Best of: Embargos and how to use them effectively

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This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from July 2008. We welcome your feedback.

By Danny Sullivan

When a technology company approaches the date of a significant news announcement, the possibility of offering the story to media under embargo is often raised. For those unfamiliar with the term, it simply means giving selected media advance access to the news that you will be distributing, usually on the understanding that they do not publish anything until after your news has been issued. Although some publications have a policy not to accept material under embargo, the majority of news-oriented media tend to like them a lot and for good reason. Most editors and reporters that have to deal with breaking news are swamped every day with a deluge of potential stories, all of which demand on-the-day coverage. By receiving information on a news story in advance, they are able to conduct interviews at a time that is convenient for them and produce their article over the course of a few days, rather than in the fraught few hours available on release day.

But it should be noted that using embargos is not a valid strategy unless you are already convinced that your story is going to be regarded as worthy breaking news on the day. Embargoing a story that would normally be rejected on launch day for having little news value does not suddenly give it the prospect of receiving blanket coverage. Indeed, it will probably be rejected even quicker if you try and do so.

Similarly, make sure you are targeting the right people with an offer of embargoed news. You’ll be wasting your time speaking to an editor about a week-long embargo if he or she doesn’t go to print for another month! Embargos have to provide some advantage to the media before they’ll be interested.

There is often a fear among tech companies that the media may break an embargoed story before the agreed date of release. Most media are very accustomed to working with embargos but, at the end of the day, it is only a verbal agreement that can easily be broken, intentionally or otherwise. While such an event is a potential risk, it is a very uncommon occurrence – the media know that their continued enjoyment of the benefits of embargoed news is predicated on such agreements being adhered to.

So please use embargos, but do so wisely, and the media will thank you for it.


  • grizay82

    July 11, 2012 11:08 am

    Good post. I recently (as in yesterday) inadvertently broke an embargo for the very first time in my career and of course the organization that sent the release is extremely upset. As you note, however, breaking embargo can happen as in my case when in the time crunch I simply whiffed on the phrase contained in the story. Breaking embargo is often considered a matter of ethics, and I have a high standard for my own, but journalists are human, too (well, some of us anyway) and mistakes happened. But, hey, at least my report was fair and accurate as the organization admitted to me on the phone!

  • Francis Moran

    July 11, 2012 11:21 am

    As you say, mistakes can always happen, and I’d hope the issuing organisation cut you some slack in that regard.

    It is my practice, however, not to leave it up to the reporter to have to notice that what I’m sending her or him is embargoed, running the risk that my embargo could be, as you put it, “whiffed on.” In every instance, I obtain a specific agreement from each reporter that the embargo is accepted before sending out anything.

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