably should have returned her bonus, but that’s a whole separate issue.

The point that I’m making, right, is clear communication is key. And when you make a mistake, own it. If you are the one that’s created the issue, the way to manage the issue is own it and apologize and communicate clearly. And the key thing that I think a lot of people forget is that you need to take the time to build that trust back up. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to require continued issues. Management is going to require continued clear, honest, transparent communications, nothing is unfixable, but I wouldn’t wanna be the CEO of Milernal, that’s all I’m saying. No, and I think- Or on that comms team. No, no, not even, no, that’s where, you know, if you get asked by somebody, so what would you do? So I quit. Yeah, exactly. That’s my resignation tendered. Yeah, yeah. But I think that’s a great example that kind of transitions into the next question around social media platforms having changed issues management landscape, right? For example, if we didn’t have social media and cameras in our pockets, like you said before, that team’s meeting wouldn’t have been necessarily recorded and shared and that issue have been blown up. So what do you think are some best practices for managing issues on social media? Yeah, and you know, as you said, and as we’ve touched on, the whole rise of social media has really made issues more immediate.

It’s, you know, it happens in real time, right? Um, and I think that can be a blessing. Um, sometimes, you know, you can get out in front of things and resolve it. I think, you know, lots of, I guess, X people who use X or companies who use X, excuse me, it’s very hard not to call it Twitter. Um, um, you know, they use it primarily as a customer service tool and, you know, they see somebody complaining and they jump into the, even if sometimes, even if you haven’t mentioned or tagged the company directly, and they sort of just have those listening tools and jump in and say, hey, we’re here to help and take it from a 10 to a two. But I think it’s also a curse, right? Like something can start as an issue, start as a tiny little issue, and then as people pile on the bandwagon on social media, it goes from zero to 60.

I think for me the best piece of advice that I always give is respond right away. And that’s even if you don’t have an answer. That holding message, the holding message is so critical. If something happens, it’s we’re aware of it, we’re looking into it, we will report back. If you don’t have a holding message, I think you’re sunk from the get-go. And I touched on it earlier. I think the other piece of advice I have is just be transparent, you know, it’s not always possible, particularly on social media, to solve something quickly, right? Like if you’re having an issue with Air Canada and, you know, some of those things have to be private and you have to move into DMs and solve it that way. But I think if you can, particularly when it comes to issues less on the customer service side, you know, resolve them publicly, be transparent, as I said, and keep communicating about it at an appropriate cadence. And I think that’s the way to build and maintain trust. Do you find that there are certain organizations that do this really well in comparison to others? Yeah, you know, it’s interesting because I actually have left X, so I don’t really get to see it as much kind of on a day-to-day basis, but just in my personal experience, like a big shout out to the social media team at Kudo. Like I have, I…A couple months ago, I was having some really significant issues with my phone. It was constantly dropping calls and which again is not ideal when you’re working in media relations and it was in my previous role. So my work phone was also my personal phone and I was missing things. And I, I put out just a general tweet and I said, you know, Hey, is anybody else having these issues with kudos? Cause I keep dropping calls and blah, blah. And I didn’t tag them because I just was curious. Like, you know, I’m sort of just investigating to see if this was a knee thing or if it was a broader thing. And within five minutes, the KUDO team had reached out to me and said, Hey, this doesn’t sound good. Can we help you out? And, you know, brought it into a DM. And I sort of was like, this, you know, this has happened, this has happened, this has happened. And they said, okay, let’s try this. And, you know, ultimately got it fixed. And I think, you know, I don’t have my account anymore for prosperity, but I’m pretty sure I gave them a shout out because I think it’s also important to recognize when people help you out like that. So I think that’s more, that’s probably more on the customer service side of things, but I mean that easily can become an issue, right? Like if it wasn’t just my phone that was the problem and a bunch of people were, oh yeah, I’m having this issue, I’m having this issue, like immediately it looks like, oh hey, KUDO is not a trustworthy, reliable network. I don’t want to put my cell phone on their network.

So yeah, that’s one example that comes to mind. Yeah. The one that comes to mind of an issue that turned into a crisis from a communication standpoint would be Rogers. Oh, yes. Like from an infrastructure standpoint, when they had their outage that literally everything went out, it seemed. Yes, infrastructure, that’s a crisis, but communications that it took so long for them to even acknowledge the issue, and that’s what escalated people’s anger and like we don’t even know what’s happening, what’s going on, and that escalated it to a crisis from a not so well handled situation anyways. Yeah, no, I agree. And then I think they made it worse. Because if I’m remembering correctly, they offered like a pittance of a bill of credit. And then people were like, you know, I wasn’t able to work, I wasn’t able to connect with my family for I think some people were out for two, three days. Yeah. And it was Oh, you’re gonna get $20 credit or something like that. Yeah. And it’s like, well, when my phone bills $120 a month, 20 bucks doesn’t cut it. Especially in this world of hybrid work where people are working from home and they need reliable internet. Yeah, I agree. That was a really bad weight manage issue that spiralled very fast. Very, very quickly. Very, very quickly. In your experience, how do you recommend proactive one when it comes to issues management. And do you think there are benefits in doing so? Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I’m biased. So my biggest piece of advice is I’m gonna tell people to listen to their communications team. Like if we’re telling you this is gonna be an issue, we’re not just saying it because we don’t wanna do the work. We’re telling you that it’s gonna be an issue. But to answer it a bit more seriously, I think it comes down to being able to anticipate and I think that means sometimes you have to be self-critical. I think sometimes, you know, we get in our heads and it’s we’re proud of where we work and it’s, you know, you sort of get in that headspace of we’re not going to do anything wrong. But sometimes you just have to make tough choices in business and recognize the fact that not everybody is going to be happy and I think weaving that understanding into communications about sensitive topics is key. Yeah.

But I think also just being clear from the outset, right? Like if you’re in an issue, the last thing you wanna do is muddy the water. So again, I go back to what I said before, communicate clearly, communicate regularly. And you also just have to accept the fact that sometimes people are not going to agree with you. Sometimes they’re gonna be critical of you no matter what you do. And that’s okay. Frankly, I think the best organizations welcome that criticism. And you know, I like to see the best in people. I think the general public are pretty understanding. And as long as you’re being clear, as long as you’re being transparent, as long as you’re being honest, the issue can be dealt with no matter what it is. I wish people who didn’t really know what PR was listened to this podcast. I’m sure they’re like PR and latte is PR. I don’t want to hear from quote unquote spin talkers when really we’re sitting here going truth and transparency and honesty. Yes, exactly. Which I know is probably… Yeah, for some of the people who are listening and are like, oh, this guy came from politics and he’s talking about truth and transparency. What? But it’s so true. That is that is how you build that repute, not only reputation, but rapport and that trust with your audience. We’re then going to have that brand loyalty to your organization. Yeah. Or be more willing to listen to what your organization or brand has to say versus, you know, adding in lies or false truths, or however people wanna sugarcoat it. Spin. Right? So yeah, and you mentioned it before, the importance of stakeholder engagement, right? So talking to communities with your current organization, how important overall would you say that stakeholder relations is in an issues management? Oh, it’s critical. I think, for me personally, I’ve had the best success when I brought stakeholders along.

And I think it’s as simple as using a cascade approach to communications, right? Like you bring people into the tent in a way that makes sense. So again, you know, kind of leaning on my own experience in one of my recent roles as the manager of internal communications, we had to do a corporate restructure. Like the business wasn’t profitable, it wasn’t working, the headcount was too high. And about 10% of the company was let go, which sucked to work on. Like let me tell you, suck.

But I think, you know, I don’t want to say it was a success because people lost their jobs and that sucks. But from an issues management perspective, it actually was a success. And the reason was, is because we told people months before it happened. We, the executive team recognized what needed to happen. They brought communications in and it was, okay, you know, we’re going to move ahead with this restructure in April. I think we found out in January, and we told employees in February and it was, you know, this is coming. We put it on our earnings call with analysts. As I mentioned, we told employees and we also provided regular updates that people weren’t, you know, it wasn’t, you found it in February and it was, we’ll talk to you again in March. Um, and you know, we, we built a special dedicated section on the internet that was, that was updated. And we provided regular sets of key messages to team leaders and to managers so that they could answer questions and talk to their teams. And, and again, it sucked. It was the, one of the worst projects I ever had to work on. I really didn’t, I learned a lot, but I didn’t enjoy it because I knew I was impacting people’s livelihoods. Um, but that clear, consistent, transparent communication worked. Like people weren’t happy, understandably.

But they came along on the journey with us and they sort of, it was interesting because kind of as it was happening, there were a lot of people who were like, I wish this company the best. And it’s pretty surprising, you know, when you lay somebody off and then it’s, oh, you know, they’re wishing us well and they’re rooting for our success. That’s probably pretty rare. Yeah, so I think, you know, just to go back to the question about engaging stakeholders, right? Like, bringing them in the tent early and being, again, honest, transparent, and communicating regularly was so key in that situation and I think is key in any situation. And with the example you provided, it makes me think of better.com and how they went completely against what you were saying and what you did. Yeah, that’s a diplomatic way to put it. Complete 180 and you can see the difference. So for those listeners who aren’t aware of better.com.

It is a mortgage real estate company that did a Zoom call to lay off a ridiculous amount of people all at one time. And in the world of social media, people are on cameras in our pockets. It just it was brutal. Absolutely brutal. It was just before the holidays in December. It was everything being.

Yeah, and I think that was the one where the CEO, he did a LinkedIn post or he cried, like there was something and it was just so, it was me, me. And it was just was, that was another one where I just, my head went into my hands and I just, very grateful to not be on that con. Yes, yes. So it’s interesting to see when it’s done well and properly that people, like you said, were leaving saying, I wish the company well, all this versus when it’s handled inappropriately or incorrectly, and then it becomes, you know, PR fail 101, let’s use it as a case study on a podcast. Yeah, exactly, exactly. How do you think that companies or organizations can better train their teams, their communications team in particular, for issues management? Because not all teams are big enough to have an issues management specialist or manager.

So what would you recommend? Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a tough question, but I think it really comes down to connecting the dots and sort of empowering your team to talk to each other and breaking down those silos. And I think it’s all about having your team at every level look at things that are going out and taking that critical eye and sort of being like, oh, this issue could pop up because you’re saying this and I know from my work that it’s not gonna resonate here.

So I do think, frankly, some of it just comes down to experience and knowing the environment and knowing the industry that you’re operating in. But again, I keep going back to this, I think it comes down to trust too. And you know, I don’t think any of this are easy things, right? Like there’s no tool to build trust. There’s no, wouldn’t that be nice? But you know, it’s, it’s I think issues management is one of those things that’s so nuanced that it’s really about soft skills and critical thinking. But I think my biggest piece of advice, and I really try to live my whole life this way, but particularly when it comes to my work, trust your gut. If you’re looking at something and your gut is saying, this isn’t right, this is going to cause something.

Sometimes it’s not comfortable to speak. And, you know, I said earlier, I think the communications team job is to speak truth to power and that’s not easy, right? Like that is not easy. Um, but, um, but yeah, I think it really comes down to, to trust in your gut and speaking up and whether you’re an intern or whether you’re a senior vice president, um, speak up. Yeah. No, very, very true. Very, very true.

Do you think that, or do you find that analytics and KPIs play a role in issues management? And if they do what role and how does that shift what an organization might do? Or do you wish there were metrics or KPIs that could be used? I think it’s a little bit of both, but I do think it’s key. And I think real time measurement is key, right? Like, you know, I think when it comes to day-to-day work, it’s, oh, here are the months, media metrics or here in the month social media impression. Fortunately when it comes to an issue, I think you need that real time. And I think it needs to be a mix of quantitative, how many people are talking about it, how many newspaper stories have been published, but it also needs to be qualitative. What’s the tone? What’s the tone of the content that people are saying on social media as they share this critical news article?

And then I think tracking it over time, right? So like if you see a big spike and then you issue your statements and you get out in front of it and you start to see that decline, then that’s great. But I think, you know, if, if you’re out there and you’re trying to deal with an issue and you’re seeing more coverage come in with a critical tone or more tweets and Facebook posts and all that good stuff come in, that’s negative. Your communications are clearly not working and you need to take that step back and adjust and you need to adjust quickly because otherwise it’s going to it’s gonna get worse and turn into a full blown crisis. And finally, this has been, I’ve absolutely loved this entire conversation. And like I said, I’m holding you to that next season. We’re chatting about the news. Gladly. Yes. In your opinion, what trends or challenges do you foresee within issues management? And how do you think companies should prepare for this potential shift? Yeah, I think this one might make me sound a bit like, and out of touch with technology dinosaur, but I think it’s AI. And so it’s interesting, because as I was sort of getting ready for this conversation, I was just like looking on YouTube and I got this ad on YouTube and it was so clearly AI. And I could recognize that it was AI because it was a video of the anchor of this CTV national news. And he was talking about how cannabis prices are too high, but this website, this newly launched website can give you discount weed. And it was, you know, to me having a higher media literacy than some people because I work in media relations and issues management, it was like, this is fake. But it’s the anchor of the CTV national news.

And so to the average person, you think, oh yeah, hey, I know that guy. I saw him on TV and oh, he’s recommending this website and I must, you know, I’m going to go to this website and, and buy it. And I think, you know, that’s a huge issue where kind of anybody with the skill can make it look like your CEO or your spokesperson or whoever it may be has said. Anything. Yeah. Um, but I think the other thing is the fracturing of social media.

We’ve got Threads now, we’ve got BlueSky, X is doing its whatever it’s doing now. And so there’s all these new platforms, which just means more places where issues can emerge and more places that you’ve got to be monitoring and learning how to use and learning how they work. And I think lastly, the issue, and we’ve talked about it a bit before, is the decline in newsrooms.

I think it’s going to be, it’s just getting harder and harder to get your message out via a trusted third party as newsrooms and media outlets decline. And it’s a huge problem for communicators and it’s a huge problem for public understanding writ large. But again, I’ll save that all for next season when we talk about that. Amazing. Again, thank you so, so much for being on today’s show. Before I let you go.

I do have to ask, given that this is PR and Lattes, what is your favourite go-to caffeinated beverage? Yeah, so I’m pretty simple. It’s usually just a drip coffee with a splash of cream, but now that we’re into like cozy autumn season, I really love a good London Fog. Like there is nothing like a big bulky sweater, a rainy fall day, and a London Fog. Oh, that does sound fabulous. Right?

That sounds like perfection. That really, really does. Again, Josh, thank you so much for being on the show. If people want to connect with you, where can they find you? Yeah, absolutely. So I’m on LinkedIn, which is linkedin.com slash Josh M. Terry. I’m on Instagram and threads as Josh E-M-T-E-E, a little pun there. And if anybody’s on the Blue Sky train, which has quickly become my new favourite social media site, I’m just at Joshua Terry.

And I’m happy to connect. I think the one thing I will say is, particularly with LinkedIn, early on, particularly when I was at Durham, I had a lot of senior people who were very open to kind of connecting with me and supporting me through my career. I think it’s important to give that back. So if there’s students or interns listening who wanna talk issues management, I’m very happy to connect. Amazing. Thank you so much, Josh. This has been an absolute pleasure and I can’t wait to chat with you again next season.

Thanks, sounds good. Talk soon.

And of course, make sure to follow us on social, on Instagram, @PRAndLattes, and on LinkedIn. I’ve been your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next week with a new latte and guest. Bye for now.


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