With Twitter feeds and a 24/7 news cycle, are embargoes still effective?

Embargoes still work, although they may be closer to extinction due to increasingly tight deadlines and the 24/7 news cycle. More importantly, they are only effective when dealing with trusted media outlets.


Janine Savarese, Executive MD, RF|Binder
Over 15 years of PR experience, with a specialty in media relations and content development

Embargoes work under the right circumstances and with the correct strategy. As with anything else, there is not a one-size-fits-all package. And considering today's 24/7 news cycle, we have actually found that the media seem to be open to embargoes because of the environment.

There was a time when the wires competed to break news. Now it is an even playing field with all media battling to be first. While this is an opportunity for PR professionals to some degree, it also creates a media landscape where all outlets are moving at tremendous speed under extreme pressure to deliver. The luxury of a second-day story has now become a second-hour deadline, and maybe even less.

Embargoes work because:

  • Reporters are given additional time. They digest the news, make a decision on the direction of their story, and conduct in-depth interviews.

  • Stories are often more accurate. In terms of details and overall message, there is enough time for the PR team and the spokespeople to communicate the news and conduct a follow-up.

  • Coverage is deeper, more extensive, and relationships are strengthened.

That being said, PR practitioners need to be realistic - the right news only works for the right audience. You need to be sure there is a high level of interest in your news. Reporters will not be interested in non-relevant announcements just because there is an embargo.

And, equally important - offer an embargo to only a few reporters; usually established contacts who routinely cover your industry or your company are the best bet.

Lastly, an embargo will only work if all are playing fair. Follow full disclosure with all details and manage expectations with a specific announcement time. Embargoes can result in successes on all sides as long as you know who you are working with, build on established relationships, and position your news accurately and appropriately.


Josef Blumenfeld, SVP, corporate comms Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Has managed PR agencies and comms programs in 39 countries for over 20 years

It is important to remember that an embargo is a request - there is nothing compelling the media to honor it. A handshake agreement might be enough to keep your news secure, but in reality, the 24-hour news cycle fueled by social media has rendered the embargo irrelevant.

The race to report has never been more frantic. Asking reporters not to cover a story before a certain time and date doesn't mean they have to abide by your wishes. In fact, many reporters and outlets freely admit they won't honor an embargo, whether to scoop the competition or meet deadlines.

There are a handful of exceptions - national security or new product reviews, for example - when an embargo would make sense and, most importantly, be honored. But in general, declaring something is "for immediate release" and then asking reporters to hold that news seems counter-intuitive, ineffective, and, even worse, outdated given the increasing relevance of real-time, interactive media platforms.

Because many major reporters are active on social media, the pull of immediacy can overcome a request to hold off. And, of course, accidents happen - news leaks out.

Today's media landscape is also global. Whereas protocol or practice might make an embargo workable for US press, when it comes to other countries, that traditional approach is simply not the case.

Publishing schedules have been reduced to minutes, and deadlines are often immediate. Rather than hoping an embargo is honored, while concurrently being prepared for that news to leak, smart and strategic communications pros understand that just as the media has changed, so too has the way we must work with it.

Give reporters stories in a way that allows them to break it over Twitter or other social media; don't force them to hold hard news for your convenience.

An embargo is an anachronism - a holdover from the days when print was the dominant reporting vehicle. The key to success is to harness and shepherd the never-ending news cycle, not try to control it with an embargo.

PRWeek's View
Embargoes still work, although they may be closer to extinction due to increasingly tight deadlines and the 24/7 news cycle. More importantly, they are only effective when dealing with trusted media outlets.

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