The Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching News Under Embargo

Posted by on May 9th, 2016

Every now and then, PR professionals get the opportunity to pitch a really big piece of news to media on behalf of clients. This can be exciting, time-consuming and nerve-wracking all at once since this particular kind of news is often the result of months, or sometimes even years, of hard work on the client side. As a result, you want to communicate the depth of that work through telling a meaningful, cohesive story to media that is both relevant and timely.

If the news is warranted, PR professionals may choose to pitch the story “under embargo,” meaning that they share the news with a handful of select reporters ahead of time to give them a sneak peek of the announcement before anyone else. In this way, journalists are given extra time to review the material and do a deeper dive into the subject matter. In return, the reporters agree to hold off on publishing the news until a certain date and time, when the “embargo is lifted.”

While pitching news under embargo is a common tactic that PR professionals use when the story is noteworthy enough, there are some important do’s and don’ts that go along with this to ensure that the process moves smoothly for both reporters and clients, as well as results in the best possible coverage and analysis.

  • DO get the facts right ahead of time. Know your client’s news inside and out before getting on the phone with a reporter. Make sure that you have all of the necessary materials beforehand (i.e. press releases, abstracts, etc.), and proof them to make sure that there are no typos, misspellings or any other kinds of inaccuracies. Know your spokesperson’s schedule and do media training in advance, as well, so that if and when reporters want to conduct interviews, that spokesperson is prepped and ready to go.
  • DO practice transparency when communicating with different reporters at the same outlet. If you share news under embargo with one reporter but haven’t heard back from him or her yet, give the reporter a reasonable amount of time to respond before going to another journalist at the same outlet – and let the first reporter know what you are planning to do. Reporters are often buried under deadlines and may not have had a chance to review the material; if they don’t immediately respond to you, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t interested.
  • DO manage your client’s expectations. Just because a reporter has agreed to review the news under embargo, this doesn’t automatically mean that he or she is going to write a story. Some reporters might even conduct several interviews with your client and still decide against writing for one reason or another. Make sure that your client understands this in advance so that he or she knows what to expect.
  • DON’T confuse pitching under embargo with pitching an exclusive. Contrary to pitching under embargo, when you pitch an exclusive, you are choosing ONE reporter to share the news with ahead of time. That reporter gets to break the news before anyone else, so it’s essential that PR professionals do their research to make sure that they select the right reporter to offer an exclusive to if they choose to go down that path.
  • DON’T just assume that a reporter accepts the terms of an embargo. Make sure that reporters agree to honor the embargo before you share the news. It’s not enough to simply send over the news to reporters via email and say in the message that the news is under embargo. Having a conversation with reporters allows you to make sure that they are on the same page as you when it comes to breaking the news at the desired time.
  • DON’T pitch under embargo without doing your homework. Like with all pitches, it’s vital to research different outlets and reporters to make sure that you are choosing the right journalists for that particular story. If you’re sharing news under embargo with a specific reporter, that news should be directly relevant to that reporter’s beat. As we live in a world with a 24/7 news cycle, failing to do this could result in a colossal waste of time for both your client and the reporter.