I’m Jeff Seedman, an associate partner in the San Francisco office, writing today on a topic that is sure to incite debate. The pressure on journalists to break news first is at an all-time high in today’s fast-paced world of online media. As such, we receive quite a few questions from clients regarding how best to implement and manage embargo and exclusive outreach strategies. It’s a worthy debate – one that the managers at Finn Partners often discuss.
First, it’s important to understand the differences between the two approaches. Exclusives represent an age-old strategy in which one select reporter receives an opportunity to break a particular news item. An embargo strategy differs in that multiple journalists are given access to information and spokespersons in advance of a press release being issued, with the understanding that they are all free to run their story at a predetermined time along with other outlets that were briefed on the news. This strategy is designed to ensure a level playing field, where no single outlet breaks the news first.
At Finn Partners, we often guide our clients toward embargo strategies except for rare exceptions:
- We’ve pinpointed a reporter that covers a nuanced topic more in depth than any others, and the benefits of this reporter getting the story right outweigh the benefit of receiving widespread coverage
- We need a breakthrough strategy with a particular outlet, typically because their audience aligns more than others with the story our client is telling
- The journalist has made certain guarantees that would otherwise not be possible in an embargoed scenario, such as the article becoming a cover story in the print version of a prominent outlet
- A news item may not be geared for widespread traction, but a specific journalist has agreed to run it only in the case that it is exclusive to their outlet
While there are exceptions to every rule, we typically recommend the embargo strategy. Journalists are given the same information as their competitors, and they are free to develop their own unique angle or spin on the news that can set them apart. The journalists we speak to day-in and day-out tell us they tend to like this approach.
Of course there are risks involved. If a journalist breaks the embargo (and we go to great lengths to ensure they don’t), then it becomes open season in a sense, and other journalists are typically free to run their version of the story immediately. While it’s very rare that this happens, we manage it swiftly and with certainty.
In respect to exclusives and embargoes being used in tandem, that’s typically a recipe for disaster. For instance, giving one outlet an exclusive time that’s even 20 minutes ahead of the embargo time other outlets receive will often lead to a flurry of negative emails from upset journalists, the loss of trust between the agency/client and their “go to” media contacts, and, perhaps most damaging, a flurry of negative comments across social channels that will be detrimental to the business and openly scrutinized by the public. If a client insists on mixing the strategies, it’s extremely important to be transparent with all the reporters involved, letting them decide whether or not they still want to run their story.
When in doubt, embargo strategies rarely fail. More times than not, receiving mass traction is the goal, and embargoes help clients achieve the success they are looking for. Considering the media world is so fast paced that news is often considered old the minute it crosses the wire, embargo strategies become critical to achieving PR success.
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