Disclosure, I am a contributor to TechCrunch and I have had my fair share of embargoes broken by various reporters and bloggers over the years. In some cases, we trusted the wrong people.
In what is sure to come as an absolute surprise to the tech PR industry, TechCrunch proclaimed that it will no longer honor embargoes, unless they’re granted exclusivity. The move was triggered by a growing pattern of underhanded and also irresponsible behavior in the backchannels of PR and blogger relations.
We are all guilty.
The problems are two-fold:
a) Unethical or opportunistic bloggers or reporters looking for an edge will break a story ahead of the agreed-upon embargo, even if only by one minute, in order to appear as if they got the scoop.
b) PR, continuing to use a broadcast methodology to pitch and place news, freely and foolishly wield embargoes as if they’re simply “scheduled” times for a press release to cross a wire.
According to Michael Arrington, “The reason this is becoming a larger problem is because there is no downside to breaking embargoes. The PR firm gets upset but they don’t stop working with the offending publication or writer. You get a slap on the wrist, and you break another embargo later that day. Our new policy is to break every embargo. We’ll happily agree to whatever you ask of us, and then we’ll just do whatever we feel like right after that. We may break an embargo by one minute or three days. We’ll choose at random. There will be exceptions. We will honor embargoes from trusted companies and PR firms who give us the news exclusively.”
In the comments section of the TechCrunch post, Richard MacManus, Editor-In-Chief of another popular tech blog, ReadWriteWeb, commented on a particular portion of the new policy, which sparked an open dialogue between MacManus and Arrington.
MacManus, There will be exceptions. We will honor embargoes from trusted companies and PR firms who give us the news exclusively. Nice.”
Arrington, “Actually Richard, you guys (ReadWriteWeb) and others like GigaOm are the good guys. I have no[t] problem working with you.”
MacManus, “And ditto, I have no problem working with you or other blogs. But seriously I don’t think asking PR firms and startups to give you exclusives is the way to go. That’s asking them to choose which blog they want to get on, and of course they will opt for the biggest one. It’s unfair to put that choice onto PR firms and startups too. It basically means that startups probably won’t be covered by other top blogs if they give an exclusive to someone else. Maybe that’s something they’re ok with, but I think it’s unnecessary as all the best blogs have a unique take on the good stories. So I take your point that breaking embargoes is ruining it for everyone, but exclusives isn’t the answer imho.”
At this point, arguing over whether the response and the new policy is right or wrong, is moot and useless when compared to the potentially grim future facing PR.
Is the act of breaking embargoes as retaliation to deserving or undeserving companies the answer?
But the resolution with TechCrunch and other bloggers and media in every industry rests among those who practice PR, whether they’re PR or marketing professionals or the founders of companies who choose to employ DIY PR.
TechCrunch’s response is not isolated, nor is it relegated to the technology sector. I would bet that every blogger and reporter shares this sentiment daily, with some already publishing similar “no embargo” policies.
But, are you really surprised that it has come to this?
We can’t blame TechCrunch however, we have to hold up the mirror and take a deep, honest, and introspective look at our role in this debacle, as well as the overall branding crisis that shrouds the PR industry.
The truth is that embargoes are special. They are not supposed to be used as a “PR trick” for locking-in stories with anyone and everyone. Ideally, they’re strategically reserved for important stories and they’re only effective when used in a “less is more” approach. Embargoes ARE NOT dead, however, they need to be practiced with great focus and respect. I guarantee you greater results and stronger relationships if you work with a smaller group of trusted and relevant contacts rather than embargo spamming everyone from the A-list to the C-list in your wish list.
Yes, there’s pressure to send your news to everyone.
Yes, we’re judged by quantity, not quality.
Yes, it’s not fair
So what are you going to do about it?
Start by pushing back. But, do so armed with the tangible reality that there are consequences for not learning or emboding a “less is more” approach.
Print this post, the original TC post, and the following articles and share them with decision makers (this is just a short representation of the thousands of recent and readily available articles screaming for PR to change):
Next, contact a few key individuals and work with them, one on one, to develop an important story under embargo. Remember, less is more and ALWAYS ask first before arbitrarily sending embargoed information. Monitor the results using site traffic, registrations, sales, referrals, linkbacks, conversations, and host of “old but new” tools for measuring PR success.
PLEASE READ: PR doesn’t stop after the news breaks. Tomorrow’s PR is powered by a medley of informed, humanized, and participatory engagement strategies that help stories flourish, not just from a top-down, one-to-many “influencer” campaign, but also through direct, peer-to-peer and many-to-many conversations that connect with, and inspire, your communities. The people who identify with your story, recognize relevance and feel that they’re “heard,” will enlist as loyal, surrogate storytellers, who will organically extend your reach and create opportunities for new relationships. In the process, you will learn that people, whether they’re reporters, analysts, bloggers, customers, or peers, will redefine your interpretation and practice of PR from “media and blogger relations” to true “Public” Relations.
The Social Web is serving as an unprecedented platform and repository for the dissection and bashing of individual PR people, companies, and agencies. Its influence is only gaining force. Time is running out for those who choose to operate within the confines of an aging and broken model of Public Relations.
We, as an industry, must immediately embody the transparency and focus required to engage and cultivate meaningful and rewarding relationships with the very people who can help us connect our stories to those they’ll benefit.
This isn’t email marketing. It’s not a numbers game. There are real people on the other side of our “pitch.” This process must become humanized once again.
These are the new rules of engagement
This is the new art and science of breaking news.
Welcome to the new era of PR.
Must-reads on PR 2.0:
– The New Rules for Breaking News Part I
– The New Rules for Breaking News Part II: Beware of Embargoes
– PR is Not Dead
– PR 2.0 = The Evolution of PR, Nothing Less, Nothing More
– Dear Chris Anderson, an Open Letter to Make Things Right
– PR Secrets for Startups (on TechCrunch)