The embargo dilemma

Chain Breaking

For major announcements, embargoes are good for media, bloggers, clients and PR teams – when they work. Trouble is too often they don’t, the news leaks, and it’s the good guys who get penalized. It’s a tragedy of the commons. Increasingly, certain publications are sparing themselves the pain and declining embargoes.

And with that goes a mainstay tactic of media relations programs surrounding big announcements. So now what? Well, here’s how it might pan out.

The exclusive, whereby just one publication gets the news before the announcement date, is here to stay. It’s easy to control for all, is collaborative and often strengthens the relationship with the publication involved. We’ll probably see many more of these. On the flip, for those who don’t get the story, it’s less good, so companies will need to choose wisely. For their part, publications will need thicker skins and to build better relationships, so they get the top spot for big news. The best publications should win in that scenario, so it’s a positive cycle.

In a world with fewer embargoes, we’ll see more press conferences. The news will cross the wire/be posted to a blog to enter the public domain and then shortly after the company will brief those interested en masse. The press conference may evolve and needn’t be an in-person event. It could be as basic as a conference call, a WebEx or an in-world event. Registration can be open or limited. Reporters will all have the same information at the same time. This clearly favors online publications which can evolve their stories as more details come to light.

PR teams can of course still pre-pitch the announcement, highlighting the press conference and even arranging one-to-ones in advance – they just won’t be able to give any details. Then on announcement day, they’ll hit the phones and other comms channels to spread the news. In many countries where embargoes are less prevalent, such as the UK, this is already the norm.

It’s a less elegant solution for all involved. Clearly scheduling becomes an issue. Reporters can’t write two stories or attend two press conferences at the same time. We’re likely to get more unforeseen news shadows. There will be more errors as time-to-publish becomes more crucial and there’s less time for fact checking/questions. Likely the news arc will fragment to cover the basic facts first, followed by analysis in a later post or article, once all the details are known and there has been time to digest.

I expect we’ll see more major announcements made later in the week – Fridays anyone? – to get breathing room, and to avoid a conflict with other news. The embargo does a nice job of timeshifting that.

That said, there are many publications which are still happy to stick to embargoes, and outside the tech sector in the vertical press, they are likely to remain a staple. This is good news for emerging brands or companies with complex stories. The rewards of breaking an embargo are lower here, so the deadlines normally hold.

Embargoes are far from dead, but their use must evolve. Different approaches must be taken to key announcements if companies want to include publications which no longer accept embargoes on launch day.