A reader asks, “What is a pre-briefing?” A pre-briefing is a public relations process that involves speaking to a reporter about your news before you officially announce it. It’s sometimes called a “pre-announcement briefing.” To understand why it’s important, you have to get a sense of the overall flow of events that occurs between a company deciding it wants to make an announcement and actually getting press coverage of that announcement.

The act of writing a press release (AKA an “announcement”) and distributing it through a wire service such as BusinessWire is generally not an effective way of getting reporters to write articles about your news. If you’re already well-known and you have very interesting news, then the simple process of distributing a press release can get you picked up in the press. But that’s not most people. If you put a press release on the wire that said, “Sarah Palin Acquires Hydrogen Bomb,” reporters would be interested even if you didn’t reach out to them directly. That’s not you, I hope.

Most of us need to work pretty hard at getting reporters to pay attention to our news. We need to brief reporters on our announcement to get them interested in covering it. We need to be able to answer their questions, either in person or on the phone. For major news, you might hold a press conference. However, as most of us understand, reporters are busy, so unless you’re the Rolling Stones announcing a new album, you won’t get reporters to come to you in person. You need to reach out to them personally, which is typically done today through email.

Then, we need to respect the fact that reporters generally need some time to write an article about your news. It’s helpful to tell them what you are going to announce a couple of days in advance of your news actually going out. The pre-briefing request is an email or phone call that asks if the reporter wants to hear about your news in advance of it being distributed on a wire service. This gives the reporter some time to write the story before you make your announcement. Reporters usually don’t like to write about news after the announcement. Soon, it’s old news and not relevant. But, most reporters are busy enough that they can’t write a story about you the same day you make your news.

When you show a reporter a press release in advance, it is known as giving it to them “under embargo” – with an understanding that they will not write about your story until the press release goes out on the wire service. Pre-briefing is common in corporate PR. In politics and more regular news, it’s pretty rare. There is always a risk that the reporter will leak your news but usually that’s not a big issue.

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