Embargoes are controversial. It only takes a quick Google search or some scrolling on Twitter to find polarizing views. A while back, we took a deep dive to find out why journalists hate embargoes and most importantly, what you can do about it.
What most journalists complain about is the fragile character of embargoes. Fragile, because if a journalist breaks the embargo before the agreed date, it can jeopardize the work of other journalists. On top of that, there aren’t severe consequences for these embargo-breaking journalists either. What makes things worse is that embargoes are often used on ‘news’ that isn’t necessarily newsworthy.
Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, both journalists and PR pros will agree it’s important to know when to share embargoed releases and how to do it correctly. In this article, we’ll share tips and best practices from seasoned experts, both agency-side as well as brand-side.
How embargoes are used in modern PR
What’s an embargoed release?
Let’s first be clear on the definition. An embargoed press release is an announcement that is shared with journalists prior to a specific publishing date. It is commonly used by PR professionals to give their media contacts enough time to prepare a story before the news breaks, which can be highly beneficial for both journalists and PR pros. Today’s media landscape, which is dictated by immediacy and 24/7 news cycles, can jeopardize the accuracy and quality of stories. Giving the press some time before the news is published allows enough time to fully investigate and craft a good article.
“Embargoes are a mutual agreement between the PR person and the journalist,” adds Danielle Venton, a science reporter at KQED, an NPR member station. “If the journalist does not agree to the embargo before receiving the material, there simply is no embargo.” Danielle highlights the “mutual agreement” characteristic of embargoes because otherwise, it’s just unsolicited material. “It’s important to understand the proper order of things. Sending an embargo without a mutual agreement is like a source saying something and then specifying that it was off the record. It simply doesn’t work that way”, Danielle explains.
What are the benefits of using embargoes?
- It’s respectful of your press contacts’ time. By disclosing the time and date of the publication, PR professionals can coordinate their efforts according to a product launch, an acquisition, merger, or any other important event. Tech companies, for example, rely heavily on embargoes to distribute news about product rollouts, updates, or funding announcements.
- Companies can also benefit from using embargoes when announcing the news to their employees before sharing details with the press. This gives the organization a head start, by allowing a spokesperson enough time to prepare material and responses for when the news is shared externally, reducing errors in communication.
- Additionally, embargoes are applied when it comes to time-sensitive, market-relevant news. If confidential information is leaked before a disclosed time, stock prices can vary, impacting stakeholders, traders, and other market participants.
Best practices for embargoed press releases
We recently sat down with two of our customers to understand how they use embargoes. Ben Hilldson, PR & Communications Officer at Shimano Europe, shared his take on why embargoes still make sense in modern PR. Jon Woodroof, Founder of PR agency Twotone, emphasized that embargoes help to solidify relationships with journalists. Below, you’ll find their tips and best practices when it comes to sending embargoed releases:
How to use embargoes
Don’t spray and pray
“The days of sending out a generic press release to 200 media outlets are long gone. We simply can’t afford that kind of luxury anymore”. Jon warns that by sending out the same message to multiple outlets, you risk getting lost in the noise. “Some emails will bounce, some will be flagged as spam, and in reality, most emails won’t be read. Save yourself the heartbreak of not getting coverage by defining your audience to a targeted list of 20 to 30 media outlets.”
Building a solid foundation
Ben argues that the secret behind a successful PR strategy is the strength of the relationships you build with journalists. “It all comes down to establishing trust and credibility, all while working towards the same goal. You’re offering journalists valuable content for their readers, and in return, they are giving you space to tell an interesting story. That is what makes these relationships mutually beneficial.”
Want to know what's happening at the receiving end of your press release? Here's a journalist's perspective.
“I prefer receiving a heads up from a PR specialist notifying me on news about a topic I’m interested in." Danielle explains. "They'll send a note saying, ‘Hey, we have some news that we'll be sharing about [X] in a few days, would you like an advance look at it? You'll have to agree to not publish until such and such time on date [Y].’ I then say, "Sure, that sounds great. Please send over the material."
What drives journalists nuts is to preemptively claim something is embargoed without a mutual agreement between the media outlet and the source (or PR team). “Whenever this happens, I write back asking to be removed from their mailing list,” Danielle says.
Offer exclusive assets
Offering exclusivity and building credibility goes hand in hand. Jon shares that his team at Twotone often sends journalists exclusive images or quotes, to make their individual stories more compelling and different from one another. “We ask our clients to give us custom assets for different outlets. That can be anything from a new image, quote, or a special interview with the spokesperson.”
Be clear about embargo dates
Both Jon and Ben agree that when they’ve encountered journalists breaking embargoes, it often isn’t done intentionally. Instead, it’s an honest misunderstanding.
Ben explains: “It's happened that journalists have broken an embargo, for sure. Most of the time by accident, for instance, because of some confusion on our side. We’re a company that operates in the US, Australia, Japan, South America, and Europe. So we're working with a bunch of different time zones. That means that Tuesday at 5 p.m., for example, has a different meaning everywhere. Over time we’ve learned from our mistakes to make our dates clearer, so we can avoid committing errors on both ends.”
Jon points out that in his experiences, embargoes have been broken due to moving dates. “Pushing back the embargo date can make it confusing for the journalist. We had one case with a client that was having problems importing goods. Because of that, we had to move the embargo date several times to adjust the launch with the availability of the product in the warehouse. It’s easy for journalists to miss the embargo when it changes a few times. That’s why it’s important to be very clear in your communication when such a change happens.”
Optimize your distribution
Make sure to organize your press release distribution so that you minimize potential errors, and send out your releases in an orderly fashion. Ben explains: “Normally, we invite the biggest or most relevant group of journalists to a press event a few weeks before the launch of a product. Then we like to send a second-tier group an embargoed press release 1-2 days before the embargo breaks. We use pr.co, which has helped us structure how we send out our news and coordinate different mailouts to different audiences. Not only is this helpful for our PR team, but it also helps journalists tell their stories.” Ben advises PR pros to send journalists reminders before the embargo lifts, especially if they’ve received the release a few days or weeks in advance.
In case of an emergency…
What should you do if a journalist breaks the embargo? Just reach out. Most of the time, it will be an honest mistake. “If a story went live, we would call, WhatsApp, or SMS them, asking them to take down the publication. If they weren't responsive, we would escalate it to someone else within the outlet. I have no reason to believe that they wouldn't take it down. Worst case scenario, if that happened, we wouldn’t work with the journalist anymore. The leverage we have is that we share information and assets that are interesting for them to talk about. Breaking embargoes would simply damage the relationship.”
If you’ve sent an embargoed release that gets leaked before the disclosed date — don’t fret! You can still manage to control the narrative from the leak to your advantage if played correctly, says Jon.
Don’t send embargoes (unless you really need to)
“Sticking an embargoed tag on your news release doesn’t guarantee you’ll get more coverage,” says Jon. “In fact, I’ve been more and more insistent with clients on not sending embargoes at all. Most of the time, you can get more coverage without them.”
Ben coincides by stating Shimano only uses embargoes for time-sensitive news such as product launches. For features and other stories, they prefer offering exclusivity to a select number of media outlets.
Here's how Shimano Europe uses its branded newsroom to share its latest happenings.
Here’s how we can help
We’re a Saas company born out of a news department, making software for people in communications. We know the everyday struggles of communications departments because we were a communications department. Moreover, we work with hundreds of comms teams from leading brands (WeTransfer, Dolby, ING, Shimano) on a daily basis.
We build the most beautiful newsrooms out there. With the help of journalists and clients, we’ve built software that can help you and your team seamlessly send out embargoes. Media contacts who receive an embargo link will be able to read your news before everyone else. This functionality allows you to coordinate the distribution of your news, without the risk of your news getting leaked. Sound interesting? Let's chat!