Arrington isn’t wrong

death to the embargoMichael Arrington of Techcrunch is making waves again: this time about how he intends to break embargoed press releases from now on.

When I first heard about the idea of an embargoed press release, back in my early days as a junior internet marketing drone many moons ago, I was totally bewildered that such a thing could possibly exist in the sharky world of PR and media relations. I was surprised that a journalist could be counted on (British children are raised to mistrust journalists after all) to honour an agreement to sit on a hot story until permitted to publish it.

I’ve seen embargoes from a PR perspective (specifically from within eBay) and as a blogger and I’m not a total stranger to journalism. So it’s worth making a few observations. ‘Embargoes’, in my experience, tend to be used in two instances. When the information for release is hyper-sensitive, possibly stock price affecting or related to very, very important announcements or it’s achingly trivial. For instance, I recall a lot of ‘survey based’ releases being embargoed so that journos could write up the piece in good time and PRs could control the day the coverage landed.

In the case of hyper-sensitive releases, the skilful PR pro will seek out a friendly hack they have a past and strong relationship with and possibly offer an exclusive or at least first dibs as well as perhaps a sweetner (an MD interview, say). Having time to absorb and interpret important information is a welcome luxury to for the journo.

Trust is critical to embargoes. It’s obviously dishonourable (and in some cases a breach of contract) to break an embargo you have agreed to. But, even in my own experience as a small fry blogger, some PR practices have become slapdash. I have received unsolicited press releases from PR agencies I have no past relationship with, informing me that it’s embargoed until a certain date. It shouldn’t be surprising that bloggers break embargoes such as these.

Arrington’s post is obviously michevious, bullish and typically uncompromising, but I do understand his point. Lots of high profile bloggers and online journalists have long made the point that PRs are keen to garner online coverage and are pretty darn incompetent about going about it. Jemima Kiss of the Guardian is splendidly indiscreet on Twitter. Mike Butcher of Techcrunch UK published a useful guide a while back.

A blogger/online journalist isn’t limited by print deadlines and can publish immediately. There is huge competition and (often) no incentive not to break a juicy snippet quicksmart. But this should be seen as an opportunity. Bloggers want the information and shouldn’t be treated with disdain, suspicion or fear. PR folk need to smarten up their act when it comes to dealing with bloggers (and those that are getting it right already are enjoying a significant commercial advantage.) Funnily, when it comes taking PR online the comment of an old lovable rogue of a PR I once knew (who probably wrote the embargoed press release for the resurrection of Christ) comes to mind: ‘PR is the easiest job in the world. You just work out who you can work with and get ready for back scratching both ways.”

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