From Onboardly’s StartupPR FAQ’s file this week comes an interesting question on embargoes and exclusives.
“We’re getting ready to (re)launch our product – it’s big news – should we plan to execute on an embargo or just offer the exclusive to TechCrunch?”
It’s an interesting question. Hell, I’ve even asked it myself.
But before we come to a consensus on the answer to that question – let’s take a quick dive into each and get on the same page about the advantages & disadvantages of each.
Ready? OK. Let’s go.
The Embargo – What is it?
In plain english, an embargo gives a journalist access to all of the information needed to cover your startup in advance – but asks them to wait to publish until a certain date/time or until certain conditions have been met.
The tech journalist’s perspective is often two sided; it can either appear like you’re giving them “advance notice” (welcomed in the case of many mid-to-large startups) – or – it can be interpreted as juvenile or unnecessary, like a plan to coordinate efforts around getting as much press as possible in a short period of time.
From the startup’s perspective – it’s both.
It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to maximize your press exposure on launch day – but remember to do a little soul searching during the planning phase to determine whether or not your news is really ‘embargo worthy’ or if a well-executed exclusive would do the trick.
Here’s when an embargo makes the most sense:
Time sensitivities. Is the announcement dependant on another bit of news? For example, I once had a NFC-based product announcement ready to go – just waiting to see if the iPhone 5 would have NFC enabled. It did not. Thanks to Apple’s decision (boo! hiss!) that news didn’t ever make the press.
Top secret details not to be released until last minute. The best example I have for this one is funding announcements, which should only be announced once the ink is dry and often will happen in conjunction with corresponding news from your major investors or funds. One startup we represent has a “big deal” investor. We were allowed to use his name in our pitches, but as a trade off we had to work around his schedule. As a result, that affected our decision to pick an announcement date and stick to it.
- When you’re well-known. At the risk of making this sound like a popularity contest, an embargo is much easier to pull off if your company or founding team is well-known to the media and the industry. We’ve worked with many hyper-connected founders and an equal amount of up-and-comers. What I can say for certain is that it’s easier to ask a journalist to respect an embargo for someone they know.
How to ask a journalist to respect an embargo:
Give the journalists a taste of the story you’re pitching, without spilling the beans, in a tight email making sure to touch upon why it meets the above-mentioned criteria. Then, ask them to confirm that they’ll respect the embargo via email.
Always include the embargo date and time in the subject line of your correspondance, at the top of your email thread and on any press materials you send, like a media release or fact sheet. As far as timing is concerned, I like choosing 9am PST (SF-focused) for tech news and 9am EST (NYC-focused) for business/financial news.
Not To Be Confused With Exclusive
Again to use people terms, an exclusive is when you offer one sole media outlet the exclusive opportunity to cover your startup before anyone else.
This can also extend to sharing Slideshare presentation, infographics or other forms of research you’ve conducted that might be newsworthy or valuable to the mass media.
Exclusives are gaining in popularity as time-strapped startups are learning that one or two key relationships with the media can be exponentially more valuable that a lengthy media contact list. They’re making friends with with hyper-targeted journalists and it’s paying off.
Usually, exclusive stories are told with more enthusiasm and are injected with more opinion and personality because they show a signal of respect to the journalist; that they’re not just a number or a play for as many pageviews as possible.
There are two great reasons to consider an exclusive:
1) Your product takes some explaining or trial to fully appreciate and understand. A startup’s ‘big idea’ can often get lost in translation during an embargo-style launch, because the assumption can be made that other media outlets will be covering concurrently. As a result, you may not get as much time with a journalist as you’d like.
2) You’re genuinely looking to build a long-term relationship. Let’s call a spade a spade . It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to execute a “massive launch” for your startup with a coordinated PR effort that sees multiple publications covering you all at once. That said, don’t forget that one well-timed exclusive can lead to multiple after-the-fact pickups from other outlets.
How to give a journalist the exclusive:
Do your research to find out who the precise journalist is that’s best to tell your story, and then have a backup in case they’re swamped, on vacation or just not interested. Get to know them using social media and keep tabs on their work. (Need help? Follow our steps for making friends before you need them.)
When you’re ready to reach out, send a short but personal email with a hint of the news and your request that they consider accepting the exclusive. Use the word exclusive in the subject line of your correspondance so that they understand it’s a personal outreach.
Want to improve your response rate? Use their name in the subject line as well (feels personal) and make sure to time it for when you know they’re online & on the clock – i.e.: if they tweeted 5 minutes ago, now’s a good time.
So Which Witch is Which?
As a general rule, I’d say that journalists appreciate exclusives more and that they have longterm benefit. They give you time to build a strong relationship that will carry forward. But, it does put all of your eggs in one basket and that does run the risk of biting you in the ass, should they get busy or lose interest.
That said, embargoes serve their purpose (as outlined above) and can be necessary and extremely important under the right set of conditions.
Which do you think has more merit? Has your startup successfully launched using either of these techniques? I’d love to hear your thoughts on which is more effective.