Successful Issue Communication Begins With Stakeholder Mapping

When a health care organization faces a difficult issue or crisis, the first (and correct) instinct is to triage the situation, understand the facts and begin developing a communications plan. Stakeholder mapping is a critical, but often overlooked, component of the planning process.

Very simply, stakeholder mapping means:

  • identifying all the audiences – groups and individuals – who need to hear directly from your organization about the issue at hand,
  • outlining who is responsible for contacting each stakeholder/stakeholder group, and
  • determining the medium for that outreach.

Handled properly, stakeholder mapping allows an organization to tailor communications by audience and, ideally, control when and how each stakeholder hears the news. While consistency of message is key, each stakeholder group brings a unique frame of reference, which is likely to influence the way the message is delivered. Think about it … the way you communicate with patients will almost certainly sound different from what you say to payers, your state department of health or your city’s mayor.

To illustrate, consider the hypothetical example of a hospital facing a possible contract termination with a major payer in the region. Broadly, stakeholder groups might include patients, medical staff, employees, referrers and key local employers. Rating and accreditation agencies, government officials, and community groups and leaders will also make the list. And within each broad group, there may be sub groups or individuals that require special care, such as influential physician and nurse leaders who need to hear the news firsthand instead of reading about it on Twitter.

From there, the hospital would determine who within the organization is the best person to contact each group and whether they’ll share information via a face-to-face meeting, phone call, email, letter, or other medium. With this information clearly mapped out, the hospital can begin building needed communication materials.

Sometimes, this process is intuitive. Other times – particularly in complex matters where the universe of people “in the know” is purposefully small to avoid information leaks – it can take some internal detective work to identify all stakeholders and their owners.

For that reason, Lovell Communications has developed a stakeholder identification tool that guides clients through the stakeholder mapping process. The tool is designed to help health care organizations inventory their potential internal and external audiences so they can feel confident they’ll reach every group and individual who needs to hear their news.

Contact us at to learn more about stakeholder mapping and the other critical components of effective health care issue and crisis communication.