Embargoes: Are they for everyone?

Problem

Your organization is releasing a research report, and wants to make sure that you receive good, in-depth press coverage following the release. You decide to send journalists the report in advance of the official release date, placing an “embargo” on when they can run their stories on the report. But if one reporter does not honor your embargo and publishes a story in advance of the official release date, you might lose the opportunity for widespread news coverage. Is an embargo right for everybody? What is the best way to avoid getting “scooped”?

 

What is an embargo?

An embargoed press release is sent to select reporters one to fourteen days before a news release or event in order to give them more time to develop their story. Embargoes are done with the understanding that journalists do not publish the story before your clearly indicated release date and time. An embargo also gives you the opportunity to get a “read” on what kind of coverage you can expect. When you have a lot of information to release in the form of a report or study, an embargo can be useful to ensure that some reporters will get enough time to digest the information and report on it on the public release date.

 

Sound easy?  Think again. Embargoes are risky and can backfire quickly. Even if a reporter promises not to publish the story early, you have no written contract that prevents this. A reporter can break the agreement and “scoop” your news story. In some cases, other outlets may follow the story with second day news, but often they will choose not to report a story that has already run elsewhere without new information or developments. So think carefully before using an embargo and use it only as a strategic tool under the right conditions.

 

When to use embargoes

  • An embargo is only worth it if it will effectively increase the profile of your story.
  • Embargoes work especially well for reports where reporters need a couple of days to digest a lot of material, or do a lot of ground work before they write the story.
  • Offer embargoes to major news outlets that are on the top tier of your media list. If a smaller, lower tier outlet breaks your embargo, you may lose your chances for coverage in larger outlets that may not want to repeat coverage already issued by smaller outlets.
  • Use embargoes as a way to reward reporters who have covered your issues extensively, or a reporter with whom you have an exclusive relationship. If they receive the material a couple of days before the release, they may be more likely to write a good story on your report.
  • If you don’t think your report will get covered if released along with the every day news releases, put an embargo on it as a way to give people more time than they would have if under a quick deadline.
  • Lead with the newspapers. Press hates chasing TV, so give the newspapers embargoed information first, then entice the local TV news stations afterwards.

 

When not to use embargoes

  • Don’t offer embargoes on hugely sensitive or major news announcements. If a reporter breaks your embargo, it may deter reporters from attending your carefully planned press conference. If a story runs early and is unfavorable or misguided, it may influence all other resulting coverage.
  • Don’t offer embargoes to every reporter on your media list—only a select group. Embargoes are a method for improving your chances of coverage by the more sought after top-tier reporters.
  • Don’t offer an embargo to competing newspapers. This is a sure-fire way to ruin your credibility. If a reporter asks who else has received the embargoed information, be honest with him or her. The reporter will appreciate it and may base his or her decision about the amount of time and resources dedicated to the story, and which other outlets might carry the story.
  • Don’t think that putting an embargo on a weak news release will make your story look better than it is. Reporters will see through this and it may also affect your credibility.
  • Don’t overuse embargoes. If you embargo everything your organization puts out, it will irritate reporters. A simpler way of giving early warning is by issuing a media advisory a couple of days before a press release or press conference.

 

How can you make sure someone will definitely honor the embargo?

You can’t. But they are more likely to honor the embargo if you have built a good relationship with them over time.

 

Identifying an Embargo

Embargoes are labeled as such clearly at the top of a press release and must always be followed up with a phone call to the reporter in order to verify that they understand the restriction and to see if they are interested. You can use that opportunity to offer them more information or pitch them a specific angle that they might find interesting.

 

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May 2004