11/13/2012  |  Posted By:

If anything highlights just how tricky embargoes can be, it’s yesterday’s disclosure by the executive editor of Reuters Health (Ivan Oransky, who is also the blogger behind Embargo Watch). The news service accidentally broke an embargo by the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) by mistakenly posting at what they expected was JCO’s regular embargo time, 4:00 p.m. ET on Monday. However, because of the Veterans Day holiday, JCO had shifted the embargo date to Tuesday.

As long time readers of Embargo Watch, we have great respect for Ivan and were glad to see how well he communicated about what went wrong. Clearly, embargoes can have pitfalls. And the reality is, even the most experienced outlets operating with the best of intentions can get tripped up.

Embargoes were created to give reporters an even playing field and give them time to be thoughtful around reporting on complex stories, particularly in the health and medical realm. But when embargoes mistakenly break in advance or other issues arise - as they frequently do - how do we effectively navigate the environment? 

Here are some tips to keep in mind to help ensure an embargo strategy works effectively:

  • Reserve your embargo for serious, time-sensitive, data-driven news stories. Sending out a list of the top five tips for choosing a doctor will grab consumer attention, but it isn’t the right situation for using an embargo.
  • Don’t carpet bomb your full media list with an embargoed report and expect all the reporters to honor the timeline. 
  • Have a conversation, explain the policy and reach a mutual understanding that the news will be released at the agreed-upon time. An embargo agreement is not unlike a contract; it needs to be entered into by two parties. With nothing to enforce, you can’t expect that the other party will uphold the deal.  
  • Know what to do if the embargo is broken. It’s important to be ready to communicate with other journalists working on the story to let them know the situation. Open communication is key.  
  • Ensure everyone in your organization is aware of the strategy. It’s possible to break your own embargo by accidentally publishing the information on your website before it lifts or sharing it externally in other ways. Make sure anyone with access to the information is clued in on the outreach strategy and agrees to keep the news internal until the date and time of the public unveiling.  
  • Engage communications experts early in the process of submitting research to a peer-reviewed journal. Particularly when working with peer-review journals, rules can be varied and even a little complex. Good public relations counsel can help ensure compliance with the journal’s embargo policy and provide key insights so you don’t miss opportunities to connect with reporters. 

At JPA, we work daily to build and nurture strong relationships with health reporters across the country. Let us know if we can help support the embargoed release of your next report or survey.