The Embargo Lives, for Now

Jun 03, 2011 Beth Monaghan

This week, I hosted a conversation with Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb, Scott Kirsner of The Boston Globe, Wade Roush of Xconomy and Jon Swartz of USA Today to talk about embargoes.

Why? A broken embargo is every PR person’s worst nightmare. As we have written about here many times, embargoes work as long as we all stay true to our word – PR people and the media alike.

We all remember when, in 2008, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch proclaimed, “Death to the Embargo.” I’ve had numerous conversations with other reporters about the benefits and drawbacks of this staple in the PR toolkit, including one recently with Scott Kirsner. A few weeks ago, Wade Roush announced that he is no longer going to work under embargo. The next day as I drove down the Mass Pike in a period of forced separation from my email, I started thinking about this and decided that we should talk about how we can collectively solve this problem.

The panel represented a range of viewpoints about embargoes, which provided for a good discussion. Wade said that he has a “personal embargo on embargoes.” Scott is “very, very selective” about them. Marshall said, “I love embargoes” and Jon said that he does not like them because, “All the stories read the same, all controlled by the marketing spin."

The good news: we had a productive conversation. The bad news: we didn’t solve the problem. I threw out a few alternatives for discussion that brought up some issues that bear immortalization below:



This is at the heart of the embargo issue, and it is very disturbing. Embargoes are based on trust. When an embargo is broken, it means that someone broke their word, and while broken embargoes are not business-as-usual, they happen frequently enough to spark lots of tweets and blog posts. Wade said it best: “The whole question comes back to trust. Trust and fear.”

Can’t we all just be honest with each other?


Confusion about Terminology

It became clear during our conversation that lots of PR people are confusing the following terms – embargo, NDA, exclusive. This is how I define them:

  • Embargo: Handshake agreement on a date and time before which news coverage will not appear. When InkHouse works under embargo, it usually means that we are briefing more than one member of the media in advance of the news.
  • NDA: Written agreement outlining company information that is not for publication, which may include a date and time when publication is permitted. Essentially, this is a much more formal embargo that could have legal implications.
  • Exclusive: Offer to one reporter to cover a piece of news.

PR people have begun using exclusives more liberally because it means that we don’t have to deal with the anxiety of embargoes. However, I was surprised to learn from the panelists that they do not always prefer exclusives because they can complicate the situation and sometimes still result in broken embargoes. Wade said that, “The offer of an exclusive opens up an equally big can of worms as an embargo.”

My takeaway: let’s all be clear about what we’re offering and when there is the chance for ambiguity, be explicit.


Relationships Matter

It’s easy to get lost in the race of breaking news that happens around the clock. Many blogs live off of this kind of reporting, and are working to post within seconds of news breaking. This won’t go away and it’s good for lots of companies trying to get coverage of their news announcements.

However, some reporters have opted out of this chaos in favor of writing the thoughtful article or sniffing out the unique angle that might take more time to cultivate. Jon said, “If you get caught up in regurgitating the news of the day, you lose the big picture.”

While breaking news will always be there, the conversation was also a good reminder about the importance of building relationships. Scott said, “My preferred approach is to develop that person-to-person relationship.” And Wade said that the best way to work with him is to, “Form a long-term relationship. Bring me into your labs. Meet your CEO.”


Your Blog, Twitter Handle and RSS Feed are Important News Vehicles

The wire services such as PR Newswire and BusinessWire serve the important service of providing a place of record for official news. This is critical to public companies that need to meet regulatory requirements. These wires also offer SEO benefits because they have automatic feeds into so many reputable news sites.

However, if you are trying to pitch a story, do not rely on the wire service to reach your intended reporter. In fact, Jon hasn’t looked at wire in years. He said, “The best wire for me is Twitter.” Marshall said, “One of the key ways to get into the door with us is by RSS feeds.” So make sure your reporter contacts have your RSS feeds and Twitter handles. And if you don’t have a blog or a Twitter handle, it might be time to get one!


Listen to the audio and read a recap: You can listen to the full audio of our conversation below. I also encourage you to read the fantastic summary that Maria Perez of PR Newswire posted yesterday.

Should the Embargo Go? from Beth Monaghan on Vimeo.

Topics: InkHouse
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.

Read more from Beth Monaghan

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