Embargoes: are they really necessary?

More commonly used for journalists writing for business to business publications, embargoes serve as a way of distributing news to journalists and reporters in advance of a release date, with a mutual understanding that the outlet won’t run the story until a set date – clearly stated at the top of a press release.

In a world where journalists are under increasing pressure to put news out immediately, it is understandable that embargoes have attracted much criticism. It could be said that journalists already have enough on their plate without having to worry about when they can issue certain news. From their point of view, if every press release was embargoed it would be a logistical nightmare keeping track of all the different publication dates and in this case, embargoes prove more of an annoyance than anything else. What’s more, if embargoes are set too far in advance, there is the risk of them being forgotten about all together.

It is also understandable why many journalists are wary of them. It is no surprise that embargoes have often been broken in the past, and whether it has been an innocent mistake or not, it results in a competing publication running the story first. It was only last year, however, that USA Today reported that Bloomberg had fired an editor who violated a press embargo by just 20 minutes, providing some reassurance that embargoes are usually honoured and taken seriously.

There are times, however, where an embargoed release is not only useful but very much necessary. Many B2B journalists in the technology industry, for example, find embargoed releases extremely helpful. Ahead of trade shows in particular, an embargoed release ensures they do not miss a product launch on what is usually a very busy and stressful day. In this way, journalists are briefed on the product in advance and can ensure they are prepared for when it is launched. Here, the journalist welcomes the head start and the time to prepare the necessary information.

Similarly, embargoes are nearly always a requirement in health and science journalism. Much of this coverage is based on academic papers and peer-reviewed journals that often include case studies involving patients and medical staff. In this case, an embargoed release allows the journalist an opportunity to read the relevant papers, interview (and sometimes film) the case studies and overall ensure they have a thorough understanding of the story in time for the public release. This scenario is of mutual benefit to both the PR and the journalist, as ultimately it allows the production of more comprehensive and accurate coverage.

Furthermore, embargoes can provide an additional opportunity for exclusive news content which again has mutual benefits to both the PR and the journalist. If an exclusive is offered and accepted by a reporter, it is more than likely that they will spend more time on the story, writing a more in-depth piece and in some cases securing more coverage space. For the reporter, an exclusive sets them ahead of competing outlets. The mutual benefit allows you to develop a relationship of trust with a target publication too. In this case, it improves the likelihood that coverage will definitely appear. With the recent terror attacks in Belgium, for example, many news stories would have been pushed to the back of the pile and often not covered at all, but pre-arranged exclusives ensure the story is still a priority as soon as the breaking news has passed.