Sharing Secrets With Strangers in Startups

From the conclusion to an email I just sent an entrepreneur and incubator seeking coverage. Seems like a really cool startup and I’m not going to be mean about it this time – but I don’t think I’m being unfair to say this isn’t really how it works.

Startup emails me all the details about what they are doing and then says “oh by the way, this is embargoed until Monday.” Nice to meet you, too! 😉

Fwiw, this is the 2nd [unnamed incubator] startup in the past few weeks who has written to us and just asserted an embargo we haven’t agreed to. It would be great if this post and the post it links to was read by your people:

In short: if I don’t agree to an embargo before you give me info, then I presume you’ve reached out to others who haven’t either. That means I have a. no verbal contract to wait until the asserted embargo time and b. no reason to believe that other media outlets will wait. That means it is in my interest to write now and be first.
That’s how I understand it and I know I’m not alone.
best wishes,
Marshall Kirkpatrick

  • I think you can do that to little startups that have just begun to get coverage, but how about startups that become real companies and with more significant news,- then you all jump in and cover them at the same time, right?

  • Yes, though some competitors would jump right in if the small startup had an interesting story too. That’s if an embargo was miscommunicated. A well run embargo is a tactic used a lot by companies large and small, in my experience.

  • What is the right approach Marshall? I’m asking because sometimes I see the same story breaking everywhere, and sometimes it’s just one publisher that breaks it.

    My point is- is it not OK to ask for an embargo to multiple publishers? It seems there’s a difference between embargo and exclusivity of the embargo.

  • Hi William, Speaking from a PR/marketing practioner’s perspetive, here are my thoughts:

    1. an embargo that is done well, by definition, will mean that the news will be published by multiple outlets when the “embargo deadline” passes; hence why you may see the same story breaking everywhere.

    2. if one publisher breaks it, it’s either due to a. that publisher was given a heads up before everyone else in an exclusive or that outlet broke the embargo in order to publish first.

    3. One final possibility is the news was only of interest to that one publisher hence you see it in one place.

    When to use one over the other?
    As Marshall mentioned, some outlets may not publish your news if it has ran somewhere else. So you may want to consider an exclusive if 1. you and your client really really want to be covered by the outlet and 2. the only way to do it is by providing an exclusive.

    As for embargoes, I rarely recommend this anymore unless your news is something relevant to multiple outlets, such as an investment, new product launch, new (high-level) partnership, acquisition etc., that you then want to be publicized broadly.

    Marshall may have some additional thoughts as a journalist who receives these pitches on a daily basis.

  • Great. Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

  • I think embargoes are ridiculous and funny. I’m a long-time journalist, blogger, and editor. I get these all the time, but probably far less than Marshall. They always make me laugh.

    I don’t know you, have not one ounce of a trust relationship built with you (on most of the PR pitches I see), and you ask me to take action and only under certain terms. Who are you again? Oh, someone I don’t know. Pitching a company that might be interesting to me, but usually isn’t. Okay, I’m not trying to rant or vent my spleen…

    In the embargoes I have been part of, which are few — it was amongst a group of known colleagues and we were selected or invited into the project, so to speak. Details were shared after we all agreed.

    As always, Rock on, Marshall!