Bryan Blatstein
Bryan Blatstein

Recently, some PR professionals and journalists have argued that embargoes are a tactic of the past and not relevant for the world of crazy news cycles we live in today. I would argue that they actually serve an important purpose and should be deployed as a communication tool when appropriate, as they can lead to important, in-depth coverage for your clients.

Embargoes can play an especially big role in health and science journalism, where much of the coverage is based on research studies in peer-reviewed journals, clinical trial results, data readouts or upcoming business development deals, news that’s highly complex and carefully guarded. Given the conservative nature of the pharma and biotech industry, getting the green light to go for embargoed outreach can be a challenge—but a fruitful one—as the embargo gives reporters a chance to analyze any data and interview experts or researchers that can add nuanced context and help digest any complex science before it is released to the public.

Endpoints Founder and Editor John Carroll agrees. In February, he tweeted:

“We got some good embargoes over the last couple of days. Days in advance. Plenty of time to percolate, interview. I would encourage more people to do this. If there’s really something to dive into, give it some time. Not: This breaks in 12 hours at 6am. What do you think?”

Endpoints Founder and Editor John Carroll tweet

The tried-and-true press release is still an important way to communicate news, but those go out to everyone at the same time, generating a race among reporters to beat their competition to publish. An embargo gives the added benefit of time, allowing journalists to develop richer stories without an immediate deadline.

Here are the top advantages to giving reporters an advanced look at news:

Time for more in-depth, contextualized reporting. With an embargoed release, reporters can delve into the importance of the story and develop more thorough and accurate stories. Reporters can take more time to understand the issue, research the history of the topic and talk to more sources. A typical beat reporter covers multiple companies or topics and can’t be expected to be an expert at all times, so they may appreciate the time to get up to speed.

Influential reporters can be the first to frame the story in the media. Reporters are competitive by nature and they watch what others are covering. By giving an advanced look at news to a few highly regarded and influential reporters, you can give the reporters you know and trust best the opportunity to help contextualize your news. Their early coverage signals to others that this is an important story.

Stronger relationships and trust with media. By revealing confidential information in advance, your client can help build rapport with trustworthy journalists. Embargoed offers are more likely to result in interviews, during which professional—and personal—relationships can grow. While it’s true that a good story will always get covered, relationships are still key and must be built over time.

One thing to think through before offering an embargo is whether or not your story is worthy of an embargo. You can’t offer embargoes on everything, or your embargo won’t mean much. As a tactic, an embargo is meant to help flag to reporters that a story is of high news value and/or complex. Stories that are worthy of an embargo in science journalism include:

  • Market-moving data.
  • Large business development deals.
  • Complicated science or data, especially if it hasn’t been covered recently.
  • Movement in a disease category that has been stagnant for a while.
  • Drug approval.
  • Highly anticipated data.

You also need to make sure you are abiding by the generally accepted rules of the road regarding how to offer embargoes. An embargo is an agreement that reporters won’t publish the story until an agreed upon date. Securing agreement in writing to uphold the embargo before sharing details is best practice.

Eric Savitz, associate editor at Barron’s, recently tweeted: “An embargo is a contract – I agree to hold the news until a certain time, and then I get early access, which gives me more time to plan/write the story. But if you just send me a release with the word EMBARGOED slapped on it, there is no agreement.”

Eric Savitz, associate editor at Barron’s, tweet

It’s important to be very clear about the date and time that the embargo lifts and to give the same embargo to all reporters. If for some reason the embargo time needs to change, you must be clear and upfront with all reporters. Embargoes are different than exclusives—offered to one outlet only—and everyone receiving information under embargo should have the same information.

When to offer an embargo may vary by story. If your goal is more in-depth coverage, a few hours in advance is likely not going to help. You’ll have to work with your client to understand when they will be ready to speak with media, when they will have approved materials to share as background and, depending on the story, when is the best time to start outreach.

Finally, it’s key to make sure you are offering an embargo to the right reporters. An embargo is an agreement for the media to respect your wishes regarding timing. If you’re on the media-relations side, the key—as with so many other aspects of PR—is to research and work with trustworthy reporters. There are many journalists out there who are accustomed to honoring embargoes and using the extra time to develop great content.

In health and science news, embargoed announcements can not only extend the reach of rich stories and create additional opportunities, but help form stronger relationships. Used smartly, they’re a valuable asset in the arsenal for every media relations professional.


Bryan Blatstein is Executive Vice President at Spectrum Science.