Time to rethink outdated technique of embargoing

An embargo on a news story was once a useful tool. But it is a product of a bygone era.

An embargo on a news story was once a useful tool. But it is a product of a bygone era.

Previously, when news outlets were few and their status as gatekeepers to public information was total, embargoing information was a convenient way to guide, control, and predict coverage.

The tactic could be used for nearly anything: product launches, political tidbits, bad business news. The point was that an embargo gave the subject of the story a modicum of control over its timing and positioning, in exchange for access.

An incident early this month, though, illustrates why it is time to rethink the tactic. Microsoft was introducing a revamped version of its Zune digital music player and gave reporters from major publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal early access to hardware and company executives, in exchange for a delayed publication.

But while the big guys were holding their stories, tech-focused Inter- net sites were busy scooping them, publishing most of the relevant details. It was a stark demonstration of the near impossibility of keeping a lid on information - no matter how much a company might want to.

When the Internet was not around to breezily disregard corporate preferences and break stories, embargoes were a good deal for both sides. Now, they are not. That means that news outlets will start resisting embargoes and looking for ways to get the same news faster and without restrictions.

For PR professionals, the time has come to think about whether it is possible to achieve company goals by disseminating information all at once. The choice is simple: Either continue to pursue embargoes as they ruin relationships with outlets with the largest audiences, or embrace equality of media platforms and your own inability to stem the wild waters of information.

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