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Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model : Acknowledgning multiple issue arenas
Luoma-aho, Vilma; Vos, Marita
Luoma-aho, V., & Vos, M. (2010). Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model:
acknowledgning multiple issue arenas. Corporate Communications: An International
Journal, 15 (3), 315-331. DOI:10.1108/13563281011068159
Author's Final draft
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 1
Running head: Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model:
Acknowledging multiple issue arenas
Luoma-aho, V. & Vos, M. (2010) “Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model: Acknowledging
multiple issue arenas. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 15(3), 315-331. (REF)
*Chosen as 2011 Emerald Literati Network “Highly Commended Paper”.
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 2
Purpose – The paper suggest that corporate communications is becoming less predictable
as interaction with stakeholders is moving from organizational control toward ‘issue arenas’,
places of interaction where an issue is discussed by stakeholders and organizations both online
and within the traditional media. The role of corporate communications and public relations is
broadening beyond the traditional relationship management to issue arena monitoring.
Design/methodology/approach – Theoretical approach with six axioms suggested.
Findings – Several central theories of corporate communications are combined with
issues management and stakeholder theory to argue for a multiplicity of new ‘issue arenas’,
which require an increased amount of monitoring. Six axioms are suggested for future research
on corporate communications, and a mosaic of multiple strategies for multiple publics moved by
multiple issues is recommended.
Research limitations/implications – The axioms suggested require empirical testing with
different arenas across contexts and cultures, and the axioms may change over time as the virtual
arenas expand. Future studies should focus on the process of arena formation as well as the
division of voice on the arenas.
Practical implications – Monitoring becomes central as corporate communication is less
controllable. Corporate communication and public relations will play a key role in organizational
survival in the future through the processes of finding the right issues and ‘issue arenas’ for
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 3
interaction, facilitating the organization-public debate and through this managing organizational
reputation. A change in thinking is required, as identifying issues should precede identifying
Originality/value – This paper argues that organizational survival depends not only on
communicating with the right stakeholders, but also on finding the relevant issue arenas in which
organizations should participate in discussion.
Keywords – Issue arena, stakeholder theory, issues management, monitoring, corporate
communications, strategic planning
Paper type – Conceptual paper
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 4
Society today is characterized by multiple collectives (Heath, 2006: 95) of different
stakeholders, whose interests are often diverse. These various stakeholders and publics are in a
constant state of flux, which poses new uncertainties for organizations (Holtzhausen, 2000;
Gower, 2006). Stakeholder theories have been developed to map the organizational terrain and to
help organizations identify and balance the different needs and voices around them (Freeman,
1984). With the development of new communication technologies, traditional ways of thinking
about stakeholders are becoming outdated as communication with and among stakeholders is
moving onto new stages outside the organization’s control. Today, it is issues and topics, not
organizations that are at the center of communication. Due to various new and social media,
stakeholders can express their opinions to a wider public and build constituencies easier (Kaplan
& Haenlein, 2010). These developments potentially give more power to both organizations and
individual stakeholders as mediators such as journalists use the social media not only for
communication but also as sources (Lariscy et al. 2009; Paine, 2008; Porter, 2009; Solis, 2009).
This paper outlines the complex nature of organizational stakeholder networks and
communication patterns. Analyzing the environment should consist of positioning the
relationships of the different stakeholders to the organization (Wu, 2007; Van Woerkum &
Aarts, 2008), yet in previous stakeholder literature the organization is often given a central place
(Foley & Kendrick, 2006; Jahansoozi, 2007; Steurer, 2006; Rawlins, 2006; Näsi, 1995). It is
risky to suggest that organizations have control over communication (Key, 1999), and the new
operating environment deserves closer investigation. The paper introduces the idea of a
multiplicity of ‘issue arenas’, places of interaction where an issue is discussed by stakeholders
and organizations. The paper suggests that in the rapidly changing markets where organizations
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 5
do not last as long as they have in the past (Burke, 2008), the role of corporate communications
and public relations practitioners becomes more than ever linked to organizational survival. Issue
arenas are often outside the organization’s control; hence the role of corporate communications
is broadening beyond the traditional relationship management to issue arena monitoring.
Practitioners maintain organizations’ ability to function through the processes of finding the right
issue arenas, facilitating the public debate taking place in these arenas, and thereby managing
organizational reputation. This requires a change in thinking; instead of only seeing who is
affected by us or wants to affect us (Freeman, 1984), organizations should also ask strategic
questions such as “Which issue arenas are relevant for the future of the organization?” and
“Which issue arenas provide opportunities for interaction with specific groups?” This paper
suggests that identifying issues should precede identifying stakeholders.
The paper first combines previous theories with elements from issues management and
stakeholder theory. The concept of ‘issues arenas’ is then examined in detail and its implications
for both theory and practice are discussed. Focus is also turned toward what issue arenas mean
for theory and practice of corporate communication and public relations. To conclude, six
axioms are suggested for future research on corporate communications, and the strengths and
weaknesses of issue arenas are examined.
ISSUES OR STAKES?
Stakeholder theory has been criticized for assuming the environment is static (Key, 1999;
Luoma-aho & Paloviita, 2010), whereas the issues management literature better addresses
change and development. Combining these may provide a more complete overview of the
context in which organizations function. An issue becomes an issue when “the battle is joined
and conflict occurs” (Schattschneider, 1960, p. 74); hence issues management can be defined as
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 6
the proactive identification and subsequent defusing of problems before they escalate into crises
(Roper & Toledano, 2005; Heath, 1997). Early mentions of issues management refer to its role in
avoiding a ‘legitimacy gap’ (Sethi, 1979), that is, the discrepancies that may occur between what
the organization does and what is expected in society. These can arise as a result of either the
organization’s actions or how these are perceived, or changes in the societal evaluation of these
actions (Bridges, 2004). Issues management is about understanding weak signals and hearing
early warnings; it is the antennae an organization should constantly have out to sense changes
(Schoonman, 1991). In this, both the external and internal environments within which the
organization operates must be understood (Pratt, 2001). Issues management involves
understanding stakeholders, as managing issues is often achieved through balancing the
organization’s interests with the stakeholders’ (Heath, 1997).
Stakeholder refers to any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the
achievement of the organization’s objectives (Freeman, 1984). Stakeholder theory is timely for
public relations (Wu, 2007; Van Woerkum & Aarts, 2008), as it concentrates on the long-term
social networks and relationships that organizations have (Ledingham & Bruning, 2000; Wilson,
2001). Relationship management is believed to contribute to organizational legitimacy, as
managing its long-term relationships contributes to stakeholder satisfaction and shapes the
organization’s reputation (Deephouse & Carter, 2005; Grunig & Huang, 2000; Kiousis, Popescu
& Mitrook, 2007). In fact, stakeholders’ assessments and expectations contribute highly to
organizational reputation and legitimacy (Luoma-aho, 2007; Mahon, 2002). The organizational
environment of stakeholders is not static, but marked by conflicts of interest. Societal
developments are constantly changing the field of forces in which organizations operate (Vos &
Schoemaker,, 2005). Foley and Kendrick (2006) speak of the stakeholder environment as a
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 7
fragile ecosystem. So far, the dynamic nature of this ecosystem has not been fully addressed
Whether the organization deals with different ‘stakes’ or ‘issues’ is an interesting
question. In stakeholder theory, stakes refer to some form of investment, interests or affect
related to the organization, whereas issues may also be less strongly related to the organization.
Stakes can not be separated from the holder, whereas issues do not just belong to one holder and
the organization is only one of the parties involved in it. Issue management is rooted in public
relations and is connected to the public debate. Stakeholder management originates from
strategic management in which the organization has a central place. In stakeholder literature, the
concept of a stakeholder is related to an organization rather than to an issue. Here both views are
combined, congruent with the holistic approach of corporate communication. One can have
something at stake also in a broader issue and in such cases participation in the public discussion
is needed. Consequently, it is important to analyse what is at stake for the other participants and
to note conflicting interests. Involvement in both organizations and issues can be supported on an
emotional, ideological and economic level.
In political science, the writings of Schattschneider (1960) were perhaps the first to
highlight the notion of the scope of issue conflict in public policy arenas. Schattschneider (1960)
argued that several factors influence the scope of an issue: the number of actors (adherents),
visibility in different media, as well as level and intensity of the debate taking place. He
considered audience involvement and the scale on which the political game is played to be
decisive for the conflict outcome; issues are determined by the scope of its ‘contagion’
(Schattschneider, 1960). As all conflicts and issues can not be simultaneously discussed in
society (Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988), there is always competition for the selection of agendas
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 8
(Berger, Hertog & Park, 2002; Berger, 2001; Blumer, 1971). In recent years various authors have
refined stakeholder theory, adding complexity when analyzing stakeholders and stakes (e.g.
Fassin, 2007 & 2008; Mitchell, Agle & Wood, 1997). However, the dynamic nature and
multiplicity of environments in which organizations operate have not yet been reflected in
current stakeholder models.
In this paper we introduce a new concept of ‘issue arenas’, but its roots lie deep in previous
theories of corporate communications. In the 1950s, Goffman (1959) addressed, using the
language of drama, how individuals presented themselves on the ‘stage’ in front of audiences.
Similarly, organizations aim to present their best assets, through, for example, impression
management and framing (Goffman, 1974; Johansson, 2007; Hallahan, 1999). Organizations
‘talk’ about themselves and give their opinions in a variety of communication arenas, reflecting
fragmented, and even conflicting, discourses, ideas and interests (Cheney & Christensen, 2001;
Cammaerts (2007). In the 1970s, McCombs and Shaw (1972) noted the importance of the news
media as setters of public agenda and discussion, an idea that is still somewhat valuable in the
era of online discussions as blogger, for instance, often refer to the news media (Steyn et al.,
2010). Sethi (1979) noted that should societal expectations not be met by organizational
functions, a gap in legitimacy may result and threaten organizational existence. In the same
decade, research in social networks progressed, noting the strategic importance of network
placement (see e.g. Granowetter, 1973; Burt, 1992) and informal channels of communication.
In the 1980s, stakeholder theory (see e.g. Freeman, 1984) began to take root with a new
focus on stakes not having to be merely financial, and giving voice to the previously ignored
different organizational stakeholders. What the stakeholders thought would affect the image of
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 9
the organization (see e.g. Bernstein, 1984; Bromley, 1993), and reputation management was
suggested to help organizations survive the different stakeholder assessments. In the 1980s,
issues-management (see e.g. Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988) was introduced as a way to deal with the
various topics of interest that the publics and stakeholders cared about. Similarly, public relations
scholars were looking at the situation dependencies under which certain publics became active
(Grunig et al., 2002; Vasques, 1993).
Recently actor-network theory (see e.g. Latour, 2005) noted how it is not only the
stakeholders who matter, but rather the heterogeneous networks they become part of. Actor-
network theory, ANT (Callon, 1986; Latour, 2007) suggests “a theoretical shift in emphasis
away from the centrality and primacy of the human subject” (Somerville, 1999) and aims to shed
light on the interactions within a larger and less fixed environment than do most social theories,
including stakeholder theory. ANT acknowledges that every act of establishing something is
linked with the different factors influencing it, such as its surroundings, regulations, other
people, technology etcetera. Together these influences produce an actor- network, which is
simply a heterogeneous network of aligned interests. Lee and Hassard (1999) note that like actor
networks, organizations and their environments today are in constant flux. The observation of
their fluid nature and lack of boundaries is an important contribution to present studies on
organizational environments (Luoma-aho & Paloviita, 2010). Actors are defined by their
relations with others in the network, and the specific focus of ANT is on the formation and
maintenance of networks. Similarly, Heath (2006) speaks of “collectively managing risks”, as
organizations and stakeholders collaborate around specific needs or issues. These theories list the
most influential developments in the process toward issue arenas, and are presented in table 1.
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 10
Table 1. Theoretical Foundations for Issue Arenas
foundations of Issue
Main theorists Contribution to Issue Arenas Focus
Presentation of Self Goffman, 1959; Cheney
& Christensen, 2001
Individual actors present
themselves on various stages
Agenda Setting McCombs & Shaw, 1972 The media shape what we think
Sethi, 1979; Carroll,
1991; Heath, 1997
The existence of organizations is
challenged when the
expectations are not met
Granowetter, 1973; Burt,
1992; Lin et al., 2001;
Social ties matter more than
Stakeholder Theory Freeman, 1984; Carroll,
1993; Mitchell et al.,
Multiple voices beyond
stockholders have a stake in
Situational Theory of
Grunig et al., 2002;
Categories of publics that may
be more or less active
Bromley, 1993; Weber,
1994; Deephouse &
Carter, 2005; Fombrun &
Van Riel, 2004
Impressions and reputation may
matter even more than reality
Issue life-cycle Theory
Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988;
Issues arise and decline in public
Actor Network Theory Latour, 2005; Callon,
Dynamic human and non-human
factors influence each other
As for arenas, Aula and Mantere (2008) define arenas as places of interaction between an
organization and its publics, where the reputation of the organization is created. This definition,
however, overemphasizes the role of the organization, and we argue instead that organizations
and stakeholders should be seen as having an equal stake in the issues discussed in arenas. We
call these places of interaction, whether real or virtual, ‘issue arenas’. A market arena indicates
the field in which organizations compete defined by e.g. the product/market combination
(Waarts, et al., 1997). This can be seen as a concrete place, such as a trade fair, or an abstract
concept referring to the field of forces in demand and supply (Leeflang & Beukenkamp, 1987).
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 11
Similar to an economic market arena where buyers and suppliers meet, a social issue arena is a
place for interaction about ideas.
Issue arenas function as spaces for enactment (Weick, 2001) and facilitate ‘stake
exchange’ (Heath, 2006). The players can be more or less actively involved in the public debate
(visibly on the stage or not), but if the issue is related to the organization, it must take part. We
argue that organizational survival is not dependent on only communicating with the right
stakeholders, but also on finding the relevant issue arenas in which to participate. Conversations
and arenas left without organizational participation may threaten organizational reputation and
through it also organizational legitimacy (Deephouse & Carter, 2005). Moreover, achieving a
good reputation is in part becoming the currency of choice for operating in the new media
environment, as potential customers and collaborators read online reviews and previous feedback
(Hunt, 2009; Shih, 2009; Solis, 2009).
DYNAMICS OF ISSUE ARENAS
The issue arenas are like stages or platforms (Goffman, 1959) in virtual or tangible
surroundings; the scenery changes continuously as a result of the interactions between the
players and developments in the social environment. Issue arenas are dynamic and require
ongoing attention. On issue arenas, ideas and issues are discussed that are of interest to both
stakeholders and the organization. There are several potential actors for each arena. Depending
on their timing and stance, these actors either want to have a say on the issue and mount onto the
stage, or remain passive offstage, in the audience. If an organization fails to give its point of
view, some stakeholders’ opinions quickly dominate the arena, as in the case of anti-corporate
movements by distinct groups that dynamically come together and join large-scale campaigns
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 12
(Karagianni & Cornelissen, 2006). (For issue arenas of the nuclear energy debate, see Luoma-
aho & Vos, 2009).
The current changes in the media landscape also affect the issue arenas (Phillips &
Young, 2009; Miel & Faris, 2008; Solis, 2009). The debate in the issue arena may either take
place in tangible, traditional media or virtual, new media. One of these may be dominant, and
this may change over time. Furthermore, different actors may be active in the traditional versus
the new media. For example, in the debate on nuclear energy governmental and business actors
may be more active in the traditional media, while environmental pressure groups dominate the
new media environment (Luoma-aho & Vos, 2009). Organizations have participated in debates
in traditional media for decades, although mainly from the organization’s point of view (see
Kiousis, Popescu & Mitrook, 2007) and often in rather predictable settings. In the virtual, new
arenas, such as the internet and various social media, organizations and practitioners have only
recently been active in debates, using tactics such as search engine optimization and blog
measurement. The focus of interest is often in finding patterns in networks of hyperlinked
websites (e.g. Elmer, 2006) as well as the connections and interwoven networks in the
blogosphere (e.g. Finin et al., 2007). Monitoring the online environment and the actors that are
active there is especially important as discussions on the Internet may rapidly change issue
priorities (Coombs, 2002). Moreover, the online discussions tend to form at an earlier stage than
publicity in the traditional media (Heath, 1998).
Often there is not just one, but several issue arenas that the organization must
simultaneously take part in, just as there are several stakeholders. An energy company, for
example, may take part in an economic debate about consequences of a recession, but also in
environmental discussions. The company, just like its stakeholders, might be active in one arena
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 13
and at the same time be part of the passive public in another. The level of activity of the actors
depends on what is happening in the issue arenas, a phenomenon that the traditional stakeholder
maps fail to describe. The results of what is going on between the actors in the different issue
arenas will all be reflected in the reputation of the organization. The idea of multiple issue arenas
establishes a new role of the organization as merely one player among many, with the main focus
on issues, not the organization. Moreover, the various issue arenas are often interrelated and
characterized by competition for space; public attention is unevenly distributed and varies over
time (Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988). When a fierce debate is going on in one arena, it may attract
more players on the stage and also a bigger passive audience. Meanwhile, other arenas may lack
stage activity and audiences. Attention may also shift from one arena to another, which may
cause a change in the perceived relative importance of the various issues. Furthermore, a hot
debate in one arena may spread and activate discussion in other arenas connected to the issue
(Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988). Consequently, since several issues are reflected in the reputation of
an organization, their relative weight may differ in time (Vos & Schoemaker, 2006).
In issue arenas, there is a tug of war between the “co-creation of reality” and
“manipulation through propaganda” (Heath, 2006). This is a struggle of power, where all players
have their own agendas and strategies. Political actors, for example, can use agenda setting and
framing in the debate about issues (Stone, 2001). They can be active in multiple arenas, and may
or may not use means consistent with the symmetrical ideals of relationship building (Berger,
Hertog & Park, 2002). The goal for the organization’s public relations, however, is to maintain
mutually beneficial relationships, and this can seldom be achieved without hearing the multiple
voices of the actors that are present. Stakeholders who are willing to work together on issues
with the organization may add to the organizational social capital (Luoma-aho, 2005).
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 14
Organizations can ‘shop’ for the best suited arenas to participate in and express their point of
view (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993). In cases where suitable arenas are few or there are barriers to
entry (for example in the case of closed groups e.g. on Facebook), organizations can also try to
create new issue arenas or provide a platform for discussion (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).
Moreover, strategies and tactics used in the issue arenas could attempt to either expand or shrink
the scope of the issue arena (Schattschneider, 1960). For example, the issue of nuclear power
could involve the CO2-free energy production or rather focus on waste problems only.
Meanwhile other actors can also change their behavior, and coalitions can be formed in issue
arenas as additional stakeholders provide support (Bridges, 2004).
Stakeholders’ expectations formed in the various issue arenas guide how the organization
is perceived. Organizations aim to live up to expectations (Wan & Schell, 2007), but beyond
that, organizations have to live up to stakeholders’ preferences and demands. In fact, corporate
social responsibility literature advises to do more than comply with expectations (e.g. Birch,
2008), because demands tend to rise, for example in the case of increased organizational
transparency and reporting. To promote shared understanding and to network and negotiate in
such a complex and diverse external environment, organizations need to nurture polyphony and
diversity in their internal environment (Christensen et al., 2005; Christensen et al., 2008). This
means that organizations are no longer at the center of communication and success may require
incorporating the voice of actors with diverse perspectives (Carroll & Mui, 2008). Furthermore,
organizations have to be aware of and able to interpret various environmental stimuli (Sutcliff,
2001); thus a process of ongoing monitoring of activities in issue arenas is required. Hallahan
(2001) suggests beginning dialogue by including ‘outreach activities’, to establish and maintain
contact with influential actors in a community.
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 15
CORPORATE COMMUNICATION AND ISSUE ARENAS
Corporate communication and public relations both deal with organizational publics and
stakeholders. Public relations co-creates shared social meanings and hence facilitates cooperation
(Heath, 2006). This boundary-spanning or interface function (Cornelissen et al., 2006; Cheney
and Christensen, 2001) is central for issue arenas, where communication is seen as a bridging
activity (Grunig, 2006). The creation of shared meaning lays the foundation for collaboration,
although shared meaning can only be realized in part because reality is enacted and changing
(Jaatinen & Lavikka, 2008).
Flynn (2006) suggests a multidimensional perspective where dialogue, collaboration and
negotiation with multiple stakeholders occur simultaneously, while maintaining a zone of
balance, an equilibrium that satisfies mutual interests. The role of public relations is thus to keep
the virtues of ‘public discourse’ (Heath, 2006), as the debate could be high-jacked by extreme
stakeholders, thereby hindering problem solving and collaboration by others, e.g. the current
polarization in the immigration debate in Western Europe.
Issue arenas propose a paradigm change, a shift in focus from organization-centered
thinking and unilateral relationship management toward monitoring and dialogue on issue arenas
that are outside the organization’s control. As the traditional media sphere gives way to a
growing number of new and social media (Miel & Faris, 2008), the number of potential issue
arenas is increasing. The environment has become more complex and quicker to change. The
rules of conduct are very different from those guiding traditional PR, and attempts to control an
arena in the traditional manner of issues management can even easily lead to conflict and
hostility toward the organization. In this new environment, social media reputation as well as
search engine reputation (X, 2009) is more important than before. The internet acts as a
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 16
collective memory, and words once posted may never be forgotten. Still, a passive attitude is
counseled against. The organizational approach should be active, even ‘offensive’ when the other
option is defensive (Kramer & Kania, 2006).
Because various stakeholder interests are often competing, one strategy might no longer
be the best alternative; instead different strategies should be applied depending on the needs of
each issue arena. In this way, organizations can utilize a mixed-motive perspective and at the
same time aim at various positions on a continuum from advocacy or zero-sum, to collaboration
and mutual gains (Flynn, 2006; Hoffman et al., 1999). Therefore, various strategies need to be
considered, for example by using quadrants suggested by several authors that differentiate
strategies depending on the process of meaning creation, e.g. connotation versus denotation, one
way advocacy versus two way collaboration, and symmetry versus asymmetry (Van Ruler, 2004;
Flynn, 2006; Grunig, 1992). The result should be a dynamic mosaic of multiple strategies for
multiple publics moved by multiple issues. Overall, a balance should be maintained that best fits
the current organizational environment (Flynn, 2006).
Although the idea of utilizing multiple strategies is not new, the complexity of the
situation is greatly increased when one realizes that various dynamic issue arenas with multiple
players have to be considered at the same time. Moreover, the strategies utilized should all be
adjustable and flexible when changes occur (Carrikk & Mui, 2008). It may be prudent to focus
less on an unavoidably great number of stakeholder specific strategies and instead more on
“umbrella strategies” for each issue arena that provide common starting points, for example, the
profiling strategy an energy company may use to communicate with various stakeholders on an
environmental issue. The organization can consider its positioning related to the various issue
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 17
arenas, as is customary when positioning the organization in economic markets too. It can clarify
its position with key message strategies for each issue arena.
Not just negotiation of meaning but also negotiation of intentions becomes a key task.
This can work both ways, as Grunig (2006) advocates communication as a bridging activity, in
which organizations build linkages to transform and reconstitute the organization in new ways,
rather than using public relations as a buffering activity to justify the organization as it is. As the
relevant issue arenas are not always easy to find, organizations wishing to maintain their
legitimacy have to monitor the various issue arenas and the different points of view of the
players involved (Vos & Schoemaker, 2006). The results of monitoring may lead to a strategy of
participation in these arena debates, or it may lead to adaptation of the organization’s activities.
‘Issue arenas’ was introduced here as a novel way of looking at and managing the complexities
outlined above. Today, it is issues and discussions, often not organizations that are at the center
of communication. The interaction between organizations and stakeholders is not new, but
through new and social media, stakeholders can express their opinions to a wider public and
build constituencies easier. The changing dynamics of the organizational environment need
continuous monitoring, since what is important is finding a balance in the relevant issue arenas.
This is similar to the birth of ‘issues management’ in the 1970s as a response to changes in the
regulatory and business climates (Berger, 2001). For example, an energy company needs to
monitor discussions on green energy but also discussions on energy dependence and many other
issues. Looking at issues management in the perspective of multiple arenas in which the
organization may not be in the center but needs multiple strategies to communicate with various
stakeholders, offers a way to a better understanding of stakeholder interactions of today, as
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 18
organizations can no longer expect to be in a dominant role, but instead must find the relevant
arenas for each specific issue. Identifying issues should precede identifying stakeholders. We
suggest the following axioms for further research.
1. An issue arena is a place where the public debate about an issue is conducted.
2. The interaction takes place in the traditional or virtual media.
3. The actors can be active or passive, one could say ‘on the stage’ or ‘in the audience’.
4. The arena is dynamic; actors may be more or less active when time passes or leave
entirely to go to another arena.
5. An organization can be active in multiple arenas, monitoring actions of other parties
and/or engaging in actively in the interaction.
6. As the arenas are interrelated an organization needs to coordinate and balance its
The current complex environment calls for active participation in various issue arenas, to be
involved as a major player in co-producing the outcomes. The underlying assumption is that if an
issue arena is identified early on, the organization has a better chance at becoming one of the
major actors on stage, whereas being the last to know often leads to sitting with the audience (X,
2009). For example, when an energy company would enter a virtual arena on nuclear power late
because it relied on traditional media only, it will be difficult to gain influence when the virtual
arena is at that point already dominated by opponents. Moreover, the complex mosaic of
strategies calls for an integral approach to, on the one hand, utilize strategies that fit different
issue arenas communicating with the various participants in the debate while, on the other hand,
also maintain a balance zone (Flynn, 2006) and a clear identity of the organization when active
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 19
in these issue arenas. For example, an energy company needs a strategy that fits the issue
discourse on nuclear energy, but at the same time is active in other issue arenas and its profiling
strategy and style of operating should not differ too much between the various arenas, as this
may lead to an unclear identity. Also, the demand for current organizational training in the new
media landscape is growing as many organizations now realize the increased importance of
participation in the virtual issue arenas.
The picture this creates is very different from the traditional static stakeholder model
centered on the organization. It shows a multifaceted networked organization that operates in a
dynamic global environment and actively monitors and participates in various issue arenas with
multiple stakeholders using multiple strategies. Because of the interrelatedness of the issue
arenas and the conflicting stakeholder views dilemmas will arise.
In this new environment, the role of corporate communications and public relations is
broadening beyond the traditional relationship management to issue arena monitoring.
Addressing multiple publics involved in multiple issue arenas characterized by non-traditional
power relationships could help conceptualize the ‘flatter’ world that new media and its
communities have created. Yet the idea of issue arenas also has its weaknesses. First, it does not
simplify the organizational environment, nor does it offer clear advice. Further, it points to the
need for multiple strategies, advice that improperly carried out can lead to confusion. Combining
stakeholder theory and issue management, however, provides a larger overview than has been
available hitherto, and it also describes the organizational environment more accurately than
previous stakeholder theories.
In this paper we bring together a number of different perspectives and theories; not all
related concepts and theories could be fully explained as this requires further research. The
Towards a more dynamic stakeholder model 20
suggested axioms need further research and empirical testing across cultures and industries.
There is also a need for case studies to further clarify the relevance and opportunities related to
this shift in thinking towards issue arenas. Instead of trying to define the different stakeholders
and their preferred ways of communication, practitioners and academics should focus next on
identifying the different issues and understanding the dynamics of the arenas that concern the
organization. Recognizing first the relevant issues will lead to the identification of the various
stakeholders. Furthermore, an up-to-date overview of the players in the various issue arenas
needs to be maintained, in order to enable the organization to develop multiple strategies for
multiple stakeholders. This will, however, require a change of mindset because in the new
environment it is not so much coordination of messages that is needed, but rather a dialogue to
achieve a delicate balance that respects and involves the various actors. Increased monitoring
will mean keeping abreast of the debate in the issue arenas, which in turn will mean keeping
track of both the physical, traditional media as well as the new, virtual media. New tools will be
needed along with more research to better understand this change.
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