Embargo This…

Death to the embargo,” says Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch. Until further notice, one of the most widely read tech blogs will no longer honour embargoes.

Breaking NewsI have a bit of a beef with embargoes, especially when they’re used improperly (more on this later), but Arrington comes at this from a different angle:

“One annoying thing for us is when an embargo is broken. That means that a news site goes early with the news despite the fact that they’ve promised not to. The benefits are clear – sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize them first as having broken the story. Traffic and links flow in to whoever breaks an embargo first.

That means it’s a race to the bottom by new sites, who are increasingly stressed themselves with a competitive marketplace and decreasing advertising sales.”

His problem isn’t the practice of embargoes as much as the media (online and offline, but I suspect primarily online) breaking them. Let’s face it, if I was doing the honourable thing by waiting to post embargoed news, and my competitor got the drop on me by breaking that embargo, I’d be pretty mad.

Quite frankly, I don’t blame Arrington for his move.

Aside from the hyper-competitive newspaper industry, there’s another problem with the current situation: PR people often mis-use embargoes.

On that note, here are four tips for people considering sending embargoed news:

Make sure it’s actually news

Use embargoes sparingly.

While getting news in advance may be useful for journalists as it lets them craft a thorough story instead of racing to press, it’s a two-way street. You’re helping them, but they’re also helping you by agreeing to honour your timelines.

Respect that fact. Don’t be a douche and try to embargo the ‘news’ about your new office space. Your survey is unlikely to be front-page news to many people. Try to educate your clients about this – you’ll do them a great favour.

Save your embargoes for the real news.

Ask first

If you send a journalist an embargoed release out of the blue, you’re asking for trouble. It’s like trying to tell a journalist that a comment is off the record after agreeing to an on-the-record interview.

Have a little respect. Ask them if they’d like embargoed information ahead of time. If the answer is “no,” don’t send it yet.

Be selective

Save embargoes for the journalists you know you can trust. Don’t send embargoed material to everyone; as I mentioned above, you’re asking for trouble. You’re already tailoring your pitches for journalists, right (or at least personalizing… please, say you are)? Tailor your approach, too.

Limit your embargoed information to journalists with whom you have an established relationship, with whom you’ve dealt before, and who have respected them in the past.

Make the timelines clear

Make the timelines blindingly obvious to the journalists. Eliminate the risk of misunderstandings. Don’t bury the dates/times at the end of your messages.

Journalists: Do you honour embargoes? What things would make you more likely to do so?

PR folks: What other tips would you offer on using embargoes?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.