There has been quite a bit of talk about people breaking the sacred embargo. An embargo is press-speak for the time at which a story should be held until, so that the company can prepare the troops to deal with all the things that comes with a big story: traffic surge, brand management, and perhaps, finishing the features that were promised in the press release. Some PR firms will make you sign informal NDA agreements, and others will never send you a story early, if you are proven untrustworthy. If the story is embargoed for Tuesday at 10:30am EST, you technically shouldn’t release it a minute early. Of course, in this competitive environment, it doesn’t happen all the time, and when embargoes are broken, everyone cries foul.
As a former contributor (with an alias) with one of the major Web 2.0 blogs, I know how important it was to receive an embargo. It enabled me to fact check, compare the new release to other competitors in the space, and I could pace myself on when to work on the news release. I loved it, because I wasn’t forced to write on a real time basis, and hopefully I could add more value, rather than writing off the top of my head, probably taking too much information from the press release itself, rather than thinking about it. On the flip side, if I was assigned to write about a story that had been broken earlier, for some reason or another, I was forced to take a different angle on the news to make it newsworthy, and for some mundane releases, it was virtually impossible. How often does a post show up in your feed, and you click on it and it’s taken down only to see it pop up several hours later? How often are the second tier blogs getting information the day of the story releasing, rather than have them break the news, potentially killing the chances that the big boys write about you?
Here’s why the broken system is broken:
1) Very little accountability for the major publications. As a current entrepreneur without the resources and weight of a PR firm, can I really try and get angry at one of the major blogs for covering me? If they break my story early, should I even say anything? Should I notify any of the other blogs that I sent the news to, possibly starting a flamewar on Friendfeed, Twitter, etc? When you’re the biggest blog out there, you’re going to get news first, and it’s always going to piss off the second tier blogs.
2) The system was initially designed for magazines and newspapers, that needed significant lead time to get to publication. With the blogging landscape breaking the news these days, is this even necessary?
3) Blogs are rewarded for getting the news out fast, and as a result, mistakes happen (and sometimes on purpose). The lifeblood of a blog is pageviews, and posting a couple minutes earlier than anyone else could cost the blog hundreds and hundreds of pageviews. In all fairness, with all the time zones, feverish posting, incomplete and erroneous press releases, there are quite a bit of mistakes that happen. We see this all of the time. With the big blogs turning into franchises with five to ten voices contributing on a regular basis, there are bound to be significant mixups in communicating embargo times. I’ve witnessed these first-hand. The result of this that makes it bad is that there is no accountability. Everyone is afraid to call out the embargo breaker by name, and instead you get the tweet “Xth embargo broken this week”.
4) Communication, Communication, Communication. This is partially related to 1-3, but when an embargo is broken, why isn’t the PR firm more transparent about who broke it, and what the end result was, whether it be intentional, mistake, or in many cases, the PR firm tells certain bloggers to publish early. There’s been way too many cases of PR firms saying that a no-name blog has broken embargo, so it’s ok to publish early. I know of an example of that this week, in fact. And sure enough, tweets come in with everyone crying foul of that blog breaking embargo. Did the PR firm let the other bloggers know that? I highly doubt it, because it’s from the A-list remember (being sarcastic)?
Until folks are called out by name, and are forced to explain what happened, things are going to stay the same. But in defense of bloggers, I think that more times than not, it’s mostly a by-product of misunderstandings. You have three parties playing this game: the entrepreneur, the PR firm in most cases, and the blogger (and their team of writers).
But hey, don’t bloggers not want to get the standard e-mail release anymore and have creative ways of information discovery? Aren’t bloggers supposed to be tired of going through their inboxes to find a story? Don’t they want to hear about new companies from non-traditional avenues? As Steve Rubel asked, Does the Chase Make PR Obsolete? LOL