THE BIG PITCH: In light of the Clinton/Esquire saga what do you understand by an 'embargo'?

Eric Effron, Editor, Brill's Content, New York

Eric Effron, Editor, Brill's Content, New York

Eric Effron, Editor, Brill's Content, New York

The Clinton-Esquire flap has brought to the surface a little-discussed ambiguity when it comes to embargoes. If somebody provides us information 'embargoed' to a certain date, I take that to mean that the information given under those conditions should not be published until that date.

However, there is room for misunderstanding. Does that mean the date that subscribers get the magazine, or when the magazine hits the newsstands, or the date the press release goes out touting the article? Both sides would be well advised to make sure that they are speaking the same language - just as they should do when using often-misconstrued phrases such as 'off the record' and 'for background.'

Steve Randall, Executive Editor, Playboy Magazine, Beverly Hills

Embargoes tie your hands, which is why everyone hates them and why you only agree to them reluctantly. Usually, they're fairly clear cut: a certain article can't be released before a certain date. It's a deal you make, not unlike when someone goes off the record. When that happens, you always hate it, you really want to use what they've said and yet you're stuck abiding by your agreement.

Generally speaking, we wouldn't go along with an embargo unless there was a strong reason for it and the terms were spelled out. If you've agreed not to release an article before a given date, you can't leak the information in that article either, no matter how tempting it is. A deal is a deal.

Drew Kerr, Four Corners Communications, President, New York

An embargo is an exact date and time when a story can be broken. It's a holy pact between a public relations professional and one or more news organizations, sometimes used on an exclusivity basis. The majority of news organizations will adhere to an embargo.

With competition from Internet and other news organizations, it is easy for some newspapers and wire services to run with a story as soon as they get it and use 'whoops' as an excuse. Some places have a 'no embargo' policy and that could be dangerous. My advice: ALWAYS ask for the embargo policy before you give the story to hold, and if they take it, cross your fingers.

Rick Frishman, President, Planned Television Arts/Ruder Finn, New York

This is an age of competitive, fast-paced media designed to raise circulations and audiences. Unlike previous times, a gentleman's agreement over a story's exclusivity, time frame and tone are impractical and completely unenforceable.

You can't rely on a verbal promise and many top news agencies will flat out refuse to be bound by embargoes.

So, today's publicists need to be smarter about how they go about pitching major news stories or other sensitive information - and to whom they pitch in the first place. Develop long-term, reliable contacts as opposed to doing blind pitching. Be select. And if an embargo is that important, get it in writing and select one and only one media outlet to be the first and only source for the story

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