American media will accept journalists sharing information with them under embargo, but there are unwritten rules in place and those rules are not always the same as they are in Europe.
Companies share information under embargo with the media when they want to communicate to the media but insist on controlling the time at which the information is used in a media report.
One scenario in which news is shared under embargo with the media is when companies offer a scoop (the right to “break” the news) to a specific media outlet and offer the press release under embargo ahead of time in order to give the journalist ample time for researching the topic and interviewing a spokesperson.
Another scenario is that instead of one single outlet receiving a scoop, a selection of media are offered access to the release ahead of time. This approach is sometimes called a “pre-briefing” approach.
[I am leaving out of the equation the scenario in which you offer a scoop to one single outlet and then still pre-brief others who are only allowed to publish after the first outlet has broken the news – this approach is less than generous towards the outlets who do not receive the scoop, and is thus generally not recommended.]
No embargo without permission
Proper etiquette on the American media market demands that journalist are first asked whether they care to receive the embargoed news before any information is actually shared with them under embargo. In other words, on the American market, it is not acceptable to send a press release (or any other information) to a journalist with an embargo mention stamped on it, and expect that everybody will just play along.
Securing information under embargo
For very sensitive information, it is not only commendable to ask if there is an interest to receive information under embargo, but it is also recommended to secure the information by making it impossible for anything in the initial email to serve as the foundation for a media report. Let me clarify this by juxtaposing two scenarios.
Scenario 1: You send an email to an editor along the lines of the following: “United Truck Builders will be building a new factory and will hire 500 people within the next two years. A total of $200,000,000 will be invested in the new factory. Would you be interested in a pre-briefing which includes access to the embargoed release? Our official announcement goes out in three days.”
Scenario 2: “United Truck Builders has important news on a new investment, including a significant amount of hires in the next two years. An official announcement goes out in three days – would you care to be pre-briefed?”
In which of these two scenarios is there any chance that there is a leak and the journalist gets to work with the information? Clearly, scenario 2 offers the most protection.The bigger the news, the more need to secure the information.
Know America’s time zones
Amazingly, many European companies who pitch American media do not master the American time zones. When you share an embargoed press release with a freelance journalist who is based in Denver (Mountain Time) and works for an outlet that is headquartered in New York City (Eastern Time) you will have to be very precise about when exactly the news can be published.
“05:00 PM” is not a useful time indication for anyone working in the American media if no time zone is added. The American times zones are Pacific Time (PT), Mountain Time (MT), Central Time (CT) and Eastern Time (ET). A professional approach to offering and managing embargoes will always involve mentioning the timezone that is applicable to the time referenced (for example: “under embargo – free from 10:00 AM CT) in both the body of the email and on all the press materials.
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