At a super fancy press conference this morning, federal finance minister Joe Oliver looked like he was going to make a super fancy announcement. Yesterday a bunch of journalists from the parliamentary press corps received a cryptic and very important sounding invitation to a 9:00 AM private press conference. That alone is enough to arouse suspicion, but isn’t enough to make it seem like a big news story. The kicker: the limited attendance event included an advance briefing, a practice usually reserved for especially important or especially unprecedented announcements.
Ooh. I just got the uber-secretive news release from Joe Oliver. Weird.
— Justin Ling (@Justin_Ling) July 8, 2014
This was not one of those times. Joe Oliver put on his best Tuxedo Mask costume yesterday with his invitation masked in mystery, and today revealed his secret identity: he’s just a finance minister looking to make some news. He announced that two new provinces (Saskatchewan and New Brunswick) are joining the Cooperative Capital Markets Regulatory System, a program designed to centralize securities regulation. According to Oliver’s clearly well-prepared statement, it’s really all about bringing Canada closer together, building the country into one unified identity and making us all love the same things and follow the same rules. Or something like that.
The most interesting thing about this morning’s announcement is that it got covered by every major news outlet. Let’s be honest, this isn’t the naked supermodel of announcements. This isn’t the kind of thing everyone wants to look at because they either think it’s gorgeous or at least respect that something can look like that. The average Canadian citizen doesn’t get excited about securities market regulation. In fact, I’d be surprised if many Canadians at all get excited about securities market regulation. I’d be impressed if that many Canadians know what securities market regulation is. I’m sure most of the journalists had to do some rapid fire Googling.
This announcement had barely any reason to make headlines. It’s not hugely controversial, it’s not a major policy reversal, there isn’t enormous money involved and nobody made a horrible mistake resulting in a national scandal (which admittedly, is a pity). So why would all these news outlets bother to cover it?
The simple answer is good media strategy by Joe Oliver. The slightly more complicated answer is that journalists are easily baited and are attracted to shiny things, exclusive press invitations included. By making the press conference exclusive and important sounding, Oliver and his staff guaranteed that a bunch of journalists from major outlets would be there and would have told their editors to save some column inches. Once the mostly boring press conference was done, the journalists had no choice but to write up the story. They had a self-imposed, shiny object induced deadline to meet.
Moral of the story: if you can make journalists think something is important, they’ll cover it. If they cover it, people will read it. If people read it, it becomes a real story. So all you have to do to make a story important is trick journalists into thinking it is. Good job, Joe.