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Embargoes: Time to break the habit?
Embargoed press releases—a hold-over from public-relations practices in the world of print—remain a constant source of discussion in the world of online publishing. Should they still be in use? Should they be honored? Is "breaking an embargo" warranted?
Long story short, questions abound. So, I thought it might be helpful—for startups and bloggers alike—to take an objective view of the embargo and how it is used in media relations.
Let’s get really simple.
What is an "embargoed release"?
An embargoed release is a press release or announcement that is shared with the media well in advance of its publishing date. Unlike "off the record" (the source of a-whole-nother post) which is never supposed to see the light of day, embargoed information is meant to be published. But, it is meant to be published sometime in the future. It is akin to "sharing a secret." And, it is shared with the understanding that it is to remain a secret until the publishing date.
Why did this practice even come into being?
Using an embargo on a press release became a popular practice for a number of reasons:
- Embargoes give journalists fair warning of upcoming news. Allowing them to prepare their stories in advance of news "dropping." They are shared with the hope that, with sufficient lead time, the journalist will provide additional insight that might not be part of a breaking news story.
- Embargoes help manage the relationship between the journalist and the PR person. Sharing secrets has a tendency to build a relationship. And with time, that relationship becomes a symbiotic one, built on trust.
- Embargoes enable companies to synchronize the release of news items in a world of asynchronous publishing schedules. Newspapers are generally dailies with tight timelines. Magazines have longer publishing timelines and may actually "go to bed" weeks in advance of actual release. If you want your news to appear in the papers and the magazines at the same time, embargoes are one way of managing that.
- Embargoes help keep your executives out of orange jumpsuits. When you’re working for a publicly traded company, you live in fear of a journalist publishing something before "full disclosure." For public companies, everyone needs to hear news at the same time or else the SEC comes knocking at your door. Sharing the information early, under embargo, can help prevent these "leaks" from happening.
It’s those "controlling the timing of the information" points that cause the most headaches in the today’s brave new world of online publishing and blogging. If publishing schedules have been reduced to a matter of seconds and publishing scoops that land your site at the top of Techmeme could mean the difference between ridiculous amounts traffic and no traffic, does the embargo still have a place in public relations?
I would argue it does. Perhaps now more than ever.
Embargoes, plain and simple, are about respect. Respect for journalists, be they bloggers or traditional media. Respect for their time and their insight. And, ultimately, the media’s respect for your company and the way you mange public relations.
So, that’s a brief overview of the embargo. Do you think the embargo still serves as a viable means of distributing information? Do you think it’s an archaic practice whose time has ended? I’d love to hear about, because in the next installment, I’ll be addressing how to manage the embargo process.
Rick Turoczy is one of the CenterNetworks Experts and he writes for the Silicon Florist, a blog covering under-the-RADAR start-ups, blogs, and events in Portland, Oregon, and the Silicon Forest. He can be reached, most readily, via Twitter.