Everybody in crisis PR knows the best day to announce bad news is a Friday or a holiday. Or is it? The rationale used to be that newspaper readership on Saturdays or holidays was typically the lowest of the week – with readers instead focused on the pressing matters of the weekend (kids, gardening, sports, parties, etc).
Yet with the preponderance of today’s news fed through sources other than newspapers, has this strategy lost its usefulness? For the most part, I think the answer is “yes.”
Take yesterday’s announcement that Jim Tressel was resigning as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. Announced on a holiday in a not-so-subtle attempt at limiting the discussion (and trying to affect reactions to a pending Sports Illustrated exposé), the airwaves and cyber channels lit up almost instantaneously. It was topic number one during my husband’s golf outing yesterday morning (they found out just moments after it was announced, thanks to PDAs that never turn off), was thoroughly dissected at the family barbeque later that afternoon and was the lead discussion point among the much-too-loud gossips on today’s morning train commute.
So did the holiday announcement strategy pay off? Not a bit if you use my mini-focus groups (and the lead stories on nearly every website for the past 24 hours) as evidence. And that’s not surprising. Today’s 24/7 news cycle and consumer preferences for mobile media ensures that any major news will reach the masses no matter the day of the week. In fact, I’d even argue that the timing had the unintended consequence of both driving more interest to the pending SI story (due to drop any day now) and making OSU look worse by trying to hide behind a day reserved for memorializing the men and women who have died for our country.
That being said, there still are times when a Friday announcement may make sense. For example, a publicly traded company has news that may negatively impact trading once disclosed (e.g., loss of a major customer, delay in a product launch). Assuming you don’t take on a lengthy delay (a harbinger for unwanted leaks), a Friday post-market announcement may allow for potential knee-jerk reactions to be tempered and cooler heads to prevail when trading begins that following Monday.
But simply put, the system can’t be gamed. Despite it being dismissed again and again (yesterday’s news being the latest case in point), the best strategy is to simply disclose what you know, when you know it (or close to it), own up to the consequences, and get back to the business of moving your company or organization beyond the crisis.