What startups need to know about embargoes

Pitch subject line: "Embargo opportunity!" It's an opportunity!

— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo)

November 14, 2013

There are few things more confusing for startups navigating a press launch than the matter of embargoes. Startups should be spending their time focusing on shipping product and supporting current users, so we’re trying to simplify things and tell you the 4 things startups need to know about press embargoes.

1) Embargoes have a purpose

Want to see a smart PR blitz? Check out the stories right now abt BuzzFeed. AdWeek & NYT get embargo stories. Then, press release goes out.

— Josh Sternberg (@joshsternberg)

January 3, 2013

 The primary reason that embargoes exist is for you to get maximum coverage for your launch/announcement all live at one precise moment. If you don’t have an announcement and instead are pitching a trend piece or founder profile (essentially anything that is not attached to a moment in time), an embargo is not appropriate. Embargoes are usually used to get as many outlets as possible to cover you, but they also come into play when announcing partnerships or new hires. Startups favor embargoes, because it makes it easier to get coverage in multiple publications. If you get covered in a major industry publication, many other reporters will pass when being presented the story a few days later. This brings us to the second point…

2) Reporters don't like embargoes

Dear PR people, you do know how much our heart sinks when we see the word “embargo”, yes?

— Felix Salmon (@felixsalmon)

December 10, 2013

 There’s a number of reasons that reporters don’t like embargoes. For one, keeping track of which news launches when adds complexity to their already hectic day. It can also throw off their publishing schedule, which means you’re going to make their editor mad too. Second, embargoes go against their news gathering instincts. They want the scoop. They want an exclusive. They’re reporters who enjoy tracking down stories and sources rather than being told when to publish an article. Which brings us to the third point…

3) Embargoes are a fact of life

If your pr team tells you not to pre-brief techcrunch because we ‘have a no-embargo policy’ you should fire them immediately.

— Ryan Lawler (@ryanlawler)

March 6, 2014

  Famously, Mike Arrington said “Death to the embargo.” That was five and half years ago and the embargo is still here and probably isn’t going away anytime soon. But I’ve talked to dozens of startups who are still under the impression that embargoes are routinely broken by reporters. This simply is not the case. Embargoed news goes out every day and the only time you hear about it is when someone jumps the gun. Reporters can also benefit from embargoes, because they get to be briefed ahead of time and have more time to think about the story and ask follow-up questions.

So if you want to do an embargo, there's one golden rule that needs to be followed.

4) Embargoes should not be taken for granted


Reminder to PR peeps: You emailing me something unsolicited "under embargo" does not mean I have accepted said embargo. That is all.

— Chris O'Brien (@obrien)

September 5, 2013


A lot of PR people don't seem to understand how embargoes work; I have to agree to the embargo, you can't imply it.

— Mike Wehner (@MikeWehner)

January 7, 2014

 Reporters are doing you a favor when they agree to an embargo. Don’t write to them under the assumption that they will accept it. You want to be “press friendly” and respectful of their needs and schedule. Be polite and straight forward. Say that you are announcing news (funding, new product, partnership, etc.), but don’t give too many specifics. Ask them for a pre-brief to tell them more. Also be sure to tell them that there is a specific launch date. Don’t harp on having them agree to an embargo, just be straightforward about when you are announcing the news. They might ask you if there’s an embargo, but we’ve never had an issue with a reporter and setting a launch date/time. Be straight-forward and respectful and they’ll return the favor.

Embargoes are a fact of life. Follow a few simple rules and you can use them to your advantage.