What does embargoed mean?

I followed an interesting exchange on social media where an editor voiced his frustration because a news release that had been embargoed was posted online by one news outlet many hours in advance of the embargo being lifted.

The editor was frustrated – and rightly so.

As a former newspaper reporter and now PR person, I try to be cognizant of print publications — the daily paper and the weeklies because they can’t push a story out the way TV and radio can. It’s a bit easier today with the online sites, but it’s nice when a print publication can publish timely news within its news cycle.

I’ve actually distributed two news releases recently where I embargoed the story until the morning. My goal was to give print reporters time to conduct interviews and still have a story in the morning edition. TV and radio would still be able to cover it, too, and this way, everyone had it at the same time.

Turns out the PR person in the situation described above had an ongoing relationship with one reporter and had granted that reporter permission to publish early.

That changes everything. It’s no longer an embargoed release. It’s a story that is given to one reporter and then shared with other reporters after it has initially appeared.

As a PR person, I don’t have a problem with that, but you should be upfront that you are doing so, and you probably only want to do that sparingly.

What troubles me about this situation is that a frustrated editor or reporter in the future may not adhere to the terms of an embargo, hurting all reporters and PR practitioners.

Here are some lessons to glean from this situation:

  1. As a PR person if you don’t need to embargo the story, don’t.
  2. If you want a particular reporter to have the story first (in old-school journalism this was known as a scoop, and the reporter usually unearthed it on her own), give it to that reporter and no one else.
  3. Report your own news through your organization’s website. This way you don’t have to work with reporters. (If you follow this approach, though, you’ll miss out on the next tip, which could be helpful in a crises.)
  4. Develop relationships with reporters at a variety of media outlets. Know when their deadlines are, how they would best like to receive information and how you can contact them.