Wondering if you should impose a news embargo?

If you’re in media relations or corporate communications, you’ve likely encountered (or will encounter) the issue of news embargoes. Here’s a primer on what they are, why you might consider doing them and what challenges may arise.

What is embargoing?

Essentially, companies impose a news embargo (also called a press embargo) when they want to announce to the media something significant, complex and newsworthy, before the news is scheduled to go public. In the financial services world, this news could be a major portfolio manager move, a change in CEO or other senior executive position, a big fund closure, the launch of a unique product or service, a corporate merger or acquisition, etc.

Use a news/press embargo when you want to announce to the media something significant, complex and newsworthy, before the news is scheduled to go public.

Why should you consider doing it?

From the company’s perspective, imposing a news embargo may serve several purposes:

  • Relationship building. What better way to “reward” a media outlet (or specific journalist) who has treated you fairly than to entrust them with important news ahead of the masses? This outlet will appreciate your gesture and will likely continue treating you well
  • Controlling the message. You have something big that you wish – or need – to announce, so you want the media to cover it as favourably as possible. Depending on the announcement, influencing the message is an effort to mitigate corporate reputational risk or enhance your company’s status
  • Getting the message right. When you provide information to the media before official dissemination, you’re giving them time to absorb details, ask questions and get the facts straight. Maybe you even offer up the CEO or another spokesperson to provide a compelling quote or two. Bottom line, it’s always best to run an accurate story

Why would the media want to do it?

There could be a few reasons, such as the first and third points above, but the primary benefit of accessing embargoed news is the opportunity to “get the scoop” first. In such a competitive media market, who wouldn’t want to type or say those two magical words: breaking news! Much of it revolves around privilege and cachet – earning the reputation as a strong media outlet that’s worth following.

The primary benefit of accessing embargoed news is the opportunity to “get the scoop” first.

Keep these points in mind

While the premise of a news embargo is simple, the execution can be complex. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Along with the CEO and other key stakeholders, develop a corporate policy on embargoing. For instance, with whom are you willing to embargo? In what situations will you embargo? You should establish your policy before a significant situation arises. In the heat of a big moment, you might not make the best decision
  • Embargoing involves a giant leap of faith. You need to trust that the media outlet won’t deliberately or inadvertently leak confidential information, or run their piece before your announcement (huge disaster!). The outlet needs to trust that you’re giving full and accurate details, and that you’re not engaging all other media (which would negate any competitive advantage)
  • Be clear regarding what and when you are announcing, and when you expect the embargoed piece to run. This can be challenging since the outlet wants it out ASAP after your press release, but you can’t be perceived as “playing favourites.” If their story drops only minutes after your press release, exquisitely crafted and replete with well-placed quotes, that will raise eyebrows. You don’t want to destroy any goodwill you’ve gained with other media outlets
  • From a legal, regulatory and – for what it’s worth – ethical viewpoint, be mindful of selective disclosure. Love it or hate it, the press release is the great equalizer when it comes to disseminating information, as it democratizes access to material (or other noteworthy) changes. Seek an internal legal opinion if you’re not sure whether or not the news can be embargoed

Want more insights on how to work effectively with the financial media? Contact us at 416.925.1700, 844.243.1830 or info@ext-marketing.com.

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