How to manage embargoes in a digital age

Last week I used an embargo on a news story, it’s not something I do often (certainly not yet this year) and as a result it started to make me nervous that journalists didn’t respect the embargo any more… in this digital media relations age, was the ‘embargo trust pact’ dead, or alive?

What is an embargo? Well, technically it’s a ‘stop’ caveat on a piece of information that you’re sharing ahead of time with journalists, which hopes to stop sensitive material from being published before ‘full disclosure’ or a specified date.

In this digital age where news spreads instantly and rapidly, breaking an embargo can be even more damaging than ever before, but yet they are still viewed as a very valuable tool for PR’s trying to strategically plan a launch or a sensitive item.

What might an embargo be used for?

  • A commercially sensitive issue where information sometimes can’t be shared and discussed in an open way, such as a news item with competitive pressure
  • A time sensitive news story, but a complicated or detailed one, where you’d like the journalist to have time to provide additional research and insight into the subject before the story goes live
  • Controlling publication dates so that you can promise/secure exclusives – or coordinate a universal release date across a variety of mediums for strategic reasons
  • News announcements from public companies where by law, they have to ensure that everybody hears news at the same time

The key to an embargo is that it’s a ‘mutual agreement’. A good PR shouldn’t just blanket distribute news with ‘embargo’ in the headline unless it’s been discussed and agreed beforehand. Although I know agencies who do use it this way… I wouldn’t like to have to comment on their success rates!

I believe that the future of the embargo is still sturdy, but perhaps less formal than it used to be. As we move away from the emailed news release and towards the future that is the Social Media News Release, an embargo will become an increasingly risky tactic to use. On the other hand we might notice that this doesn’t impact on the process of breaking a news story, particularly if the art of self-publishing becomes as pivotal as we hope and think!

Essentially an embargo is about trust and respect – and this should always exist between a PR and a journalist, no matter the communication methods or publication mediums.

Try to view an embargo as an agreement in trust, that client sensitive news will be published with the due care and attention that it deserves. If you don’t believe you have the trust, don’t risk using it. Simples.

Top tips for using an embargo:

  • Make a decision about whether this is going to be a more traditional print, or digital/online PR launch? This might affect who you approach and what level of trust you place in them
  • Build a trusting relationship with the journalists in question BEFORE you approach them with embargoed news – give them a reason to strike up an agreement with you (if a journalist relies on you for good quality editorial content they will not want to damage this relationship over an embargo)
  • Remember that a successful embargoed campaign can serve to build trust with key journalists, which can prove invaluable in future campaigns – you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours
  • Please consider whether your news is just too high quality for an embargo. Sometimes, no matter how well you know the journalist, a really tasty piece of breaking news can do wonders for their career and might just be worth sacrificing your relationship for the sake of a tweet or controversial blog post

Have you used an embargo recently? Do you avoid using them because of the risk social media poses to your privacy? Perhaps you’ve had an embargo broken and are happy to share your experiences? Let us know how your use of the embargo has changed in our digital age.

About Stuart Dinnie

Stuart has worked in the world of digital marketing for over 15 years. With his measured and planned approach, he has delivered robust digital strategies for construction companies to achieve real business growth. He now heads up the team at Pauley Creative as Managing Director and is leading his team & clients towards digital marketing excellence. He’s worked with over 100 construction clients; helping them on their digital transformation journey, providing sustainable strategies that return year on year incremental growth, delivering award-winning websites and adding value from board level to marketing assistant.

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