By Katherine Murray and Stephanie Truog 

What is an embargo?

You may occasionally have important news that you want to share with the media under embargo, which means you’re giving reporters the news and all related details in advance of your official public announcement.

There are any number of reasons for doing this. You may need to schedule your news announcement to coincide with the closing of a business deal or after your clients or customers are informed.

Typically, the news is shared with one or a small handful of journalists. This provides extra time to review the details, talk to sources, and decide how to report the story. In return, the journalist agrees to hold off on publishing the story until the embargo is lifted at a certain date and time. Most news is not appropriate for an embargo—embargoes are something that should be used sparingly and only under specific circumstances.

Do reporters like embargoes?

Some reporters like embargoes to the extent that they have time to think about the story and gather additional information. However, coordinating the timing of an embargoed news story becomes one more thing to manage in their already hectic schedules. And if it’s not an exclusive, meaning you’re not sharing the news with them alone, they might just wait for the news to be announced.

What type of news is worthy of an embargo?

A good story to share with reporters under embargo would include:

  • Very timely/action-oriented news i.e. something significant and new is happening now
  • News that has a significant impact on the industry or the company
  • A complex topic – reporters/industry participants may not immediately grasp why this is significant and time is needed for explanation and research

Examples of news that would be appropriate to share with reporters under an embargo include major deal closings, mergers and acquisitions, important hires or executive transitions or an innovative product launch.

A story that would not be appropriate to share on an embargoed basis would include:

  • A story that has longer term implications—the impact will not be immediate
  • News about your company that would not be viewed as significant to your industry or client base

Examples of news stories that are not worthy of an embargo would include a product launch when similar product(s) already exist in the marketplace, new hires or other seemingly routine announcements.

Executing an embargo

To successfully execute an embargoed news story:

  • Make sure you have all the facts
  • Prepare internal spokespeople and review key messages so they are prepared to speak with journalists
  • Work with journalists you already have a relationship with
  • Be clear about your deadline and give journalists a reasonable amount of time to consider the story. Depending on the complexity of the story, two to three days is generally reasonable.
  • If you’re offering an exclusive embargo, you’ll need to provide yourself and the journalist with additional lead time. Make sure the journalist knows you’re offering the news on an exclusive basis and would like an answer by a specific date and time as to whether he or she will cover it. You can then move on to the next journalist if the first declines.
  • Whether offering an embargo to one or multiple journalists, get confirmation in writing via email that the reporter(s) agree to not publish the story until the agreed upon date before disclosing the news or sending an embargoed release.
  • When sending embargoed materials to reporters, clearly mark all materials: “Embargoed and not for publication until DATE.”
  • Be transparent and make sources readily available.