To embargo or not to embargo, that’s a PR question

has started blogger debate about whether the end has come for the public relations practice of putting embargoes on news releases (ie issuing with a specified date/time before which the story can be reported).

This is something that I am aware being debated for nearly 20 years in PR (and probably long before my time).  In the UK automotive world, sanctions used to be applied against media breaking embargoes (such as strikes off lauch invite lists) – but in recent years, a more considered approach has been evident in negotiating individual “exclusives” to enable a wider variety of “first” stories to be published around new car launches.

A universal embargo (or “urgent”) on all releases is clearly pointless – many stories have no hard news value, so a simple issue date is all that is necessary.  There are also times when an embargo is necessary – such as with the release of restricted financial information.

In fact, a request was made by online media at a workshop I organised for in the Autumn.  It was agreed an embargo for first-seen photos or other “hot” automotive news, was a good thing for online media who could release immediately at 00:01 hours and enjoy the benefits themselves of breaking such stories.

The current debate centres around leaking of an embargoed story to the US print media by blog – which ran a piece on how the major publications targeted by Google stayed “on message”, using only sources provided to them and adding little original research or insight. 

So is the question whether or not to embargo, or more about “lazy” journalism and PR’s attempts to manage the media?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

4 thoughts on “To embargo or not to embargo, that’s a PR question”

  1. I tried to pitch a story – as a freelance journalist – to a truck magazine editor recently, only to be told that he’d already been and done the “exclusive” the week before. ( I had just seen the press release on the company website) But, ‘nice try anyway,’ he quipped.

  2. The “all expenses paid” press launch is still alive and well in the automotive world where it remains for many (PR and media) a perk, especially if held in an exotic location in Winter. When I talk with the serious media, they don’t want to go on a “package tour” launch with local newspaper journalists etc – and would prefer something easier, quicker and more personal that enabled them to get the story asap.

  3. The first thing for me is that D notices (anyone unfamiliar with these, see http://www.serendipity.li/cda/dnot.html ), embargoes or any communications technique where one person has more “power” than another is not to abuse or overuse them.

    Clearly there are genuine national security or commercial sensitivity imperatives that mean sometimes information needs to be controlled. I can also understand media blackouts in the case of some police investigations. It can also make sense legally to co-ordinate release of news such as in the case of information that would affect share prices.

    Generally, I favour openness of communications to provide checks on the behaviour of those who would prefer the public to remain ignorant. I dislike media self-censorship which means information is withheld when it suits editors even if that is in the public interest. And, I also am against the PR practice of manipulating the media (a la Max Clifford) to withold stories that protect the client at the expense of truth.

    For example, I was told that when visiting Bournemouth University, Clifford said he kept stories about gay footballers out of the media. Although it is up to the individual to a great extent if they wish to be the “first” to come out, I believe that being openly gay should not be an issue to end someone’s sporting career in 2006. In a society where civil partnerships are now established and where we accept those who are gay in politics, entertainment, business, and so on – why do Clifford and the media feel a gay soccer player is such a bit deal?

    We all have “secrets” or other information that we don’t wish to be made public and that is fine. However, our privacy will only be respected by others if we are not abusing that right to our own confidentiality. I believe the same applies for business and government. If there is no trust that embargoes or D-notices are used appropriately, then bloggers (if not the mainstream media) will be more readily prepared to highlight information that has been censored.

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