In the thick of it: How the timing of political turmoil is strategically planned (and what businesses can learn from it)

working from home NSW

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

With Friday’s announcement of an ICAC investigation into the NSW Premier, which triggered her resignation, and a federal cabinet reshuffle, we have a prime example of the news cycle being played.

Don’t for a minute think the timing of the investigation announcement was coincidental. The Friday of a long weekend is the perfect time to announce big news that you want to be given mileage. Lots of it. 

Normally a Friday afternoon – especially at the beginning of a long weekend — is the worst possible time for a media announcement. A PR wanting their media release read or pitch taken seriously on a Friday afternoon? You’re dreaming.

But if your news is big enough to get attention no matter what — say an investigation into the Premier of NSW — you get the opposite effect: four days of a captive audience. What was going to be a quiet news day turns into days of reporting and dissecting of the issue.

The timing of this investigation is exactly the timing that I would want to pick if I were ICAC and wanted to make a point, while not looking too destructive. The start of lockdown? Too much. Just before big milestones that would have given Gladys Berejiklian a boost in popularity, and right when the Premier is needed most ahead of reopening? Perfect. Not to mention the long weekend in NSW will see us likely wait until Tuesday for a meeting to decide her successor, forcing us to focus on the same news each day until then.

And then we had the Prime Minister’s announcement of a cabinet reshuffle that sees him bringing two of his critical factional allies to key ministry positions while having the real reason for the change kept as quiet as possible. It’s definitely one to announce at the exact moment the NSW Premier is announcing her resignation. A brilliant way to bury the news.

Speaking of which, keep an eye out for other news that was buried on Friday afternoon. 

See, if your news isn’t as big as the news that is dominating headlines, it’s hard to not go unnoticed – especially on a Friday afternoon. For a business that wants their news to be seen, that’s why they engage a PR agency that will be smart enough to not send out announcements on a Friday afternoon.

But what if you have news that you must announce but it doesn’t reflect well on you? You release it on a Friday afternoon or in a very crowded news cycle.

Now watch each day of media coverage that has inevitably followed Friday’s announcement from ICAC. There are days’ worth of stories in this: ‘Who will her successor be?’, ‘Do we want Dominic Perrottet to replace her, and what will Stokes do?’, ‘What does ICAC know that we don’t?’, ‘What will happen to all the re-opening plans?’, ‘Was resigning necessary?’, ‘She did nothing wrong and shouldn’t have resigned’, ‘Compare her selfless resignation speech to that of rolled prime ministers after a spill’, ‘Of course it’s the female leader that can’t escape fatal scrutiny’. 

I could go on, but I don’t need to; media reports will do it for me.

There’s a lesson in here for all PR and communications strategists: timing and attention spans are key. Pick the right timing, and half the work is done for you.

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