What’s the Deal with News Embargoes?

Weslie Oeftering
What’s the Deal with News Embargoes?

When pitching the press, it’s common for PR pros to run into news embargoes. While there is some debate about whether or not embargoes are dying, they are by no means completely dead so it is important to know what they are before you run into one.

Simply put: news embargoes are agreements between a journalist and their source(s). Specifically, it’s an agreement to not publish a story until a certain date. Sometimes, in return for a reporter’s discretion, a source will promise not to give their story to anyone else. This is known as an exclusive and is not a part of every embargo.

For clarity, a journalist’s “source” can be anyone. A politician, a waitress, your mom, a politician’s staff, but for the purposes of this article, a source is a PR professional working on the behalf of their client. Additionally, a client can also be anyone.

Embargoes Build Trust

Usually, journalists agree to embargoes before a PR pro gives them any information. Importantly, the majority of news embargoes are not legally binding contracts. No one signs anything so all parties involved just have to take each other at their word. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any consequences for breaking an embargo. Not only could it mean burning a bridge with your source, but you could also be gaining a reputation as someone that cannot be trusted with important stories. Just like there’s no reason for a journalist to honor an embargo, there’s nothing stopping a PR pro from telling others about you. However, when everyone holds up their end of the deal, embargoes are a great way to build trust between a PR pro, the agency they work for and the journalist they’re pitching to.

When To Use an Embargo

Don’t use embargoes for every day, run of the mill stories. News embargoes are usually reserved for bigger announcements; product launches, rebrands, mergers, etc. This is because bigger announcements need to be timed just right in order for them to make the biggest splash. An organization is likely still putting the finishing touches on the announcement when they start pitching reporters. Therefore, it would be bad if the story came out before they were completely ready. 

Embargoes also give reporters more time to get all the relevant information they might need before publishing. This way, they have the chance to write the best story possible, which ultimately makes both parties look better. The journalist looks good for writing such a great piece, and the brand looks good because of it.

What News Embargoes Aren’t

News embargoes are not to be confused with “catch and kill” technique that has been discussed a lot in the news recently. This is when a celebrity or company pays a news outlet to buy exclusive rights to a story. The outlet agrees to never publish the story (i.e.”kill” it) in return for the payment. What’s more, catch and kill agreements usually require an attorney if the person selling their story ever wants out. It’s good practice to just avoid outlets that participate in this type of “journalism,” especially if you’re looking for one that will honor their embargo.

About Weslie Oeftering: Weslie is a student at The University of Texas at Austin and Swyft’s resident PR and marketing intern. She supports clients with social media, blogging, and tech PR activities. Swyft has been consistently listed as one of the best PR agencies in Austin with satellite offices in Denver, Houston and Antwerp that provides integrated PR and marketing services and trade show marketing and PR for tech companies around the world. Some of their services include media relations, content and inbound marketing, website design, CPC campaigns, and marketing automation consulting.

Cover Image: Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash

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