Brendan Boughen, PRINZ Northern Committee member
On Wednesday, 28 August, about 35 PRINZ members met at the offices of Simpson-Grierson in Auckland city – above a truly spectacular view – to hear a panel of notable media experts, journalists and PR managers discuss the fraught topic of embargoes and their use in PR practice.
The word ‘fraught’ is apt, because this debate has been going on in PR and media circles for many years, and there are still often skirmishes that break out on Twitter between PRs and journalists when an imposed embargo is believed to have been broken on that social media channel.
The scene for the evening’s discussion was set for us by Tracey Walker, a partner at Simpson-Grierson and a media law expert who has worked both for and against media clients for more than 20 years. She cited a number of legal issues that could arise around embargoed information, but confirmed that there is still ultimately no legal redress for PRs if an imposed embargo is broken.
We also heard client-side perspectives on embargoes from Simon Kenny, Head of Communications for McDonalds, and Kate Woodruffe, a PRINZ Fellow and currently PR Manager for Gen-i. They spoke of the importance of building trusted relationships with journalists, and only using embargoes in situations when time sensitive information needs to be communicated in advance to allow the journalist to do further research and develop a full and considered story.
However, what was most enlightening was the feedback that came from the three eminent journalists who joined us for the discussion; namely, Chris Keall (Digital Editor for NBR), Ellen Read, (Editor, Stuff.co.nz) and Jared Savage (Investigations Editor for the NZ Herald).
All three noted that they still daily receive dozens of unsolicited news media releases from PR representatives with the words ‘Embargoed until …’ in the subject line. To them, such releases are annoying, overly heavy handed and mostly unhelpful. Journalists need news they can use now, and unless there is a clear and reasonable purpose for embargoing the information, they are unlikely to warm to the story or to the person who sent it to them.
The race to be first with the news is still the driving force behind all media activity, and is intensified by the immediacy of social media. While they aim to respect the timing as much as possible, sometimes they make the clear decision to break the embargo on the basis that to do otherwise would mean they are not doing their job.
Clearly there are many PR practitioners out there still slapping embargoes on press releases without realising the negative impression they are leaving with the media they are targeting. If the discussion at this event proved anything, it’s that frivolously embargoed stories do a disservice to the PR profession as a whole.
As professional PR practitioners, we can do better. It’s time to stop sending media unsolicited embargoed releases and start living up to the ‘relations’ part of PR by getting to know journalists and respecting their profession as much as our own through sensible, timely and relevant communication.
The result will be better stories, better media relationships and ultimately, better results for our clients.