How Do You Embargo News?

It’s not every day a media relations pro gets the chance to embargo news or a press release. In the 24-hour news cycle, we have almost come to expect our work in the media to be reactionary. Because we’re always reacting to news or countering narratives, we forget just how useful embargoing news can be.

Some industries exist in static environments, where information can be controlled like the water flow in a dam. Not every organization has this luxury. Your ability to leverage the embargo will vary based on your needs and the assessment of how it helps you reach your target audience.

Let’s review the components of a news embargo and how it helps drive coverage of your announcement.

Have your ducks in a row

This idiom is the foundation to any successful news embargo. And, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow your ducks are lined up. What matters is that they’re 100% ready to go. Have your necessary approvals completed, your media lists refined and all versions of your news content edited, polished and optimized for search engines.

Getting to this point is admittedly difficult. Mainly because of the aforementioned reactionary nature of media relations these days, ensuring everything is airtight ahead of your embargo is absolutely paramount to leveraging the kind of coverage you want.

One way to achieve this alignment is to suggest this course of action early on in your internal strategic discussions. Set the tone by sharing why embargoes are so useful and how they can actually help drive quality coverage. Do this instead of mixing it up in the quiet desperation of competing pitches and the happenings of the day.

Once your teams have agreed on the news embargo tactic, watch how much of the tension on the self-imposed urgency subsides. It’s another useful benefit of the embargo: it allows your team time to prepare and be deliberative instead of overly hasty. Not only does this minimize the potential for mistakes, it also allows your team to go from frantic to productive.

Obey Rule #1 – Honesty

You’ve agreed to embargo your news, and you’ve done the hard work of getting all those ducks in a row. It’s go time, right? Wrong.

There’s one more step you must commit to before embarking down the embargo river: committing to honesty with those with whom you embargo.

Journalists understand embargoes go beyond just their inbox. And, it’s your job as a media relations pro to understand the inherent risk in accepting your embargo. Should they agree to cover your story and to your parameters, there’s a chance another news outlet may still break the story.

Now, there’s not much any media relations pro can do about that other than a strongly worded email and several follow up phone calls of expressive dissatisfaction. But what you can, and should, do is always be honest with journalists when they ask if your news has been sent anywhere else. This question may scare you into considering that an honest answer may dissuade that journalist from agreeing to cover your news – but you should never lie.

Deploying the embargo has risks. Passing on your story is one. Choosing not to honor the embargo is another.

But, my charge to you would be this: despite what you hear and see in mainstream media these days, the world of journalism is still governed by the honoring of unwritten rules and traditions. Agreeing to honor an embargo is one of them. Honoring off-the-record comments is another.

By conducting yourself with honesty and integrity, journalists are compelled to do the same. Lying to them about how far or wide you’ve spread your embargo only minimizes the weight of your complaints if it’s broken – not to mention the damage to your professional reputation.

Quality, not quantity

As I mentioned earlier, having your list of high-value targets to pitch your embargoed news to is essential. It’s always best to have some of your closest relationships in mind as your first set of targets.

You know they’ll read your pitch and get back with you in a relatively timely manner (make sure to put “embargo” somewhere in the subject line). You will also get your first sense of how well the pitch will be received. Your handful of “regulars” are important barometers as you begin the embargo process.

After you’ve hit up your regulars, move on to a handful of other high-value reporters who’ve recently covered your topic or trend in the past several months. Try to find unique hooks and opportunities for them to write follow-on stories. You may even want to ask if they think it’s better suited for a colleague on another beat.

All of this is only possible if you begin selectively and slowly broaden your focus during the time of the embargo. If you send your embargo via a distribution or blast email, your chances of receiving responses and securing an embargo agreement greatly diminish. When you think quality, think about the core of any good media relations pro: relationships. Utilize those for your news embargoes over the mass dissemination.

Focus on newsletters

The primary focus of a news embargo is to break news. To break news means to be first, or relatively so. But breaking news doesn’t always mean morning cable news shows or above-the-fold, front-page articles. Today’s news consumers are on-the-go, always reading from their phones and prompted by alerts.

News organizations have tapped into this by creating email newsletters. Head to any news organization’s site and you’ll see opt-ins for their newsletters. These are critical features for any outlet as they not only expand advertising space and capture user information but help distinguish their reporting and brand with consumers.

Morning newsletters, in particular, should be the main component of your embargo strategy. Reporters often work in teams to curate this content on a 24-hour basis and some newsrooms even have teams of reporters working the graveyard shifts to ensure their content is delivered first and has the latest information and insights. You should see this as a prime opportunity for your embargoed news.

Make certain your embargo is germane to their reporting and contact the authors as early as possible. This helps plant the seed for your pitch and it’s compatibility with already planned content and also provides an opportunity for your story angle(s) to set the tone for any subsequent coverage throughout the day’s news cycles.

Consider a two-minute drill

If your embargo falls on seemingly deaf ears, don’t worry. Reporters are inundated with pitches, emails, new assignments and phone calls. Sometimes your embargo just can’t get the attention it deserves. But, if it’s close to the embargo’s expiration, you need to consider a two-minute drill for your outreach efforts.

Expand your list and start making phone calls. Do these as early as possible and see to it that you leave a brief voicemail politely asking for a yay or nay on your pitch.

Then, initiate follow-ups from your primary targets. Ask them for a hard yay or nay as well. You can even direct message reporters on Twitter or other social media, if applicable, to help reset their attention on your news item.

Create a sense of urgency in your tone and perhaps offer to write a brief blurb or unique quote that other outlets you’ve embargoed to may not have. This can be an effective enticement for reporters who are interested but just don’t have the time to run the traps internally.

It can also mitigate any perceived slights among your contacts should an outlet decide, in fact, to cover your embargoed story but just failed to notify you about it. That happens often and it usually pops up the minute you begin the two-minute drill.

This is a general guide to successfully leveraging the news embargo tactic for your media relations efforts, but don’t forget every industry and every news beat is different. Some industries like health care, for example, rely heavily on embargoed medical studies so outlets or medical journals can get a jump on covering complex information. For product launches or releases, that calculation might be different, so make sure to tailor your approach to the embargo to reflect your media environment.

Responding to current events

Lastly, it’s important to note that embargoing responses to current events or situations outside your organizational control, but which demand a response from your organization, are exceedingly rare. Release responses and organizational statements promptly. You can reserve your embargo for more important things and maximize the return on your investment – which is, in this case, quality news coverage of your key messages.

Next time you’re in a media relations meeting, consider these tips when advising your team on whether the embargo tactic is right for your news item. If it is, give it a try and let me know how it works out for you. Good luck with your pitches!

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