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The Exclusive, The Embargo and The Arrington
This morning I sat down at the computer to write the story about Chegg’s funding announcement but I see it was already posted ahead of the embargoed time by Techcrunch and VentureBeat. No idea who posted first as the times on RSS feeds seem to always use different time zones. Perhaps another source broke the embargo first – I don’t know. I checked Google Blogsearch and those were the only two sources that were returned.
Today Techcrunch editor Michael Arrington has a rant about embargoes and how they are always broken. I agree they are always broken. I see them broken everyday. When I saw the Chegg embargo broken, I emailed the PR firm contact and asked what’s up. She said that when she awoke, she had a variety of calls and had to put out various fires due to the broken embargo. Here was my response to her:
I think of all of this as a relationship – you, me, the company, my readers, my advertisers/sponsors – its all about the relationship between all of us – and most of all its about trust.
The only way it will change is when the PR firms stop sending the news to the sites that don’t value the relationship. The problem is that you (general) won’t do it and the blogs know that. So they do whatever they want because they know that you won’t do anything against them.
Arrington seems to imply that because more blogs are receiving the embargoed news, it’s the smaller blogs that are breaking the embargoes. From the nearly one-hundred emails I have from PR firms and startups talking about their broken embargoes, it’s rarely the smaller blogs that are the culprit.
In his rant, Arrington notes:
“We’ve never broken an embargo at TechCrunch. Not once.”
Yet in the comments, when called out by Ben Metcalfe about the fact that Techcrunch has broken embargoes, Mike responds:
“You’re right, we did break the justin.tv embargo in 2007. It was an accident…”
I believe that today’s rant comes partially from the fact that embargoes are being broken but also partially because more news is spread around and everyone isn’t running to Mike like they did a year (or two) ago.
I have several emails (plus many calls and discussions) about embargoes that were broken by Techcrunch. So it’s not only the one “mistake” that Mike mentions above. I am not going to post them because there is no reason to drag the startups through the mud. If you trust me, you know I have the emails. And let’s not single out Techcrunch, the other “bigs” also have broken their share of embargoes. I have those emails as well.
There are two types of broken embargoes – mistakes and malicious. Frankly I don’t understand why any embargoes are broken under the “mistake” argument but it happens I guess. A year ago I wrote my thoughts on embargoes and we’ve written several times on the embargo topic since then. And my policy isn’t changing after today’s conversation.
Is it that hard to post a story without using a timed-posting? Is it really that hard to double-check the time of the post? Having been responsible for financial releases where the SEC would issue fines if a post went a minute early, I guess this “don’t put it into wordpress until the right time” just comes second nature to me.
At the end of the day, it’s all about trust and relationships. It seems to keep boiling down to that, no matter if it’s about paid reviews, advertisers, how winners are selected at startup conferences or embargoes.
Update: Arrington has posted a comment to this post and in the comment he notes,”What you don’t understand is that very often PR firms give us an hour or two head start on stories.” Let’s assume this is the case for argument’s sake. So then how does Arrington know that ALL of the other broken embargoes also didn’t have this special “privilege”. How does he know that the apparent line I am being fed is not the same one he is?
I get offered exclusives every week and I turn down every single one of them. I turn them down because my belief is that it’s best that the startup (or big company) gets the most coverage they can. Some blogs like the embargo as it allows them to look like a news-breaking organization. The truth is, any exclusive that goes up on any blog, I can have a better post written about the story in 5 minutes. Exclusives are the real worthless item out of today’s conversation. But clearly for some blogs, they need to force the exclusive because it’s critical for their success.
There’s a belief that if you don’t offer an exclusive, you won’t be covered. Let me clue you in on a secret, that’s not true. If your story is newsworthy, it will be covered without an exclusive. And if your story isn’t newsworthy, an exclusive probably won’t help anyway. Many outlets won’t cover a story if they know an exclusive was issued. My advice to startups is that exclusives aren’t a good vehicle to use – you want as much coverage as you can, not one outlet.
Arrington is just upset because he no longer gets all the news exclusives first anymore. News is shared with more bloggers, more news outlets, via company blogs, via video interviews with people including Scoble and via tools like FriendFeed and Twitter.
Should be interesting to see if startups and PR firms are willing to stand up to Mike and not send him any news going forward or if ALL YOUR NEWS ARE BELONG TO US.