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How to manage embargoes

On a typical day, journalists receive dozens, if not hundreds, of press releases and story pitches. With publishing timelines contracting and the news cycle moving faster than ever before, journalists are looking for stories that can be turned around quickly and free up their time so they can focus on long-form stories and research. That’s a tough balancing act. And one thing that simply doesn’t help is an embargo.

Companies like to believe they have some control over how news is released. But in today’s world, it makes little sense to embargo a story. Here’s an example from my past. This is an old story but it’s one that remain relevant.

Back in the early 2000s, I was covering a company called palm – they made the precursors to today’s smartphones but made some “interesting” decisions and became a part of computing history. They released a product in the United States but withheld release here for a few weeks. They issued a press release here announcing the product but put an embargo on local reporting even though information was already in the public domain overseas.

It made no sense at all.

But now, as we’re about to enter the third decade of the millennium, I still get press releases with embargoes even though the information they’re trying to “manage” is already widely known.

More annoyingly, the email often arrives with an embargo even though I’ve not agreed to it. That puts me in something of an ethical pickle as I have some information that’s under an embargo I haven’t agreed to. Is that a leak I can use or should I respect the wishes of the sender?

Plenty of journalists in this position simply run the news. They have information and they never agreed to withhold it. And it’s pretty common for someone to break an embargo. And once that happens, others who decided to not run the story are left behind in the news cycle.

For companies looking for a way around this, there’s a way.

  1. Establish relationships with journalists
  2. Call them and explain that you have some news but don’t want it public until a certain date and time
  3. If they agree, give them the news
  4. Once the embargo time passes, send a press release to the wider press

It’s not that hard.

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