Few PR related topics get more “love” than the ever-controversial, ever-confusing, ever-take-it-or-maybe-leave-it embargo.
That’s right, the word whose original meaning was a “partial or complete prohibition of commerce and trade with a particular country” was [for some reason] adopted by the PR industry as a tactical approach to breaking a news story. God forbid we choose words like “plant” or “sprinkle” as in: “I’m going to ‘plant’ this news around to a few journalists and then ask them to ‘sprinkle’ it out on ‘X’ date.”
Ahhh, so nice. Friendly, really.
But noooooo. In order to have the most impact the industry really went for the jugular.
Much like the hostility a government-mandated embargo elicits from oh say, a country like Cuba, some journalists likewise have this reaction.
As goes the PR industry…others don’t have this reaction. In fact, in a completely unofficial poll conducted by yours truly, roughly 8.3 journalists (ranging from top-tier media to niche industry publications) were split 50/50 on the topic.
This week, as a follow-on to last week’s “5 don’ts of PR”, Tech Reporter X is back. And let me just preface this by saying he hates with a capital “H” embargoes. I have to admit that some of his points were confusing to me, so I turned to my former colleague (she and I started a tech PR firm together years ago) Kristen Tischhauser, to provide her feedback on his responses.
After all, true journalism requires an equally balanced opinion.
His responses to my question “ok, well, what are PR folks to do INSTEAD of embargoes” were as follows. Kristen’s responses to his responses are below each bullet. This is like “PR Inception” so get ready:
Tech Reporter X: Because I genuinely care about this, I’m going to give you my relatively well thought out answers. Yes, I’ve though a sh*tload about this over the years. The most basic options to embargoes are:
#1 – Just put out the press release and inform reporters a few hours or a day or whatever in advance that you’ll be putting out news without telling them what it is. That way people who really care about the company will pay attention and the rest will ignore it. Yes, you might get less coverage. But you don’t have to worry about embargoes getting broken, which they almost always do, and so what if you don’t get picked up by TechCrunch AND Venturebeat AND AND Pando…AND AND…
Kristen Tischhauser: This approach will appear lazy to clients and most reporters I’ve worked with. Often times they have enough knowledge to ask us to embargo the news…so it’s always a balancing act. I could never say to a client “hey, we might get less coverage, who cares.” They may freak out. And this advice wouldn’t be relevant to an unknown startup that is just getting its feet wet with the media, because most journalists don’t know who they are yet. Early on it’s about getting clients in front of the right media and sometimes embargoes are the best way to do this.
TRX: #2 – Give someone an exclusive. This takes work, but get to know reporters and know who would most want an exclusive on the particular story and who would put in the most amount of care. Yes, you will piss other reporters off, but then go to a different reporter with the next exclusive. Spread the wealth. Or you’ll find out that nobody cared, which is often the reaction. Remember that good tech reporters are never sitting on their hands waiting for sh*t, they’re always working on multiple stories, so understand that your story may not register.
KT: I agree with this. What journalist wouldn’t want an exclusive if the news is compelling, disruptive, groundbreaking, etc.? There are also creative ways to go about garnering multiple placements after pushing out the exclusive. For example, switch it up – after the exclusive goes live, contact other media outlets in other relevant verticals and offer them a different “exclusive tidbit” that wasn’t offered to the outlet that initially broke the story. This way everyone’s happy – they’re getting a different angle and different information to include in their story and the news won’t be stale.
TRX: #3 – Figure out what the bigger story is, the bigger theme and pitch a couple reporters with an idea about that bigger theme and how this company can talk about it and has significant news tied to it. Find out who bites. And if you get a bite, encourage the company to give the reporter the scoop. In other words, have the company go into the call knowing they’re going to give away the scoop and make the reporter feel like he/she has earned it by drawing it out. It works. Then you can ask them to hold it for a half day or whatever so you can prepare for whatever pr response you’ll need. And that response can be one paragraph you send to anyone else who asks. And right there, you’ve saved yourself from writing a press release.
KT: Um, exactly. He hit the nail on the head.
TRX: #4 – If it’s REALLY big news, don’t do anything. Just put out the release. Be prepared for the possibility that it gets leaked ahead of time and be ready for those calls. If a reporter or two nails it, congratulate them and let them go with it. You can do this with subtlety so you don’t get in trouble. It’s called ‘the nod.’
KT: This simply isn’t relevant for startups. It could (potentially) work for well established tech companies such as a Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. In other words, this is a publicist’s perfect dream to not have to send out 250 individual pitches and actually have journalists come to you for the story/interviews. But, it’s a luxury and not realistic unless you’re representing one of the “Big 5” (in the tech industry) or are riding a news wave of a company that happens to be generating a lot of interest for whatever reason.
TRX: #5 – Write a clever blog post. And then get everyone in the company to tweet it simultaneously. If it’s any good, you’ll get much more interesting coverage.
KT: Traditional media coverage is definitely shifting towards content marketing. Great content (thought leadership pieces) created by a company is now somewhat of a golden ticket for journalists. Another idea: instead of posting the piece immediately on your blog, shop it around to a media outlet as an exclusive. Once the exclusive hits, you can post to your blog and share the content across the company’s social networks.
TRX: The big takeaway is — understand that no good reporter likes writing from a press release. It’s boring, it’s commodity and it’s generally a waste of time. We’d ALL RATHER BE DOING SOMETHING ELSE. So let’s do something else.
KT: My big takeaway: not all journalists like receiving story ideas the same way as their colleagues. Get to know who you’re pitching and find out what they prefer. Bottom line: show how your client is solving a huge problem and why, how their product or service is different from competitors, how its disruptive, and make sure to connect the dots with bigger picture news.
My BIG takeaway: if you trust your PR pro they will know what is best. This industry is as much about relationships as it is results. Embargoes are yet another shining example of the “no silver bullet” PR philosophy.
It doesn’t have to be as dire as “black box,” but it may be partly cloudy with a 20% chance of rain most of the time. There is no perfect answer. Nothing is guaranteed. If you’re looking for that with PR, shop elsewhere. PR outcomes exist on a continuum. You have to buy in to the whole package – and when it’s good…it’s REALLY good.
About Tech Reporter X
He’s really important and smart to boot. He’s also worked with the same organization for over a decade. #truejournalist. #inittowinit.
About Kristen Tischhauser
Kristen is the co-founder and managing partner of talkTECH Communications, specializing in the lifestyle and technology arenas. Under her direction, the firm has developed into one of fastest-growing U.S. PR firms for early stage tech startups. As co-founder of talkTECH, Kristen has facilitated top tier media coverage in numerous print and digital publications including Inc., Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, The Next Web, Fast Company, Mashable, TechCrunch, GigaOM, WSJ, Gizmodo, PandoDaily, TIME, Los Angeles Times, and Los Angeles Business Journal.
Prior to talkTECH, Kristen was the Director at a lifestyle boutique agency in Chicago, where she managed a variety of noteworthy clients and high profile events such as Victoriaʼs Secret, Yogen Früz, Chef Radhika Desai (BRAVO TVʼs Top Chef: New York), StarChefʼs Rising Stars Gala, Christian Sirianoʼs Love Games Fashion Show, AKIRA, Mandy Mooreʼs Gain Challenge Concert, and VenusZine. Kristen graduated with a B.A. in Public Corporate Communications from Butler University and is involved with organizations such as Girls in Tech, Public Relations Society of America (Los Angeles chapter), and has taught at General Assembly LA and Coloft Academy. She is also an Advisor to Bfore.me and a founding board member of the Stimulus Social Club, an organization that allocates charitable contributions to local non-profits through monthly events. Recently, Kristen was honored with a Los Angeles Business Journal “Women Making a Difference” award. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.