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To embargo or not to embargo?


A journalist I have a lot of respect for was riled by a PR person sending an unsolicited news release under embargo.

Their view is that an embargo is a contract that needs to be agreed by both the PR person and the journalist. It isn’t something that can be unilaterally imposed.

Well, yes and no.

I don’t know the circumstances of how this journalist was sent the release. I totally agree that embargos are wrong if you are sending a release to an entire mailing list. It’s also wrong if you’re committing one of the PR crimes of sending a release to someone it’s not relevant to. It’s disrespectful and anyway doesn’t work: there’s always someone who breaks the embargo. Just send the release out when you want it to be published.

There are two circumstances when we use embargos.

The first is if a client is hosting an event, something like a launch, an industry event or a news conference. We typically give the release to the journalists at the event ahead of publication. Along with access to spokespeople, it’s their reward for making the effort to be there.

And like a comms consultant who replied to the journalist, for big announcements we often send the news to a handful of specialist journalists a day or so before the release. That gives them time to prepare their story, if they choose to write about it, and gives them the chance to ask us any questions. It respects their time.

These are journalists we have personal relationships with. They understand that we only do this when there is big news and that we’re trying to help them. On the flip side, we know they will respect our request not to use the information before it is published.

The journalists like having the information ahead of time and the resulting articles are more considered. A win-win.

By the way, embargos are not to be confused with exclusives. The clue here is in the name. An exclusive can only involve one publication and it is only very rarely based on just a news release. But that’s for another day.

Charlie Pryor

Senior Advisor, International Communications, based in London

Charlie is an experienced communications consultant who started Leidar UK in 2010. He is responsible for developing and implementing communications strategies for companies and organisations of all sizes and in many different sectors.

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