to embargo or not embargo: it’s really not a question.

By now you’ve either read Gen. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone article or heard about the fallout (and the general’s ultimate removal from his command in Afghanistan). The PR gaffes on the part of military personnel are self evident and well documented, so there’s no need to dissect any of that.

What you may or may not know, however, is Rolling Stone fell victim to fellow journalists. Prior to the issue’s release date, Rolling Stone editors forwarded advanced copies of the article to news sites to promote the provocative story. They did so under an embargo. For those unaware, to ’embargo’ a news release means the media receives all the details of a big announcement before the announcement actually happens. Typically, an embargoed release will say, for example: EMBARGOED UNTIL [ENTER DATE HERE].

But here’s the rub: the media don’t always pay attention to that detail. And in the case of Rolling Stone and its huge scoop, the media ignored the embargo, printing many of the details on their own sites before Rolling Stone published it on its own website.

Did it steal Rolling Stone’s thunder? I suppose that depends upon whom you ask. Overall, I’d say no. I’m sure sales of this issue will be brisk. And all credit goes back to Rolling Stone for breaking the story.

But let this be a teachable moment for all you young PR practitioners: Use the embargo wisely! In fact, I’m a big fan of not using it at all. In a day and age when releases can be tweeted in mere seconds, there’s really no point to advance too many details of a big story to the media.

I, myself, have been burned by the media when they ignored an embargoed news release I sent out. I spent an entire day on damage control, thanks to an editor who chose to ignore it. Was it his fault? No. It was my fault. And if you suffer the same fate as me, it’ll be your fault.

Don’t take the chance that a reporter or editor will honor your embargo. Tell them to follow your tweets for the details.


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