Steps to Employ an Embargo Properly in Public Relations

Embargoes can be both helpful and challenging for public relations. By placing news releases under embargo, businesses can release news to media outlets and simultaneously delay publication until a certain date and time. That enables brands to determine the timing of announcements and “control the narrative” in public relations parlance. Reporters have extra time to prepare their stores, review the material and dig deeper into the subject.

The challenge is convincing media outlets to agree to the embargo. Journalists feel a professional duty be first to report news. They view the first to publish as the winner, the second as an also-ran. Publishers also feel pressure to run news before competitors.

In the not so distant past, PR pros faxed out releases labeled “under embargo” and named the date and time. Those days are gone. Blame the rise of bloggers, new online news sites, and the real-time news cycle. Some outlets have announced that they don’t observe embargoes.

While the embargo is not dead, its definition has changed. An embargo now means an agreement with media outlets not to publish the news until the predetermined time. The key word is “agreement.”

How to Use Embargoes Effectively for Media Relations

Get it in writing. Verbal agreements are no longer sufficient and email is inadequate, advises Curtis Sparrer, principal of Bospar. A media rep may offer a vague email response that doesn’t technically agree to the embargo or may delete the email exchange. Approach the agreement as a non-confrontational, routine business practice and give the same treatment to all media outlets to avoid charges of favoritism. PR experts also advise obtaining signatures from editors and other higher-ups in addition to the reporter.

Prepare a plan to respond to leaks and embargo violations. Consider providing those who honored the embargo additional information and access to corporate executives or subject matter experts to differentiate their coverage from others, Sparrer suggests. If one publication breaks the embargo, others will probably quickly follow. Be prepared for reporters to be unhappy with both the violators and the PR team. PR may wish to consider notifying all publications if the embargo is broken and releasing them from the embargo. PR may also consider banning publications who break embargoes from future releases.

Consider global timing. Offer a consistent embargo time around the globe. Tuesday at noon Eastern Time is Wednesday at 2 a.m. in Sydney, Australia.

Manage your client’s expectations. Just because a reporter has agreed to an embargo, doesn’t mean that he will write a story, says Caitlin Kasunich at KCSA Public Relations. Some reporters might interview your client yet still decide against writing for one reason or another. Make sure that your client understands this.

Use them selectively. Relatively few occasions warrant an embargo. Product announcements or announcements of research results at trade shows can benefit from the tactic. They’re also common for releases on lengthy scientific reports.

Work to limit leaks. Even with agreements, leaks are possible. The more reporters who agree to the embargo, the greater the chance of a leak. Reporters may seek quotes from others, including competitors, about your announcement, increasing chances of a leak. Longer lead times also increase risks. Ideally, the news release should be issued at least two to five days before the end of the embargo says Ami Neiberger-Miller, founder of PR practice Steppingstone LLC.

Don’t confuse embargoes with exclusives. An exclusive entails releasing news to a single reporter before others. When considering pitching an exclusive, conduct careful research to select the right reporter.

Monitor the media. A media monitoring service with comprehensive monitoring of both social and traditional media and timely email alerts will notify you when your brand or products are mentioned online. That will allow you to quickly respond to embargo violations as well as media placements after the embargo ends.

Be careful. The stakes are high. When done well, embargoes can deepen relationships with reporters and their publications. A bungled embargo will strain those relationships. Embargoes are not a tool for media relations novices. PR veterans warn that embargoes are best handed by seasoned media relations pros.

This article was first published on the blog.

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