Issuing bad news late on a Friday is a time honored practice.
Whether it’s the White House dropping details of a possible scandal or a major corporation releasing a layoff announcement, the idea is that no one—not even the media—will be paying attention when the weekend is mere minutes away.
The same holds true for putting out bad news while another, much larger event is taking place.
Thing is, there’s no longer a bottomless pit for bad news. The world of Twitter, citizen journalists, and 24/7 online newsrooms makes the practice almost impossible. (Plus, a 2004 study
suggested the practice doesn’t even work the way companies hope they do.)
Take, for example, social gaming company Zynga. On a Friday last month, it laid off 100 employees—reportedly giving them just two hours to vacate their desks—as Apple unveiled its new iPad. The news broke when former Apple, Sony, Mint, and Smulee employee Justin Maxwell posted the following tweet:
Maxwell’s post lit up the Twittersphere—the tweet has more than 5,000 retweets—and got the rumor mill churning, as people speculated that the layoffs included entire offices at Zynga. The company released a formal statement that day, saying
“Earlier today we initiated a number of changes to streamline our operations, focus our resources on our most strategic opportunities, and invest in our future. We waited to share this news with all of you until we had first spoken with the groups impacted.”
Zynga didn’t announce its intentions to bury the news, yet it’s clear the company picked a time when the press—particularly the tech press—would have its attention set elsewhere.
Either way, the lesson is that with the proliferation of social sites, especially those adopted as news sharing platforms, it’s time for public relations professionals to rethink when to deliver bad news—if they haven’t already. There is no more hiding. In fact, trying to do so may just make matters worse.
Brian Adams consults with nonprofits, including Komera Project, regarding communications strategy. Brian was previously senior director of communications at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the head of media and community relations for the MSPCA-Angell.