Embargoed press releases (EPR) are both widely used and highly controversial.
PR professionals and journalists alike most often have strong views on navigating embargoes.
In this post, we’ll explain the meaning of an embargoed press release, provide some examples and explain all you need to know about this delicate and divisive PR practice.
The definition of an embargoed press release is a news release, announcement or media alert which is shared with the media prior to its publication. There is a specific date and sometimes time set at which the information can be released to the public.
Generally these press releases will be sent to a journalist or media publication either by a PR firm or by an individual or companies’ PR representative.
EPR are often used for particularly complex, important or time sensitive news items. They ensure that journalists are provided with additional time to report on a story before it’s released to the public. EPR are also generally used for the best interest of the party sharing the news, or to protect public interest.
Rather than being a legally binding contract, EPR are essentially an agreement founded on trust between the individual or company who the news item covers and the journalist or media outlet publishing the story.
Embargoed press releases are less common than they used to be, predominantly due to advances in technology and social media influencing the way news is spread and culminating in the rapidly advancing pace of the news cycle.
However, EPR are still a powerful tool that are regularly implemented in the world of public relations. They allow journalists to take their time when crafting complex or sensitive news stories, as well as protecting the interests of the individual or business releasing the story.
EPR are not used with just any news release though. They’re not necessary when it comes to straightforward, everyday stories. Journalists don’t need as much time to write this kind of content and there’s less to consider with generic news items or updates when it comes to releasing them to the public. EPR are designed to be used for big announcements or news items that need to be handled either with particular care or in a time-sensitive manner.
Embargoes are best implemented when there’s real benefit to using them. If you use embargoes on just any news story, or overuse them in your media pitches, there’s a big chance publications will start to ignore either your embargoes, or ignore or blacklist your requests altogether.
While embargoed news releases can be an efficient practice for all parties involved, due to their nature as an unofficial, uncontracted agreement, press releases under embargo can often be difficult to navigate.
It’s best to enter into EPR with an awareness that the agreement could at any time be broken by the journalist you’ve shared information with, as there’s nothing set in place to stop this. It’s therefore good practice to have a backup plan; a strategy of what should happen if your press release is published before the agreed date or time.
Due to their tenuous nature, and of course the sensitive topics generally involved, EPRs are a controversial topic among PR and media professionals alike.
Embargoes mean that journalists have additional time to report on stories in the most appropriate and effective way. Embargoes give them the time to research the story and to consider the intricacies of reporting on a potentially sensitive topic. This also gives any individuals or organizations involved the peace of mind that their story will be reported not only at the right time, but in the most impactful way.
Representatives or spokespeople for the individual or organization that the news pertains to also have additional time to prepare their speeches or other forms of public communication.
EPRs are in place to prevent information being released to the public before the time is right. Not only can this protect the subjects of the press release, but in certain circumstances, it can protect public interest or safety, ensuring that the news or updates released are clear, coherent and come at the right time to be as thorough and as beneficial to media consumers as possible.
Embargoes in press releases can be seamlessly aligned with additional PR strategies. For example, a press release about a companies’ new investments or a funding announcement could go public at the same time a social media campaign about their new product is launched. As well as ensuring that the announcement is released once everything is in place and ready to be made public, aligning press releases in this way with other strategically released content can also maximize brands’ visibility and impact across multiple platforms.
Due to the fact that EPR aren’t binding contracts, information could easily be released before the agreed-upon time. There’s a chance that journalists could, in the excitement of receiving the press release, not fully realize or acknowledge that it’s embargoed and accidentally make the news public immediately.
When working with journalists or publications you’ve not yet built a relationship with, there is also the chance that they could deliberately break your embargo agreement, publishing your news item before the agreed date to get ahead of competitors and be the first to break the story. While this of course could damage the journalist or publications’ reputations, and decrease the chance of future collaborations, it’s not unheard of that this occurs.
There’s also the risk that embargoed information is leaked to other sources, either within or outside of the news outlet your information was shared with. It’s always wise to have a backup plan in case this happens, so that your organization is ready to make a statement and share further details with the public if this occurs.
Both of the above mentioned risks mean that relationships with journalists and media outlets can be put at risk. If information is leaked or released before the specified time, the trust between the PR professionals and journalists involved is compromised. It’s ideal practice to ensure that when working with an embargo news release, your PR representative or firm is working with journalists or publications that they’ve built a trusted working relationship with, to minimize the risk of the embargo agreement being broken.
There’s a few key practices involved when it comes to using EPR. From how to keep your news under embargo, to what to do if the embargo is broken, here’s PRLab’s expert advice.
It won’t work to send your press release to hundreds of publications and hope that firstly they all honor your embargo, or secondly, that they want to publish your story at all. As with any press release, it’s a far better strategy to target a smaller number of carefully selected publications, preferably those who you already have an established, trusting relationship with.
It’s advisable to introduce your press release to the journalist or media outlet before including all of the details, establishing the fact that there’s an embargo on the release, and asking them to confirm that they will honor this. As previously established, there’s nothing officially stopping journalists from breaking embargoes, but it’s at least good practice to have the agreement in writing before your work together begins.
At the same time as introducing the embargo, it’s important to make your time frame clear. This is firstly to ensure that journalists are in agreement regarding the embargo, and secondly so that you’ve outlined the time and date for release as the first piece of information they see. This lessens the chance of an accidental early release, as well as hopefully solidifies the embargo in journalists’ minds, making them more likely to honor it.
When sending your full press release, it’s essential that the first line is “Not for immediate release”, followed by the release date, and time if relevant.
Other than this, EPR are generally like any other press release. It’s key to include all of the valuable information that journalists may need. This usually means you incorporate a backgrounder which includes some information on your business, product or service. Not only is this generally good practice, it also means that media outlets are more likely to angle their story based on this information rather than seeking out other sources, further reducing the likelihood of information leaks.
Since embargoes aren’t watertight, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan, in case information leaks or things don’t go quite to plan. If the journalist you’re working with breaks your embargo, a good first port of call is simply to reach out to them and ask for a withdrawal. There’s a good chance that it could have been a mistake and the content can be taken down immediately. Regardless of whether this is the case or not, it’s highly advisable to have a plan in place to ensure your company releases the right kind of statement or response in any given situation where your news is released before the agreed time.
The below are some examples of when embargoes have been used for impactful news items.
When implemented correctly, embargoed press releases are a powerful PR tool.
Embargoes give journalists the time they need to collate reports on important and sensitive matters and ensure that these reports are released at the best time and in the best way for both organizations’ and the publics’ interest.
While they are not without their potential issues or drawbacks, and information leaks and breaks of agreement can occur, embargoed press releases can be hugely advantageous for organizations and media professionals alike when properly handled.
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