The time-honored policy of offering an embargo—an arrangement to let a reporter break a story ahead of all other media, in exchange for holding the story until a specified date/time—seems to be going the way of the buffalo. Some of it is the changing nature of the reporters themselves, but a lot of it has to do with the changing nature of media. This presents new challenges to companies seeking to communicate effectively, protect their reputation and maintain good relationships with partners and customers.
Last week, a news article including details of an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report was published Thursday—ahead of the Sunday embargo the AAP had requested. Recently, the editor-in-chief of a noted advertising trade publication, said she would not honor embargoes if she felt a story needed to go out right away—and if there was a danger of being “aced out” by another publication.
With blogs, texts, Twitter and Facebook—let alone online versions of “conventional media”—all vying for instant news, managing public communication is tougher than ever. As newspapers, magazines and wire services fight for their lives in the online “instant knowledge” market, the idea of breaking a story well ahead of everyone else in return for the traffic it will drive to your site (and partner sites) may be too tempting for journalists to pass up.
So what are the consequences companies must consider when giving reporters advance news under the promise of an embargo?
- First, if a story is run ahead of schedule, corporate executives may not be prepared to answer questions and grant interviews. Moving too fast may force them to answer questions “on the fly.”
- Second, there may be damage to the corporation’s reputation and good name. If the news is a joint announcement and parties had settled on a specific release date, early release of the news could seriously threaten the relationship—and potentially even quash the business agreement being announced.
- Finally, if the information is considered material for a publicly traded company, there could be legal consequences. Even private companies may need to inform investors or manage other internal communication before a public announcement.
As journalism moves ever-faster, communicators must be more prepared and more thoughtful. Having the right strategy, knowing the media you’re dealing with, and having a response plan in place are critical elements for well-managed announcements that enhance positive perceptions and avoid controversy.
Written by: Michael Kassin