Altimeter Group proves the embargo is alive and well, when done right

Posted on January 6, 2012 12:39 pm by | Blogging | Media | PR

EmbargoTo hear some tell it, the press embargo is dead.

It’s not, of course. I’ve written before that the embargo, when executed correctly, is a respected and useful tool. It thrives outside of the technology world. In medicine, where major journals publish comprehensive studies, embargoes are routine.

The key requirement for an effective embargo is an agreement between the news outlet and the news provider. I routinely get emails from PR agencies containing a press release along with an embargo restriction. I am under no obligation to honor that embargo, since I didn’t agree to it in the first place. I’ve never published any of this material, in part because it’s almost always unrelated to the topics I cover (another grievous faux pas). I do, however, reply, advising what I presume to be a newcomer to the business of his mistake.

But even in the tech world, an embargo can work just fine. A case in point is the new study released yesterday by The Altimeter Group on managing social media across large enterprises. Jeremiah Owyang, the principal author of the study, included me on a list of about 15 people he invited to preview the report. Jeremiah already had an existing relationship with each of us. I had previously agreed to his embargo guidelines; certainly the others he contacted has similar relationshps with him. We were all selected, Jeremiah told me, based on the makeup of our audiences and the fact that our blogs’ focus matched the theme of the report.

In addition to the 15 of us who had not participated in the research, Jeremiah also extended the invitation to those who were interviewed or otherwise played a role in the researchh. Altimeter did not issue a press release to announce the study. “I just used email and relationships,” Jeremiah said. “It spread naturally on its own.” There was no mass distribution to a database of reporters or bloggers.

In the initial email, Jeremiah included a PDF of an early draft of the report along with highlights and a brief list of requirements for reporting the study, none of which were onerous. A follow-up email the morning the report would go live offered more specifics, including links to the report on Slideshare and links to Flickr images of charts and graphs from the report for use in posts.

Only one blogger published in advance of the embargo, later retracting the post and apologizing for the mistake. Otherwise, everyone who received the report early complied with Jeremiah’s embargo. The coverage by those to whom Jeremiah reached out led to additional reporting, including the mainstream media (like MediaPost and the Huffington Post). Marketwatch also covered the story…all based on reporting from those to whom Jeremiah reached out.

Embargoes, like anything else, need to be part of a strategy. In this case, the window between getting the early draft and the launch of the study provided time for people to absorb the information and craft their pieces. I’ve spoken to communicators in other industries who believe this window also gives bloggers and reporters time to develop an interesting angle on the story. In the Altimeter Group case, Jeremiah doesn’t see the embargo producing diversity in coverage; that, he says, is more a factor of each outlet’s audience. Traditional media, he says, rehashes the facts, while consultants and service professionals (like me) focus on the need for a strategic approach. “Lawyers discuss legal issues,” he says. “Competitors of Altimeter say it’s not relevant.”

On his own blog post, Jeremiah lists the coverage he’s found, categorizing the links by news media, domain experts, agency reviews and software vendor reviews. He doesn’t list all of the nearly 300 links produced by a query of Google Blogsearch—all of which is the result of the coordinated outreach strategy.

Clearly, embargoes aren’t dead. Only the bad ones should be.

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