How to avoid ghoulish headlines

On Monday the Chancellor delivered one of the most crucial Budget statements he's ever made; the last fiscal announcement by the Government before Brexit and the last opportunity to clarify key financial decisions before any hoped-for Brexit deal is reached.

Paul McManus is managing director of Walbrook PR

I’ll happily leave the journalists of the Yorkshire Post to unpick the political and economic significance of the Budget, but what struck me was the timing of the statement: (1) the statement was much earlier than expected – last year the Chancellor was seen hoisting his red box towards the end of November, (2) the Chancellor traditionally takes to the despatch box on a Wednesday, and (3) the usual Budget speech start time is 12.30pm.

What this shows is that even the Treasury knows that when it comes to PR &Comms, timing is everything!

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What can we learn from these changes? Firstly, news is never released in a vacuum. It’s important to consider the context of any announcement and to forward plan.

In Philip Hammond’s case fiscal clarification now is essential, but also it is key to avoid his message being lost within the media frenzy surrounding the final stages of Brexit negotiations.

The same applies to company announcements, especially as the competition for media attention is high and companies need to use timing to their advantage. Avoid busy financial reporting seasons (March and September are notoriously busy with company results), avoid key dates such as elections or major sporting or cultural events – and if you have news for the business section avoid putting something out on the year’s busiest day: Budget day!

Secondly, timing for a particular day of the week can be very important, not only for maximising impact but also avoiding any unfortunate clashes. The traditional Wednesday announcement would have fallen on Halloween this week and the Treasury press team must be pleased to avoid spooktacular or ghoulish headlines.

In the same way companies need to be flexible on timing for major announcements, avoiding external clashes, unfortunate anniversaries or perhaps aiming for days of significance or relevance. It can’t be missed that yesterday’s speech happened to be exactly five months before the looming date for Brexit.

The move to a Monday could also help increase the attention given that many frustrated journalists will tell you that most major announcements are ‘Tuesdays, Wednesdays And Thursdays’ (you can measure the level of frustration by the acronym) and so Monday and Friday become good days for news that would be lost in the noise of the week.

A Monday announcement allows the opportunity for a story to be offered exclusively to a Sunday paper, or to journalists writing on Sunday for Monday’s paper.

Thirdly, the 3.30pm start time was significant too as it gave MPs enough time to travel up from their constituencies. This reminds us that effective communication needs to ensure timing is right for those delivering the message or receiving questions on it.

Don’t make the mistake that I’ve seen a number of times when a company CEO having finally managed to get a fundraising or acquisition over the line takes a well-earned break – much to the frustration of anyone looking for a follow-on comment.

It’s also key to time it right for your audience whether that be a 7am release for a stock market audience where anything released during the day is immediately viewed with suspicion by the markets as it seems unplanned, or whether it is timed to reach the right consumer audience, for example avoiding summer holidays if you’re targeting a family audience.

The last time a major Budget statement was moved to a Monday was during the 2018 financial crisis. The FTSE 100 saw one of the single largest rises in a day in reaction to an emergency cut in VAT.

It’s yet to be seen whether timing has been everything for Philip Hammond, but this also reminds us that content is King.

Paul McManus is managing director of Walbrook PR