Last week Scott Kirsner, the Innovation Economy columnist and blogger for the Boston Globe, Ross Levanto, SVP at Schwartz Communications, and I sat down to discuss embargoes, exclusives, TechCrunch, social media, entrepreneurs doing their own PR, and other “under the covers” issues related to PR and the media.
This is the first of four posts that will come out of that conversation. We started with the hotly debated embargo issue, which has received more than its fair share of attention over the past few years in the wake of high-profile policies against embargoes such as Michael Arrington’s back in 2008. This summer we blogged about the issue when a major news daily “accidentally” broke a story on a piece of client news.
Scott posted his perspective in June where he included advice for how he handles embargoes (he is rarely interested) and outlined what he is interested in covering: “On the blog, I'm mainly focusing on trying to cover company formations, financings, important product launches, big-name new hires (and firings), shut-downs, and the like first.”
Embargoes and exclusives are designed to foster more in-depth stories. If we, as PR people, offer a reporter or blogger a story a few days in advance, he or she has time to do interviews, check their own sources and demo new products before the official press release hits the wires. This all sounds like a great idea – and it usually is – until one side of the agreement breaks down. Following is a recap of our conversation on the topic (edited for brevity and clarity), as well as actual audio clips.
Ross: The embargo is the biggest “gentlemen’s handshake” in the media relations business…It basically says that “I have news that I think you’ll be interested in, but because there is a group of individuals who might be interested, I am asking you to hold it until a specific date.” From a public relations standpoint, it’s primarily meant to be a tool that gives fair access to a large number of reporters.
Scott: Do you find some people saying I don’t want the story if 28 others people are also going to have it Monday at 9 a.m.?
Beth: Yes, we do. We find some outlets that just don’t do embargoes anymore. They want it exclusively or they just want the press release when it goes over the wire.
Ross: I personally have not had reporters who have said, “I’m not going to cover it because a lot of other people are covering it.” I would say that the PR side of the handshake, for which there is abuse, is that we have to be realistic about the stories that are legitimately newsworthy, and not use the embargo as a tool to make something seem more important than it is.
Scott: I have not said, “No, I don’t do anything under embargo.” But I do want to know who else is going to be covering it. Is that a fair question?... My resources are very limited and I don’t necessarily want to cover something if 58 other people are going to be covering it. I’d rather tweet the link.
Beth: Yes, it’s a very fair question…The challenge is whether you do or not do an embargo. We think about who is the audience for this news? And which publications or blogs will be interested? Does it make sense to give it exclusively to say, TechCrunch, who officially does not honor embargoes, although some of their bloggers do? Or do we want to go wide with it because we think it is a big enough story that everyone will cover it?
Click to hear more from our conversation about embargoes:
Ross: Outside of the embargo debate, I try to avoid exclusives. There is tremendous value of a pitch that is targeted.
Scott: Wouldn’t you do an exclusive if there’s some new company that has a brain implant that can help you win at poker. You would go to Wired and say this is an awesome Wired cover story and we want to give it to you as an exclusive.
Ross: Just to play devil’s advocate. Let’s say there was a story like that and I made the recommendation to go after a competitor to you. There’s the risk that you, deservedly so, would be upset at the PR firm for offering the exclusive to your competitor. We run into this all of the time.
Beth: There are two kinds of exclusives. It comes down to the outlets that will do more thoughtful, thorough reporting and the ones that are strictly news driven. There’s a purpose for both.
Scott: Are you different from Ross – do you feel differently about exclusives?
Beth: For startups, exclusives can be good tools because they give you the opportunity to work with one outlet on a more thoughtful piece. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have a financing announcement that is a significant round, you’ll probably get pretty good coverage on it, so we would not do an exclusive in that case.
Scott: I’d advise that if you’re in the sub-$10 million range of financing, you might want to do an exclusive then because the Wall Street Journal is not going to cover that. You might want to say to a particular blog in your industry that you want them to have the exclusive.
Blaze Software, which is a recent Common Angels deal with guys who had been at Watchfire and IBM, was an interesting story for me to have exclusively even though it was $1.1 million in financing. There was a cool story about what always happens who someone gets acquired, which is “for my next trick, here’s what I’m going to do.”
Click to hear more from our conversation about exclusives:
Scott: What do you do if a reporter breaks an embargo? Is there ever any reciprocity? Is there an angry phone call?
Beth: It hasn’t happened a ton, but most of the time it has been a mistake….We’ve frequently been able to get it taken it down, but if we can’t, we’ll call every other reporter who honored the embargo and tell them to go ahead and post. It’s awful though. It’s awful for us; it’s awful for you.
Ross: I would love to know what the impact of that [broken embargo] really is. Today, we’re hyper-cognizant of time, to the second. But what would be the long-term impact if a story went out 20 or 30 minutes before someone else’s?
Scott: The long-term impact is nothing except that your report card improves with the more stories you have first.
Click to hear more from our conversation about broken embargoes:
Later in our conversation, we talked about a related topic to the exclusive issue. Frequently, Scott will take time to meet with an entrepreneur with the assumption that he is the only one getting the scoop on whatever it is they have to tell him. It’s the same concept as an exclusive, with much looser parameters. Scott equates it to the “boyfriend/girlfriend issue.” He said, “I’d like to know who else you are dating, or who you were out with last night.” Since he does fairly in-depth pieces, it is a waste of his time if he spends a few hours with a CEO only to go back to the office and see a story from another outlet on the exact same topic. He added, “That’s almost never done by PR agencies, and more by entrepreneurs who just think they’re being clever.”
Next week, come back for the next installment where we will discuss the fantasy of many entrepreneurs to be covered by TechCrunch and how to properly target the right reporters and media outlets.