Sunday, July 5, 2009

Timing is everything

So I unplug for a sunny long weekend with my family and come back to learn that... Sarah Palin has resigned as Governor of Alaska?

Interesting, in many, many ways. In case you missed it, here is her rather lengthy and rambling speech.

There’s lots to be said about Palin’s approach and messaging in this speech, and about her overarching political strategy in general – but I’ll leave that to the pundits. What interests me here is her timing.

Governor Palin made this announcement in a “hastily-called news conference on Friday” according to a Canadian Press story outlining some of the speculation around the reasons for her resignation: is she just tired of being a media scapegoat? Is there some further ethics scandal about to break? Is she gearing up for a run for President in 2012?

Or, as she puts it, is she just planning to do more for Alaska from outside government – whatever that means?

In PR, if you want your announcement to be seen by the largest possible percentage of your audience, and if you have any control over the timing, you choose your announcement time based on:

1) When the most media are likely to be able to cover it (i.e. not really early in the morning, or too late in the day, or on holidays or weekends, when newsrooms are on skeleton staff)

2) When your audience is most likely to be watching/reading the news (i.e. weekdays more than weekends... and not on holiday long weekends)

You’ll notice that not a whole lot of substantive announcements come out the week of Christmas – people are spending time with their families, and are far less likely to be reading the paper or watching the news than they would be on, say, a Wednesday in mid-January.

So why did Sarah Palin choose to “hastily” call a news conference on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend to make her big announcement? Some possibilities:

• She was expecting a lot of conjecture about potential new ethics investigations and unflattering reviews of her track record in Alaska, particularly in the time since her brief run for the Vice-Presidency in 2008 – and wanted all that chatter to happen when most Americans were outside in the sunshine, eating potato salad and enjoying fireworks with their families; or

• There really is something coming down the pike (and I’m not necessarily suggesting wrongdoing – it could be something personal, or family-related, or health-related) which she’d rather not deal with as Governor; or

• She didn’t give the timing any thought; or

• Some other rationale that she and her advisors (and maybe observers more sophisticated than I) understand.

From where I stand, this looks like an announcement intended to be made when as few Americans as possible would be listening – and, I have to add, that might indeed have been the smartest PR strategy. But then again, if there’s anyone on the U.S. national stage whose PR decisions have consistently surprised me, it’s been Sarah Palin.

I’ll be interested to keep watching, despite myself.

On a related note, my advice to Letterman for tomorrow night’s show: just say “Sarah Palin” and wait for your audience to roar.

UPDATE - Monday, July 6:

On Anderson Cooper 360 tonight, I heard a Palin supporter explain that she'd made her announcement on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend as her way to "declare her independence from politics as usual." Amazingly, I don't think he was kidding.

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