Tracking of trends for companies may have a future in it

If President Reagan knew about Bart Weller and Ronald Hogan, he would probably applaud them.

They are former bureaucrats who have become born-again entrepreneurs. They intend to sell information to firms and government agencies - the same sort of information they used to gather and analyze while salaried employees at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

In February the two formed a corporation called TrendTRACK to cash in on the current corporate trend of ''issues management.'' This new profession involves the early identification of public issues that will ultimately affect a company's operations and the development of long-range strategies to cope with them.

''Issues management is the latest buzzword,'' says Mr. Hogan, previously the director of NCSL's office of science and technology. ''A number of corporations are creating issues-management positions. And an Issues Management Association was formed just last month.''

An example of how companies use such forecasting techniques comes from the Del Monte food processing corporation. Several years ago it owned a subsidiary that canned and marketed tuna. When a controversy arose over the killing of porpoise by tuna fishermen, corporate planners forecast future political risks and, combined with increasing difficulty in selling tuna, decided to unload the subsidiary.

''It's amazing how sophisticated. . .larger corporations are becoming at handling public issues,'' says Mr. Weller.

Issues management reflects a larger shift to information as a commodity, especially to the expanding service and professional firms. Such information from private sources has become more important as Reagan budget cuts reduce the public-information-gathering role of the federal government.

A growing number of companies such as American Telephone & Telegraph and Monsanto Company, have developed sophisticated, internal think tanks to track social and political trends to guide the corporation. These arose out of the uncertainties of the oil crisis in the 1970s and the rise of government regulation during the 1960s. Consultants, too, such as Sage Associates in Washington, D.C., and Human Resources Network in Philadelphia, advise business clients with ''briefs'' and ''alerts'' on issues coming down the pike, how to take advantage of them or minimize risks, or even how to ''manage'' a trend.

While at NCSL Mr. Weller developed procedures for identifying, researching, and formatting concise ''briefs'' on major issues. There his clients were exclusively state legislators. Now he and Mr. Hogan are adapting this same methodology and adding other techniques so they can offer a service that will be useful to business and government. Their first brief is on farmland preservation.

Fortunately for them, the perilous economic times are all the better for the service they offer, Mr. Hogan says. ''Good information is more critical to businesses now than it is in good times,'' he explains.

By gathering information on a wide variety of topics ranging from telecommunications and economics to government regulations and science, then distributing it to a large number of clients, they intend to provide information and analysis at a lower cost than can companies working on their own.

In a recent paper, Mr. Weller summarized the techniques of issues management. The first step is identifying emerging issues by such methods as monitoring publications and legislation; convening workshops of experts; polling; and computer-based demographic modeling. Then significant issues are set in a priority for a client, and the impact and possible projections spelled out.

Based on this a company can respond by doing nothing, adapting to the condition, or trying to influence the situation through lobbying, advertising, or other methods.

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