Katie Hanusik
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Pitching government news to reporters under embargo is not something that happens often. In the world of media relations, an embargo isn’t a ban on trade but rather a provision that keeps reporters from releasing news to the general public until a specific date and time.

Be careful, though – don’t confuse an embargo with an exclusive. Exclusives limit you to sharing the news with just one news outlet – you promise one specific publication that they and they alone will publish your news at an agreed upon date and time. News under embargo can be pitched to countless reporters who then accept (or pass) on the story. If they like what they see, they will then agree to hold the news until an established date and time of your choosing. This is especially important if you are pitching public sector survey results. Your goal is to create as much coverage as possible starting on day one.

So, what are some things to think about if you’re considering releasing government news under embargo?

Stories ready the minute your news goes live

Embargoes can be particularly effective when you’ve got a big announcement and want to give the journalist(s) time to review the content, conduct interviews, and write their story in advance. The idea behind an embargo is that you are giving the journalist a head start, with the ultimate goal being that the story would publish just after your news goes live. This extra time generally also leads to a better, more fully featured and well-thought out story.

Note though that I keep saying “news.” If you want reporters to be interested, you have to give them something that is newsworthy and not just general thought leadership. Product launches, significant new hire announcements, and compelling survey or research results all make for interesting topics.

Communication clarity keeps everyone on the same page

Once you’ve decided to pursue pitching under embargo, it’s crucial to have open and transparent communication with reporters. Make sure that the date and time the embargo lifts is clear in every communication and on every piece of content they receive – emails, press releases, etc. Be sure to let reporters know if the collateral you are sharing with them is final or if there may be changes (hopefully minor) between when they receive the documents and when the news goes live.

Be careful about how much information you share

The amount of information you need to include in your initial email pitch largely depends on how well known your client is. If you are pitching an embargoed announcement from, let’s say Lockheed Martin, you likely don’t have to say much more in your initial email than “Lockheed Martin has a big announcement coming out on (date) and would you be interested in seeing an advance copy under embargo.”

However, not every company is Lockheed Martin, and often times it’ll be necessary to include some key points in your email that get the federal reporter interested without giving away so much that they guess your news and run with it in advance. Once you get the “yes” you were after, be sure to reiterate the embargo date and time in your follow up email, which should also include all of the necessary materials to help the reporter flesh out their story.

It should also be noted that sometimes a reporter may go rogue and break an embargo. This situation is rare as it can destroy a relationship between a journalist and a source/company, but it is a possibility. If you find yourself in this unlucky situation the best thing you can do is make sure you have a trail to show that the embargo terms were accepted and communicate the news to your team as soon as possible, openly and honestly. Sadly there is little recourse, and you may need to fall on the sword but again, most journalists won’t say they’ll honor an embargo just to turn around the print the news to scoop everyone else.

Assume that the announcement date will shift

In an ideal world all will go according to plan, reporters will accept and honor the embargo, and your company’s news will go out at the exact time it was slated for. We don’t always live in an ideal world and sometimes government timelines do change, embargo dates get shifted, and release times get pushed later.

Don’t panic! Instead, contact the reporter(s) you’ve been in touch with as soon as possible. Be as open and transparent as you can be. Don’t try to disguise what’s happening, don’t make excuses, and definitely don’t lie! Most reporters are just trying to do their job and aren’t out to sabotage you or your story.

Unfortunately, sometimes what happens next is out of your control. Occasionally there may be the odd reporter who decides tough luck, they are no longer willing to hold the story and they are going to press no matter what. If you find yourself in that situation my best advice is to take a deep breath and pour yourself a stiff drink.

Don’t give someone else an exclusive!

What’s the one thing you shouldn’t do during this whole process? Break the embargo by giving another fed reporter exclusive access. This breaks trust between other reporters and your company. Successful PR professionals maintain great relationships with reporters through the years. Especially in the public sector space, the pool of publications and reporters is small. If a reporter relationship is damaged, it could prove detrimental for the company’s media relationships down the road.

It’s our job as PR pros to educate our teams about what it means to pitch under embargo and to get them to agree with the strategy. Not every announcement is worthy of an embargo, but when you have big news an embargo can be incredibly effective in giving you a significant coverage boost on the day the news drops.

Did I miss anything? Do you have more tips? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!