There’s nothing more powerful in the PR arsenal than the use of the embargo (click here for a sample embargo). Reporters hate them. PR pros love them. It’s the ultimate tool of professional manipulation.
To be sure, the use of an embargo is a contentious strategy, used only when a story has significant industry or community impact. Yet, it’s still my favourite weapon of choice to ensure an important story receives a tsunami of nearly simultaneous news coverage.
For an embargo to be effective, you need compliance from all parties involved: designated spokespeople, clients and their stakeholders, all of whom may be privy to important information. And yes, it can be difficult to keep everyone quiet.
But more importantly, it also involves the media’s acquiescence. And that can be a complicated transaction.
What happens when a media outlet breaks an embargo early? Depending on the strength of the news source, there can be serious consequences. Reporters have been blacklisted and their privileges of receiving advance information revoked. There was also the recent embargo break by The New Yorker’s movie reviewer David Denby.
Here are my tried-and-true ways of making an embargo work:
1. It better be good.
Only use an embargo if:
- Your story is truly significant (this could be significant on a local or national level).
- There is a press conference accompanying the release of the news.
2. Don’t cry wolf.
Don’t mis-use an embargo hoping it will entice reporters to cover a weak story. You will lose all credibility with the media who will be even less likely to cover your next initiative.
3. No exclusives.
For an embargo to work, I never offer exclusives. Everyone gets a shot to cover the story, especially if you’re holding a press conference. Plus, I never want to be seen as favouring one reporter over another.
4. Pre-releasing embargoed information.
TV reporters covering a specific beat (eg, health) often create longer pieces that require more shooting and more editing, but also get more airtime. I do pre-release embargoed information, but only after the reporter signs a confidentiality agreement. These are also reporters with whom I have developed strong and trusting relationships.
5. Get an embargo agreement signed
I have reporters sign an embargo agreement; one that prohibits them and all their outlet’s extensions from pre-releasing the story. Not only does it underline the potential importance of the story, but it creates a bond of trust between you and the reporter. And no, I’ve never had anybody not sign one.
6. Stick to your guns.
Reporters can get aggressive with you when they see the word embargo. “You know, we may not run the story at all,” says Reporter from Major Media Outlet. Uh, yes you will if the story is good.
Have you ever used an embargo? Was it successful?
As a died-in-wool Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan, PR veteran Elissa Freeman jumped at the chance to guest blog for a guy with the last name ‘Esposito’ from Boston. A 20+ year PR veteran, she was named one of Twitters’ Top 75 Badass Females and Toronto’s Top 150 Social Media Influencers.
Embargo image – tvanhoosear