May 19, 2008

Restoring sanity to technology news embargoes

Technology news embargoes are a mess.

Basically, a custom that worked fairly well in the age of heavily staffed weekly and monthly print media has not been adapted well to the up-to-the-minute, fragmented online age.  Here’s what I propose to at least partially fix things.

  1. Abolish indefinite embargoes; all embargoes should have a date (and time) certain. Effective immediately, I’m going to insist on that one. I will no longer agree to embargoes that last “Until we get the press release out, which we estimate will be two weeks from Monday some time in the morning.” I’m not willing to hover over Google News all morning to see whether you finally got your press release out. If you notify me of a delay by the night before, I’ll probably be able to accommodate you. But if you release the news early and I’m still stuck in embargo, I’m going to be mightily angry.
  2. If anybody breaks the embargo, it’s completely off. That’s another new rule for briefing me — if anybody breaks the embargo and I see it, I’m publishing too. If you can’t live with that, don’t brief me.  I’m not obsessed with racing other bloggers to get news out — but nor am I willing to passively bring up the rear just because some vendor asked me to hamstring myself.
  3. Be clear about what is and isn’t confidential-indefinitely, confidential-until-embargo-end, or public information. Mark Logic just briefed me today and left hard copy of the slides behind. Certain pages had red stop-sign icons with “NDA” on them. That’s the way to do it. Too many presenters just put a fine-print footer saying “Confidential” on every page, not excepting the one that simply gives the name and logo of their company.

Let me hasten to point out that you shouldn’t just follow these rules with me; you should follow them with everybody. Professional journalists can write acceptably-styled news reports in tight, predetermined time frames. Analysts and bloggers, however, may not have that skill. If you want the best, most detailed, and friendliest coverage, you should encourage people to write in whichever way they most feel comfortable, rather than trying to confine and manipulate them into specific confines whose benefit to you is anyway unclear at best.

Here’s another reason to follow my advice: If you set up a burdensome embargo that’s then broken, you’re in a mess. Indeed, you have little recourse other than to yell at whoever broke it — and almost by definition, that will be one of the most enthusiastic people covering you. Congratulations; you just pissed off one of your biggest supporters. I hope I don’t have to tell you that that’s not a good outcome.


13 Responses to “Restoring sanity to technology news embargoes”

  1. Jonathan Eunice on May 20th, 2008 9:32 am


    I was at an event recently where they said “everything’s confidential.” Huh? Your CEO just said what your revenues were last quarter–you know, the stuff that’s public by law, reported to the SEC, broadcast everywhere. Oh…well you can say that, but everything else is confidential! Sigh.

    This isn’t some odd duck–it’s the event equivalent of those slide decks that have CONFIDENTIAL on every page, regardless of how sensitive the information really is. Lazy. And controlling.

  2. DBMS2 — DataBase Management System Services » Blog Archive » Netezza has an EMC deal too on May 20th, 2008 11:23 am

    […] As per my new policy regarding embargoes, I scheduled this to appear Tuesday morning, May 20, at 8:45 am.  It didn’t work, and […]

  3. How to pitch me | Strategic Messaging on July 8th, 2008 5:34 pm

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