Media relations

E is for Embargo

The A to Z of media relations
Supported by Unicepta

An embargoed press release is an announcement that is shared with journalists ahead of a specified time or date when it can be published. This affords them sufficient time to prepare and research their articles. They can be used when the subject matter is time sensitive, such as a stock market announcement, the delivery of a speech or the launch of a new product.

Embargos are not, however, legally binding. On occasion, either deliberately or accidentally, a journalist will break an embargo, which prompts others to follow suit. This risk makes an embargoed release unwise for an announcement that could move stock market prices.

There is also very little recourse if a journalist deliberately breaks an embargo. They may suffer backlash from their peers, but other than cutting them from your distribution list – which may not always be possible – there is little that can be done in the way of punishment, although some companies have been known to ban temporarily access for persistent offenders.

Bloggers, or journalists on less well-known publications, may deliberately break embargos to boost traffic to their sites. They may be less concerned about building relationships with PRs than building their own profile, which makes sanctions tricky.

But are embargos fit for purpose in a 24/7 publishing world?

I would argue not. Some journalists perceive embargos as a way by which PRs control the flow of news. There have been occasions when journalists receive an embargoed release, only to discover that a competitor has been given an in-depth briefing from the company, making those articles appear more insightful. This is not the way to build enduring relationships with journalists.

Others, myself included, believe they are being used to give stories an air of mystery: ‘Ooh, if it’s embargoed, it must be important?’ (Answer: rarely.)  For example, PR agencies often issue embargoed press releases to announce the appointment of a new director or a raft of internal promotions. Why? Search me.

And finally, if an announcement has already been made internally, then it should not be sent to journalists under embargo. All internal announcements should be written as if for an external audience, because invariably they’ll get there… usually before the embargo.