An Embargo Reality Check For PR

This is deep inside PR baseball. But it’s important.

Over the past few days, starting with those based in Michigan but expanding elsewhere via social media rants and banter, journalists and PR types are debating the merits of the embargo.

This has nothing to do with Cuba or OPEC oil. It’s about releasing news with a specific timeĀ  for publishing.

The whole “brouhaha” (as one reporter called it) started when a Congressional campaign sent out a press release to a reporter list late on Sunday announcing a candidate’s entry into a race and slapped a “6 a.m. Monday embargo” on it. Never mind that the PR rep for the campaign already tweeted the news. A mess ensued with a reporter tweeting about the release on Sunday night and getting called out publicly by the rep.

It led to questions about the embargo technique. Is it overused? Yes. It is misused? All the time. Do PR people even get it anymore? Some do, many don’t. Should the whole thing be re-examined? Probably.

We look at it this way: An embargo is a two-way agreement between a PR representative and a news organization. It must benefit both and be agreed to, in advance, by both. It’s something that should be used sparingly, in select situations. PR people need to be judicious about it and act like they have a limited amount of times to use these situations.

Let’s make this clear: Sending out a mass press release and labeling it “Embargoed” does not mean there should be any expectation it will either be taken more seriously by journalists or be held until your requested time. All it does is show your ignorance and desperation.

However, there are times when an embargo makes sense. For example, if your client schedules a press conference that is inconvenient for a journalist to attend in person,or even call into, but you still want the news to reach that audience, you can make an arrangement for the journalist to get the story elements in advance, including interviews, and hold them until press conference time. Or, there is news that all relevant outlets want, and would take some time to prepare, the fair thing to do is give every outlet the news in advance and agree with each of them to publish at the same time.

What do these situations have in common? They are win-wins for PR and for news. They involve communication in advance. They are governed by a sense of fairness. They treat the journalist as a customer, not a tool to be used.

Embargoes can still be effective if we, on the PR side, can be judicious and not act like laughing stocks. Please?