I’m part of a few different private Facebook groups and a couple weeks ago, one of the members posted a question about embargoing content and was seeking opinions on the topic.
As you probably know, an embargo basically means sharing a story idea (news release, pitch) with a reporter but asking them to hold the information until a later date.
I responded that I was not a big fan of the embargo . I’ve always felt that if the information isn’t ready to be published then hold off on sending it. The basis for her question was she had offered the story as an exclusive to one media outlet and while waiting for them to respond, she wanted to make sure she had another outlet or two in line to run with it should the first outlet decline.
I understand her dilemma; she’s been tasked with placing the story and wants to do what she can to ensure success. Offering an exclusive to me means just that – that outlet is the first (and only) one to have your story idea and if and until they publish, it is theirs alone. I see no issue with putting a deadline on that exclusive to move it along a bit.
That said, I thought I’d ask a few journalists friends what they thought about the embargo.
John D’Anna of the Arizona Republic, speaking personally and not on behalf of the paper and as an instructor of journalism ethics at the Cronkite School of Journalism, has this to say:
Generally, I'm opposed to embargoes for several reasons. First, I think it's a bad idea to stage-manage the news, and that's essentially what an embargo does. News is news, and as journalists we publish news as soon as we find out about it. Secondly, and this ties in with the first item, but I fail to see how embargoes benefit the reader. Third, there's the practical matter that someone always seems to break the embargo with no consequences. You see this all the time with announcements of big business developments, such as a major company moving to the Valley. I have yet to see a reporter who breaks an embargo under those circumstances get shut out of the next big story. Lastly, I understand that sometimes they can be useful -- we often get advance copies of a politician's speech so we can do background reporting on it with the understanding that we don't publish until they make the speech. In that case, there are two hammers -- one is that the politician, unlike most PR agencies, would likely shut the offending reporter out of any more advance speeches. And secondly, and more importantly, it would not be journalistically responsible to publish because politicians often ad-lib, and you could wind up having to run a correction.
Tishin Donkersly, former editor-in-chief of AZTechBeat, says:
I appreciate as far of a runway as possible to prepare an article with an embargo release. It's helpful to know if pre-interviews are available and with who, if graphics are available, and the exact date and time of the release. Also, if I ask a PR professional if another publication gets an exclusive on the topic, then be honest with me-that allows me to take a fresh angle on the material than just what is in the news release. If we agree to write about the topic, I appreciate it when a PR professional keeps in close contact with me about any changes to the embargo release time or updates in the content. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a “stop the presses” email with an updated news release, and because of the positive working relationship, we were able to make it awesomer!
I checked in with Ilana Lowery at the Phoenix Business Journal, who shares these thoughts:
Well, on the surface, to me an embargo is a way for sources to try to control the message — not something that I am a big fan of. I know in some cases, your clients are adamant about embargoes, and in some cases when dealing with public companies, for example, it often can’t be helped.
My advice is to work with your media contacts in a way that allows exclusives to those who will reach the right audience for a particular story. Be fair, though, don’t offer up an exclusive to the same media outlet every time, and of course, don't offer up the exclusive then say, “Oh, wait! We have to embargo the story.”
Bottom line, I don’t have a problem with stories that are embargoed, IF the story warrants it. Ultimately, working with different local media outlets for exclusives is what I would recommend. If it’s a big, national story, your strategy probably needs to be different, which I understand, but in my opinion, it’s the local media that butters your bread.
I also thought it might be interesting to see what broadcast media have to say. Here are some views from their perspective:
From Diane Bonilla, formerly from KPNX here in Phoenix, now serving as the assignment manager at KSDK, the NBC affiliate in St. Louis:
As far as embargoing a release for news events, always make sure it’s bolded and big letters at the beginning. Most stations will honor it as long as it can be seen. If it’s something of major importance that will be breaking news, my suggestion is to send a release that says there will be an announcement the next day with an embargoed release sent out at certain time. If you have a press conference in conjunction with the release, I would not send an embargoed release but rather let the news organization know that you’ll send a release 30 minutes after the press conference. You do want them to show up?
Jennifer Jones is the senior content coordinator at KTVK 3TV - KPHO CBS 5. She says:
Depending on what your story is an embargo can be frustrating for journalists. In many cases we would rather be able to take the information we get from you and start to work with it if it’s a story we want to do. If barriers such as an embargo are given to us we may simply pass over it and then due to other stresses and fires we are putting out not get back to it. This is especially true if there is any current peg to the information. We are very much in an instantaneous culture so if you don’t need to embargo material it could work to your advantage.
And this from Becky Lynn of KTAR Radio:
Regarding embargoed news releases and my personal feelings on them… If it isn't clear why a story is embargoed (and sometime it isn't) then it's easy for it to get pushed aside. While we're waiting for the time for the embargoed one, a dozen other story ideas have come in as well as breaking news. Unless it's huge, it can get pushed to the bottom of the pile and ignored.