Embargoes: Thanks but no thanks

by Mathew on August 21, 2008 · 19 comments

There’s been a bit of a conversation going on lately — both out in the open, on blogs like Louis Gray’s and Profy and others, as well as behind the scenes on FriendFeed — about the value of embargoes. For anyone who doesn’t know, an embargo is when a PR or marketing company asks a journalist to sit on a press release and not write about it until a certain date. Companies (or their PR firms) ask me for them all the time, and I say no in almost every case. Why? Because I think that embargoes do a lot more for the companies that ask for them than they do for the journalist (or blogger) who agrees to abide by them.

The classic argument in favour of embargoes — as described by Rick Turoczy in a guest post on Centernetworks a while back — is that they “give journalists and bloggers time to research a story” before they write about it. In most cases, to be honest, that is complete crap. In other words, that might be a nice justification for the embargo, but in practice I would argue that it rarely happens. What happens is that everyone who abides by the embargo comes out with a nicely-packaged story that hits all the points from the press release, and they all come out at the same time. How does that really help anyone?

I take that back. It does help someone: it helps the company that is trying to push their new gadget/service, and it helps the firm that is trying to get as much free publicity and marketing juice as possible for their client. If a company has developed a personal relationship with a journalist or blogger, then I could see doing someone a favour by respecting an embargo. But in most cases by agreeing to an embargo, bloggers are just helping to load the tubes with PR bumpf so that the client and the PR firm can get a nice bang for their launch.

It’s the PR equivalent of the “first day pop” in the IPO market. Brokerage firms routinely underprice the shares of a stock they are launching as a new issue, and try to make sure that the offering is “oversubscribed” — in other words, they try to line up lots of institutions who want to get a piece of the stock, so that when the shares go public they get a nice boost. Does that serve either the company or the average shareholder? No. Embargoes are like that. They lead to stories and blog posts that are full of sound and fury, but little real value.

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