Is It Ever OK to Break a Press Embargo?

This is the second half of a two-part article on press embargoes.

Photo credit: Alex Blarth via Flickr

Photo credit: Alex Blarth via Flickr

Reporters know that if you’ve set a press embargo, you’re probably pitching the story to many journalists. If your embargo and the wire time for the press release are the same, the reporter who’s bothering to review your news in advance will be in competition with the wire service to be first with the news — and reporters like to break news, especially in the 24-hour news cycle. (Search for “CNN retracts story” to see the results of the fierce competition to be the first with breaking news.)

Ask yourself — Could I give my “friendlies” who are cooperating with me and possibly doing interviews, a leg up on the post time? Can I let them “break” the embargo that I’ve set? The answer is No if you’re working with a public company, and Yes if it’s a private company.

I faced this dilemma this month when holding interviews on a new research study launched by the Ascend Foundation. An Associated Press reporter asked if he could post an article a few hours before the wire service time. In this situation, I anticipated that the AP reporter, the first one we’d briefed, would push for an early posting to get ahead of other newspapers. I prepared a response that would allow him to break our embargo overnight, meet his deadlines for both the print and online editions, and scoop the wire service appearance of our press release.

But that’s not all. I made certain to advise reporters in subsequent briefings of the new embargo time. In that way, the people who had fully cooperated with us were also getting an advantage over the other media outlets who had received the news under embargo but not followed up on it to schedule briefings or indicate they were planning coverage. Both groups had an advantage over the third group who would need to pick up the press release via the wire service syndication and need to scramble to get their versions online. I was very happy with that decision, as it confirmed the AP’s interest in covering the report — and that AP story hit on over 130 websites within one week and spurred interest from radio, TV and print media.

Need advice on handling a press embargo? Here are my three tips:

  1. Determine before your initial pitch the date/time that your news embargo will expire. Can it be in advance of the wire service posting time? If it’s news about a public company, No, but if it’s about a private company, Yes.
  1. Ask the reporter for his/her agreement to the embargo before sharing the news verbally or via email. Never take for granted that the reporter will agree; it can be interpreted as an insult and could even inspire behavior contrary to what you desire.
  1. Be consistent in the embargo details you share with reporters and if you decide to allow someone to break the embargo early, think through the ramifications to ensure that you’re giving priority to the journalists who are cooperating with you.

Do you have any good tips? Any horror stories about embargoes gone wrong, or happy-ending tales?

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @LisaKayHawes.