Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Are There New Rules For Embargoes?

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 29, 2009

This evening I'm on a panel moderated by Sam Whitmore and organized by Waggener Edstrom:

The topic is:

"Love them or hate them, embargoes are a familiar and much-discussed element of the rules of engagement with media and influentials. Clearly the old rules are not working. Is 2010 the time to re-write that rulebook?"

I'll be discussing this with Damon Darlin, New York Times, Dylan Tweney, WIRED, and Sam Whitmore from Media Survey. Mike Arrington from TechCrunch was going to join us but dropped out.

Mike Arrington has gotten a reputation for breaking embargoes and I know plenty of PR people that won't work with TechCrunch because it harms their relationships with other journalists who do agree to hold the embargo. So it's a shame that we won't be hearing Mr Arrington's side of the story.

I'm not sure that there are any new rules regarding embargoes. This has always been a problematic area. In the past, if one person broke the embargo then everyone else could go ahead and publish the story.

In the old days it wasn't easy to spot if someone had broken the embargo, these days it is much easier to see.

However, the point of embargoes has always been to give every media outlet a fair crack at the story, it enables a level playing field. It also helps to ensure wider media coverage, which most companies prefer over one large media outlet covering a story.

The problem with broken embargoes is that some publications won't run the story because they don't want to be seen as being late with the story. This means a small publication can ruin an entire media launch if they break the embargo.

The situation is made more challenging because some large media companies have had a policy of not accepting embargoes and demanding exclusive access to key stories. For example, the Wall Street Journal doesn't accept embargoes.

One solution is to hold a press conference. When I worked as a journalist in London I went to a lot of press conferences. Everyone gets the information at the same time, company executives are on hand to answer questions, analysts are also present to provide comments.

For some reason press conferences are very rare here. These days you could easily stage a virtual press conference and that might be a solution to the problem of broken embargoes.

However, announcing a press conference signals that there is news coming. And it's always possible to track down someone that might know what will be announced and thus publish the news ahead of the conference.

Another way is just to announce the news without warning hoping that everyone that needs to see it gets to see it. Those that are eagle-eyed get to be first with the news. But this is unlikely to lead to widespread media coverage -- a key goal for PR firms.

I'm looking forward to hearing other people's ideas on this subject. And please send me your thoughts on this topic. The panel will be recorded and I will post it once it is ready. And maybe I'll see you tonight...


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