Every day, the LeadingCompany newsletter links to summaries of the day’s biggest business stories. But our Friday newsletter, published just after 4pm, inevitably missed an important announcement.
It came out at 5.18pm, when ANZ decided that was the moment to publicise an 0.06% interest rate rise. At that time, the LeadingCompany staff were on the way home.
And we weren’t alone.
The market had been closed for an hour. Ten’s evening news had already started. The Saturday papers were wrapping up their content.
It’s possible ANZ was late in coming to a decision on its rates. Its previous interest rate change announcements were delivered at 3.30pm (March – rates held) and 2.30pm (February – rate increase).
But it is also possible that it was following a well-worn strategy to release bad news late in the day in an attempt to ‘bury’ the information.
For leaders, the question is whether such as strategy works and if so, is it to their advantage?
Lobbyist Jody Fassina says trying to obscure bad news isn’t a novel approach to media management. “It’s a typical approach … organisations release news at inconvenient times to try to minimise coverage,” he tells LeadingCompany.
But Fassina says a subject as sensitive as interest rates is never going to escape scrutiny.
“I find it amusing when any organisation does try and delay coverage of bad news by putting out a press release late in the day in the hope it’s going not get covered.”
“All it does is bring more attention to the fact that the organisation is trying to avoid scrutiny … in the age of 24/7 news cycles and media coverage you’re not going to escape scrutiny.”
And indeed, ANZ didn’t entirely escape the microscope.
The delay itself was commented on, with former Gillard economic adviser Stephen Koukoulas wondering on Twitter whether the bank was waiting for the bounce of the ball in that evening’s AFL match to announce its decision. And he wasn’t alone. There was even a hashtag garnering popular on Twitter: #sneakyhike.
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When the news came, Treasurer Wayne Swan provided easy copy for journalists by quickly decrying the increase.
However, on the weekend, news of the increase was largely confined to the business pages. Helping this was Friday’s biggest news story: the shock resignation of Greens leader Bob Brown from the Senate.
Marketer Marc Jampole argues that by releasing bad news on a Friday, organisations lose control of the message with their employees. “Employees have the entire weekend to stew about it at home without the guidance of management,” he writes. This may be especially damaging when the bad news being released affects workers directly, such as staff layoffs.
When LeadingCompany interviewed Simon Moylan from Hudson’s Talent Management on how leaders should manage redundancies, he said Wednesday was a popular day to fire people, because both those retrenched and those who survived had time to digest the news before the weekend.
The academic research is limited and doesn’t swing conclusively one way or the other on the effectiveness of the tactic. While most acknowledge it’s very widely used, newer academic papers often play up the fact that people pay less attention to traditional news today than ever before, while the use of the internet for news continues to rise. One 2010 paper raised the possibility that the proliferation of the practice had served to limit its effectiveness.
Fassina says leaders would be foolish to think revealing bad news on a Friday means they’ll escape scrutiny.
“It’s a tried and tested strategy … [but] I don’t think it was necessarily works,” he says.
“There’s no doubt that scrutiny has increased remarkably in the past few years, with the rise of social media and the internet.
“News cycles are 24/7 … stories are updated all day online, there’s Twitter and Facebook, and pay television runs rolling coverage on its dedicated news channels.
“Be it a government or a major business, there’s so much more scrutiny.”