Die, Embargo, Die! Die! Die!

InkHouse PR hosted a fascinating online discussion on Wednesday about the fate of the embargo. Hosted by Beth Monaghan, it included insights from Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick, Xconomy's Wade Roush, the Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner and USA Today's Jon Swartz.

If I were to sum up the whole discussion in a phrase it would come down to this: size matters. I'll get back to that.

The most interesting tidbit, however, was throw-away line from all four reporters that they don't bother with the press release wires. One reporter said he hadn't looked at BusinessWire or PR Newswire in about seven years. Wade noted that he sometimes uses it for archive purposes.

Even Beth seemed surprised at that answer. Of course, this is a long way from saying that the press release is dead. Kirsner, for example, still runs them on his "Read Scott's Email" page (though, obviously just a selection of those he receives) and reporters routinely ask me for them.

In fact, all four reporters noted that Twitter has become their news feed. Something reinforced just a short time later when Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter (with an associated video). Sorry ESPN, Shaq doesn't need your audience.

Twitter being a primary news feed for reporters is, on some level, a "no duh" moment. It is, in fact, pretty awesome and shows the power of Twitter both as a medium unto itself as well as its influence over "mainstream media." While Twitter is certainly not nearly as popular as Facebook, it is certainly influential. But that also leads to a number of concerns:

  1. Twitter has a high signal-to-noise ratio -- Filtering Twitter to find the good stuff is a major hassle. Personally, I use Twitter lists (both public and private) to select information I want to find. I know that popular stuff rises to the top, but quite often I'll look at an individual's feed and find that I missed something interesting that happened weeks ago. How do reporters filter? What does this mean for their reporting?
  2. Reporters can easily insulate themselves from information -- They can limit themselves to the people they follow as well as a few search terms. That's not everyone. Also, as mentioned above, Twitter is just a subset of a much larger population. Is it truly representative? In the tech world, maybe, but the broader world?
  3. Twitter has a "blink and you missed it" issue -- information on Twitter rots very fast. My main feed scrolls by so fast to render it useless.

Still, it's the reality. A while back Bianca Bosker, tech editor at the Huffington Post, told me that she has two monitors on her desk: one is email, web browser and everything she needs for her job; the other runs Tweetdeck all day. Do the math, the power of being in her news feed and therefore winding up in one of her posts will pay off huge dividends in traffic.

As a related note, Kirkpatrick noted that the best way to get on his radar is to send him your RSS feed so he can follow it. He follows a massive number of blogs, but if being in front of the top editor at a top publication is important, then you need to keep your feed filled with information as to show up on his radar.

But what about the embargo? Well, Kirkpatrick loves them noting that it helps level the playing field so he has time to do his own reporting. As a smaller organization this is important to him, allowing him to compete with much larger and more well-funded organizations, like TechCrunch. The other reporters tended to take a much dimmer view of embargoes, Roush won't bother with them at all and Swartz prefers not to deal with them either, but Kirsner admitted that he'd take them if the news was big enough.

Frankly, that came up a few times. If the news is big enough, or the company issuing it is big enough, the "no embargo" policy flies out the window. It was mentioned that even TechCrunch would take an embargo from those companies and simply break it 15 minutes early, just because they can.

So, in this sense, size matters. When the PR team has the power they'll use it (and get their way), when the journalist has the power they'll use it to avoid taking the embargo. The topic of offering exclusives came up as an alternative, but all the reporters were uncomfortable with that, saying it makes them feel as if they're being controlled by the PR machine.

My take on all this remains the same. Most of my clients are smaller and tend to be more concerned about getting coverage than about timing it. So while we would bring news out to reporters and prebrief them, I'd rarely put them under embargo. Of course, sometimes the client wants the assurance, so you do it. But I believe the news must be big enough to warrant it, and that's a judgement call.

So what does this all mean? Well, a few things:

  1. A news release isn't enough -- You need a content plan to make things work. Yes, a news release can help (and still does drive SEO as well as some coverage from vertical publications) but if your goal is bigger coverage you need more.
  2. Build relationships -- This goes for all influencers, online and off. Reporters are part of the influence chain.
  3. Integrate content -- Your blog is your friend. Your Twitter feed is your friend. Use them, build them.
  4. Finally: if you have real news by all means put it out. Reporters are smart, they know when it's something real and when it isn't.... mostly.

With apologies to Tom Foremski.

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