Press Embargoes – Our take on the Debate

Robert Geller (@rgeller)
Senior VP

Press embargoes are once again in the news. Yesterday, Michael Arrington issued his latest rant which follows a series of announcements over the past year from TechCrunch, the WSJ and others regarding stated policies on embargoes and exclusives.

For the uninitiated, an embargo is when you agree to share a news story in advance of its official announcement, with those who agree to hold onto the story until you are ready. As the word implies, an exclusive is when you do the same for one outlet. In both cases, the idea is to maximize the impact of news by choreographing its unveiling. They serve the interests of media and their readers by enabling the reporter or blogger to develop the story in advance so that the reader gets a more comprehensive take on the news when the announcement is made public.

The debate and evolving policies on exclusives and embargoes may leave many wondering how to best proceed. In my conversations with PR industry colleagues I have found that there is lots of confusion.

First, let me say that, although I do not take away from the importance of TechCrunch or WSJ, just because one or two or a dozen outlets publicly rail about the practice and proclaim it to be dead does not make it automatically so. There are good reasons for the embargoes, and the many comments about Arrington’s post show the passion for (and diversity of opinions) on the topic.

I don’t blame Arrington for being upset. In the example that set off his latest rant, one outlet jumped the gun and stole the headlines for a story that he had been laboring on. As he said:

Whoever broke the story in the first place generally gets more eyeballs and attention than the others, so there are lots of incentives for mistakes. Particularly because no one ever punishes the offenders.

Arrington should rest assured that on the PR side (at least, speaking for Fusion PR) we do not take these agreements lightly and do in fact remember who offenders are when it comes to breaking exclusives or embargoes.

Second, we fully agree that it is a controversial practice and one that should be used with caution. Invariably you make enemies as well as friends because there are outlets that will be left out of the first round of stories. From a practical standpoint, in this era of blogs and Twitter it is much harder these days to hold onto and choreograph the release of information. There is every chance that your precious story will be blogged or Tweeted about in advance without the benefit of elaborate plans and despite many different conversations and agreements.

Our advice is to proceed with caution. Understand the value of your news and who is most likely to be interested. Understand the risks and opportunities that come with attempting to control the release of information. Don’t waste your time selling a blogger or news organization on an embargoed pre-briefing if they have made it clear that they will cover the news only on their terms.

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