In a time before social media and smartphones, the Friday news dump was a successful crisis communications strategy. In recent years, the Friday news dump has become common knowledge for two reasons.
First, reporters sharing these releases on a Friday afternoon are making it clear to their social media followers what’s being done. Secondly, the consumption of news on smartphones or tablets no longer stops because the weekend arrives. On the contrary, people are more starved for news on Friday afternoons.
Still, something changed this summer. The Friday news dump has turned into a match ready to light your worst news on fire.
Northwestern University Sees a Friday Social Media Torching
One of the biggest sports scandals this year came when Northwestern University announced, on a Friday afternoon, the results of years-long investigation into hazing accusations within the football programs, along with a two-game suspension for the head coach.
To say this backfired on the university would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Instead, social media was ablaze that Friday afternoon about the news, and in particular, the perceived light punishment for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The news became centered, not buried. For an entire weekend, the sports world discussed the hazing investigation, Northwestern’s response, and the initial punishment. By the time Monday morning rolled around, the Northwestern football hazing story was A1 material in every news outlet—sports or otherwise—and the added scrutiny made the university look even worse.
The Unintended Friday Consequence
I had a similar experience in my professional life this summer as one of our clients had to publicize a data breach. No one likes sharing bad news. But it had to happen. We made the announcement on a Tuesday morning. Despite the initial negative articles, the news cycle died out after about 24 hours.
Unfortunately, a partner who also had to announce the data breach, did so on a Friday afternoon. That had the unintended consequence of taking a 24-hour news cycle and elongating it into a 96-hour news cycle. Why? Because some outlets covered it Friday, others covered it Monday, and then aggregator news sites picked up the stories on Tuesday.
Planning for a Friday Crisis
So, what’s the plan for PR pros when a crisis arrives?
The reality is Friday afternoons can no longer save you. There is no true “quiet” part of the news cycle over the weekend. Yes, it may be decreased, but it never goes away completely. There’s no ability to hide news anymore.
The best advice is to get bad news out when you’re prepared to deal with the consequences, whether that’s a Monday morning, a Wednesday evening, or a Friday afternoon. Reporters are going to find out about the bad news, and your company or organization will have to answer questions. In 2023, the timing only changes the optics of how you’re presenting the bad news.
There’s another benefit to getting your bad news out during the course of a usual workweek or news cycle—the potential for the item to be forgotten under the usual barrage of news.
The Friday news dump fell out of favor because no one announces good news on a Friday afternoon. Any Friday announcement essentially alerts the public you have bad news to share.
There are still plenty of tools that crisis communication pros can utilize to minimize and tamp down negative media coverage for their clients. The Friday news dump is no longer one of them.
Sean O’Leary is Vice President at Susan Davis International.