In the world of PR, being slow off the mark is a recipe for being ignored or criticised, especially as far as the media is concerned, so it’s no surprise that everyone wants to be ahead of the game.

Immediacy and timing are critical to successful public relations. But basing communications solely on timing without proper fact checking can lead to embarrassing mistakes and damage to reputation, as demonstrated by the Republican Party and media organisation Newsweek in the recent US election campaign.

A drive for immediacy had led to many organisations pre-writing media releases in anticipation of events or outcomes. Pre-writing content can allow you to get the jump on the competition by ensuring you get your message to media first, but it can also lead to embarrassment and loss of credibility if caution is not exercised or you lose sight of the facts.

The US Republican Party took this idea too far recently, accidentally announcing on its website’s news blog that Mike Pence had won a vice-presidential debate two hours before it started, and criticising moderators for not asking certain questions before the debate had even taken place.

Newsweek made a similar blunder only a few weeks later by going to print with a cover feature that prematurely and embarrassingly reported the victory of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US election.

Regional events can also change the timing of a message. If regional distribution is a factor, it pays to do a quick check of the news in that region to see what’s going on.

Your story could be overshadowed or lost if other stories are considered more timely or if they change the way people view your story. For example, it may be wise to delay an announcement about the launch of a new cruise ship if there was other major news such as a hurricane affecting cruise ports or the sinking of another cruise ship in the region.

Fact checking and proofreading is always worth it, and it’s important not to forget the importance of accuracy in your drive to be first out of the gate with communications.

Keep checking. In an era of online publishing, even published mistakes can quickly be corrected if you are vigilant. I’m not sure if anyone but the sub-editor and myself noticed the previous headline of this NZ Herald article was “Trolls turn on Zelda Williams”. In this case, an unfortunate and ambiguous headline was quickly amended and timing saved the day.

Even in instances where a mistake is noted, a well-timed and eloquent correction or apology can sometimes help, as demonstrated in this amusing list from Poynter.org.

But sometimes it’s not so easy, and when mistakes are made, reputation suffers.

Malaysia airlines couldn’t take back their ‘Ultimate Bucket List’ campaign fast enough after it was viewed in context of the MH370 and MH17 disasters, while a Greenpeace calendar included nature photographs taken by Alain Mafart, the French agent notorious for bombing the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. Although Greenpeace tried its best to organise a recall, many people who had already purchased the calendar.

Perhaps the only positive to come out of the incident for Greenpeace was the creation of a much sought-after collector’s item.

At least I hope so – I have a copy safely stored away at home.

Have your own tale illustrating the importance of timing in public relations and communications? Share in the comments below. And if you have a hard-copy of Newsweek’s November election special prematurely announcing the winner of the 2016 US Presidential election, please let us know.

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