An embargo is something that tech companies use to set a time when their product will launch and the press can publish their reviews of it. Embargoes aren't as simple as they sound and they aren't uncontroversial, either.
We believe they can be a good idea, though. Below we discuss why and share thoughts about how we think an embargo can be run well. If you've got comments to share, don't be shy, that's what the comments section of a blog is for.
Editor's note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we'll re-publish some of our best posts of 2009. As we look back at the year - and ahead to what next year holds - we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It's not just a best-of list, it's also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2010. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!
Not every announcement needs to be embargoed, but complicated ones involving new technology can benefit from such an exercise. Tech blogging is really competitive, some blogs won't write later about something discovered by one of their competitors. None of us like to, we don't want to give our readers the impression that we're slow on the news or have people skip our posts because they already read about something elsewhere.
Here's why embargoes can be good.
- They give multiple blogs a chance to review a technology in depth, instead of making it a race.
- This means readers get to read multiple perspectives on an interesting topic. Different bloggers have different strengths and ways of looking at things.
- Embargoes lead to more total coverage than exclusives. If you're someone for whom the only thing that mattered in high school was to win the approval of the most popular kid in school and you want to extend that philosophy into your work life as an adult - then the richness and breadth of your work and life experience will suffer accordingly. Exclusives are the tactic of people with weak products and of reporters who compete better in bullying than in writing.
How to Run an Embargo
This is one way to do it, but we think it's a good way.
Ask Writers if They Want Pre-release Info Under Embargo.
Sending an email briefly describing what's being launched and asking if a writer wants more pre-release info under embargo is a good way to entice people into engaging in conversation and to receive an explicit reply accepting the embargo.
A lot of people have been sending emails lately with all the information in them and asserting that it's embargoed until a particular time. Apparently accepting the embargo is assumed, but it seems a stretch to hold someone responsible for something they haven't agreed to.
Additionally, having a conversation is much more effective than shooting out one complete email and crossing your fingers.
Right: From ICanHazCheeseBurger, a blog you can always trust with an embargo.
Make Sure The Subject of the Embargo is...Embargoed
There is no sense in telling writers they can't write about something that's publicly available on the front of your website until a later date. An embargo involves an agreement hold off writing until a given time - in exchange for a chance to take a look at something before it's publicly available. If it's live and easily found - then anyone could find it. Thus anyone could write about it and it's fair game at any time.
Reach Out to Bloggers Large and Not so Large
A handful of top blogs in any niche are used to receiving press inquiries. Medium sized, up and coming blogs, usually only get spam or press releases for unexciting things. Offering to include an up and coming blog in an embargoed release is a sign of respect that will be appreciated. It will lead to more coverage, more links, and more perspectives. Readers don't read every post on the big blogs, many people will discover you through a post on a smaller blog or they will take the time to read about you after noticing that a number of people have written about your launch.
There's a sprawling network of tech blogs online and ideally your release would hit big and medium ones with such compelling news that an even larger number of smaller blogs would follow up with posts of their own. Blogging is a long tail world - choosing instead to put all your eggs in one basket (with an "exclusive," for example) isn't necessary or necessarily in your best interest.
That said, the only incentive bloggers have to respect embargoes is that they want to receive more embargoed information again in the future. It's serious or aspiring news-type blogs that have that incentive.
Send the Info and Offer to Talk
Some companies refuse to send launch info unless a blogger agrees to talk to their CEO on the phone. Co-incidentally, those CEOs are often particularly obnoxious. The best PR agents will accept a request to just send out a release and other pertinent info - along with an offer to talk. Many times it won't be necessary.
What is much more helpful is to make yourself available in the days and hours leading up to the embargo to answer any questions that come up. Providing a phone number, email and IM contact info for someone who can answer questions promptly is a big help.
Then, Lift the Embargo!
At the agreed upon time, push whatever you're launching live and go check out your blog coverage. Best practices for engaging with that coverage are subject enough for several other blog posts.
Will Bloggers Respect My Embargo?
If you do it right, they most likely will. At least 95% of the embargoes we see get respected by all the blogs that were included. Some are better than others, a few are downright awful. You can figure it out. Most are great, at least in our field.
What Do I do If A Blogger Breaks My Embargo?
There's a number of ways you can handle it but here's one option. Leave a matter of fact comment on the post ("This was embargoed until 4 hours from now and I would have appreciated it if you could have respected that.") and then let the other blogs you'd reached out to know that the embargo has been broken. You probably don't need to tell them by who, they'll check and find out on their own. Then they'll either run their story about you, or if they hadn't written it yet then they may not cover you at all.
Then ask yourself honestly if this was actually your own fault due to unclear or inconsistent communication. All serious news bloggers try to respect embargoes because that's part of the business. Sometimes they are thick headed, though, and that's how it goes.
How Much Lead Time Should I Give an Embargo and What Day of the Week Should It Lift?
It's up to you but we'd recommend three days lead time, lifting Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday - depending on an honest assessment of how exciting your product is. It's a crap shoot.
That's How We See it, How About You?
The above is just one take on embargoes in tech blogging. We know there are lots of other ways to look at it. See, for example, Louis Gray's excellent post this month where he makes similar arguments in more detail or pro-journalist Mathew Ingram's contrary post Embargoes: Thanks but No Thanks.
Thoughts? Feelings? Suggestions? Leave them in comments, because that's one of the things that makes blogging such a great form of media.
Title image: Untitled, CC from Flickr user Lauren.