A Word to My PR Homies: On Embargoes

Hey, holmes!

At 2 p.m., I can tell you it’s already been an insane day for me. After a long night that got longer when a fellow blogger broke an embargo on a product I’d covered, hence ruining anyone else’s chances of breaking the news first or best, I woke up in a foul mood. I went into “f*** you” mode, furiously reviewing and writing up products with the vague idea that if I wrote them up faster than The Other Guys, I would never feel the sting of shame like that again.

A couple hours and several posts later, The Ed told me to cool it, and I started working on embargoed projects for tomorrow. But my head was still a steaming goulash of unsolved mystery: Why did The Other Guys break the post just two hours before the embargo was up? To deliberately screw us over? Was is because I’d been too specific in hinting about the product review on FriendFeed? Had they just not noticed or cared about the embargo? Did a third party leak the info to them? Worse yet, I began to wonder about the PR lady who sent me the release in the first place. Was she not aware that The Other Guys have an editorial policy dedicated to breaking embargoes? Did she punk me – intentionally or otherwise – by letting The Other Guys break the story because they get more traffic? And why wouldn’t she email me back and tell me what went wrong in this carnivorous food chain?

Holmes, let me tell you: These are the last thoughts you want running through your journo’s head. Embargoes are a sign of a trusted flak-journo relationship. You trust us to break the news on your schedule, and we trust you to tell the truth and avoid any premature leaks. Broken embargoes suck for everyone.

Hokay. So.

Word to My PR Homies #9: Be knowledgable and careful about issuing embargoes.

Here are a few quick tips for you guys on how to build a great relationship with your journo while making sure your news gets covered. These come from me and a couple RWW team members.

1. Don’t send embargoed material more than a few days ahead of time. I can only speak for myself, but the inbox is a firehose. Unless the news is huge (like “Google Buys China” huge), it’s going to drown in the flood. Sending a release with information embargoed until tomorrow is perfect. I can write it up now and plan to sleep in, and you don’t have to worry that I’ll forget about it.

2. When sending embargoed material, make sure you include beta test site login info. If we’ve promised to keep your information secure, we’re not going to take inappropriate advantage of your site; but we can’t really review a product we’ve never used. That tends to backfire, too. Besides, the point of an embargo is to make sure we have time to test, review, and fully understand your product, right?

3. Give us contact info for the dudes in charge. It’s great to have advance access to your quote-generators – CEOs, founders, developers, etc. This can help us create a more interesting piece, fill in some of the blanks about the product, and hopefully garner more interest and traffic for you.

4. Research your journo’s reputation. Did you know some journos have specifically stated they lie about holding to embargoes and then break the seal early anyhow? Did you know that others are ethical and conscientious to a fault about holding your deadlines, even when it’s inconvenient to do so? Make sure you know which journo is which.

5. Do not – I repeat, do not – issue an embargoed release to both kinds of journos mentioned above. It’s a case of aiding and abetting the embargo-breaking journo in punking and scooping the law-abiding journo. You look like a tool when that happens, trust me. And we’ll remember your name, your firm’s name, the product’s name, the other journo’s name, and everything else for a long time to come.

6. Once you’ve issued embargoed information to your chosen media list, go radio silent with other press outlets until the embargo is past. This will protect you – and us – from unwanted leaks.

7. Don’t issue embargoes on items that are already public anywhere on the web or that you’ve already talked about with other journalists. Even in casual conversation, even “off the record.” Especially if those journalists have then already covered the info.

8. When you set an embargo, pick a date and time, and stick to it. Not being specific and vacillating screws with our publishing schedules and dings the relationship we have with you. And for chrissake, don’t embargo something until midnight or six in the morning. We all live in different time zones, so this is really about 12 different kinds of cruel, particularly when there’s video content involved and we have to manually change the media from private to public.

9. Read up on how and why embargoes work in tech blogging.

10. Try not to get our hopes up. We know the embargoed release on your product’s new features is very important to a lot of people internally, but is it newsworthy enough to make a journo drop his or her writing schedule and devote the larger amount of time and research normally spent on embargoed items? Be respectful of our attention, and very critically examine your item’s newsworthiness. Don’t be afraid to tell your team, “This one might not be worth an embargo, you guys. Let’s just send the release now or later and let ’em fight over it like a pack of starving wolves in the cruel, cruel tundra.” Then laugh.

Thanks for reading, guys! I had to get this one off my chest. I’ve had some really great and a couple really negative experiences with embargoes so far, but ultimately, I believe they’re great for building our relationship with you PR pros when used correctly.

Lots of love, and I hope your day is great!

2 thoughts on “A Word to My PR Homies: On Embargoes

  1. Embargoes should not be used. Unless the news you’re working with will impact lives on a massive scale or completely turn an industry on its head, it’s presumptuous to deliver it under embargo. My agency has a policy of not using them. We’ve pushed back on clients who insisted we issue their news under embargo, sometimes at the risk of losing their business. Why? It’s Russian roulette; inevitably someone will break one on you. You burn more bridges using embargoes than you build, and no one piece of business is worth your credibility and reputation.

    If you really have faith in the story you’re selling and want to develop a relationship with a journalist, pitch exclusives, not embargoes.

  2. I had to read this twice. The first time through, I realized that after I read, “Hokay,” all I could think of was, “Fine. Have a nap. Zen fire ze missiles!!!”

    But after talking to you the other day after the two hour early embargo break, I found this to be a really interesting read. I love reading topics that you’re passionate about. It really shines through.


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