Can You Keep a Secret? The Dos and Don’ts of Using an Embargo

April 2, 2015

Can You Keep a Secret? The Dos and Don’ts of Using an Embargo

April 2, 2015

Group Gordon’s Gigi Kwon blogs about best practices for sharing information with the media under embargo. 4.2.2015

Ever wonder how media outlets are able to publish reviews of the new iPhone or articles about a new White House initiative just moments after the news is announced? The secret…is knowing how to keep a secret. In PR terms, it means sharing advance information about a new product or announcement “under embargo.”

When PR professionals share something with the media under embargo, they give reporters early access to privileged information before it goes public. In return, journalists agree not to publish their stories until a set date and time.

Why use this tactic? Establishing an embargo is particularly useful when companies want to generate media attention around a big announcement or launch because it allows them to control the timing. It also gives reporters time to put together their stories, especially when there is a lot of information to comb through. With the cushion of an embargo, they can take the time to review any written material, gather more background information, and interview third parties, all while keeping the story timely.


But embargoed information also carries the risk of being leaked. Here are a few things you want to keep in mind when deciding whether to share anything under embargo:

    1. Set a specific end date and time for the embargo. Timing is everything, especially for juicy embargoed announcements. The date should give reporters enough time to gather the necessary information and write a well-informed piece—sharing something under embargo the night before a major, complex announcement won’t be helpful and could frustrate reporters. Also be mindful when setting the embargo that publishing schedules and time zones differ across outlets.

    1. Bestow your trust wisely. Different outlets and reporters have specific policies about embargoes. Some might appreciate the advance notice and welcome embargoed announcements, while others will prefer you to ask if they agree to the arrangement before sending any details. Do your research to understand what their policies and guidelines for embargoed material are. The smartest thing to do is to share embargoed releases with reporters with whom you’ve built trust and a good working relationship. Never assume that everyone will honor your embargo just because you asked them to do so.

  1. Be fair and be honest. Be careful to create a level playing field. The embargo should lift at the same date and time for everyone. And if anyone asks whether you shared this information with other outlets as well, be honest. Embargoed announcements are different from exclusives, which give advance, premium access to a single outlet, so don’t be shy about being forthright.

An embargo can be an important piece of a media strategy, but any situation dealing with sensitive information can be tricky—so use it wisely!