Bad news and the importance of timing

Toronto Councillor Paul Ainslie. Photo: The Toronto Star

Toronto Councillor Paul Ainslie. Photo: The Toronto Star

In the world of public relations and reputation management, timing is usually the factor over which people have the least amount of control. The crisis communications cycle is usually set in motion by something or someone outside our control. The cruise ship runs out of power in the middle of the ocean. The tanker spills its cargo. An insider blows the whistle.

When you do have some control over the timing of the announcement of bad news, however, it can be a powerful tool. I believe that's what we saw with today's announcement by Toronto city Councillor Paul Ainslie that he was stopped by a RIDE spot check on May 3, 2013 and given a warning that required him to surrender his driver's license for three days.

Twenty days have passed since Councillor Ainslie was pulled over. Why announce now? How about the fact that the city's mayor, Rob Ford, is in the midst of a media relations siege based on allegations that there's a video of said mayor smoking crack? Or the fact that Mayor Ford was mocked by several late night talk show hosts over the past few nights, including a long segment on The Daily Show?

I commend Councillor Ainslie for coming out with his proactive announcement, for admitting he made an error that many people make each year and that he will do his best to ensure this doesn't happen again in the future.

Through a PR lens, however, the timing of his announcement is a thing to be beheld. During a slow news week, an announcement of a DUI infraction might be enough to spark media requests, calls for resignations, etc. And this is not to minimize the seriousness of the issue of drinking and driving. But against the backdrop of an alleged crack-smoking mayor, this hardly registers on the PR Richter scale. This is how you turn a potential threat to your reputation into a one-day news story.

And all the while, we're still waiting for an official response from Mayor Ford...