Embargoes: for immediate release

Posted on: 2012-06-22 in How To   |   Tagged: b2b pr embargo press release

Charlotte Ward, TopLine Communications, @Charloot explains the concept of a press release embargo.

You have a piece of news that your client (and therefore you) thinks is extremely exciting. So exciting, you can already picture the numerous feature opportunities, interviews and subsequent reams of coverage that will ensue once the media get their hands on it. But you’re in PR and nothing can be taken for granted so what can you do to ensure that neither you nor the client is left disappointed?

For some the answer will be approaching your top tier title (or titles) with the opportunity to have access to the information in advance. You will do this on one condition, that the news isn’t released into the public domain until a specific date.

For those new to the concept of the embargo, let’s start at the beginning. As with any good press release, let’s ask the questions: what, why, when, how?

What? An embargo, in the world of public relations, is when a piece of news or information is supplied to a source, i.e. a journalist, under the proviso that that information will not be published before a stated time and date.

Why? This question is two-fold. Why would you want to deliver embargoed news, and why would the journalist want to respect your embargo rather than claiming the scoop?

You can send a news source the information under embargo for four reasons.

  1. You might have a good relationship with the publication or consider it the top-flight news source in your sector. In this case, arranging an embargo can help build media relations by making the journalist feel special because they are the first to know, and work to your future advantage.
  2. It can provide additional opportunity for exclusive news content. Having received the story in advance of the publication date, the chosen journalist may request an exclusive interview or written feature to accompany the story. One embargo, two or even three times the coverage!
  3. The news might be embargoed for release until after the magazine’s print day (that's the day the editor sends it to the printer, and usually a couple of days before it ends up on the shelves of newsagents). If you know that the magazine goes to print on the Tuesday but you aren’t allowed to release the information until the Wednesday, the best way to secure coverage is to send the story early. If you don’t then the journalist will not be able to run the story for another week or month. By then it is old news and you may have missed your opportunity altogether.
  4. If the news is quite complicated and easily misinterpreted, an embargo gives the media outlet the chance to write up the story and check content with you (by taking off the time pressure). This, in theory, will remove the chance for inaccuracies to creep in.

But why would the publication in question stick to the embargo? Embargoes are not legally binding and surely releasing the information before its rivals would be advantageous to its readership? While this may be true, there is an understanding with embargoes that, if the agreement is broken, the publication won’t be given access to advance information again. It is a breach of trust and can damage relationships indefinitely. So while breaking the embargo might provide the outlet with short-term benefits, in the long-term it could give them a serious disadvantage.

When? The stories which might necessitate an embargo are numerous and there’s no point listing them all, but here are a few to consider:

  • Product launches
  • Policy initiatives
  • Company or management buy-outs
  • Changes in senior staff

How? If you want to arrange an embargo, you could just send out a release with the words...

Under Embargo until June 29th 2012 at 16:00’

...but the potential for information to be leaked in advance is greater when arranged this way.  A better method is to phone your journalist of choice and have a friendly chat. Something along the lines of:

“We have some news but can’t release it publically until Monday.”

“Really, can you give me any indication of the story now?”

“Well, we could send it to you under embargo, and then look to set up an interview between yourself and Captain Planet for exclusive content, but we’d have to be sure that you wouldn’t release the information before that...”

“I’m sure we can do that. Send it over now and we’ll take a look.”

“Will do, and if you could just email us to confirm that you won’t release the information before the stated time that would be great.”


Now you can send it across with your embargo status emblazoning the top of the page (in the opposite thread, stamping “For Immediate Release” on the top will let the journalist know that the story isn’t under any embargo).

An embargo is a great tool for influencing the way that a journalist reports on your news story. However, it isn’t fool-proof and if you are don’t want to take the risk there are a few alternative PR moves you can pull. One would be to provide a ‘background information’ document or one labelled ‘not for attribution’.

But that’s another blog!

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About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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