Public relations (PR) officers from insurer AXA gave the trade press and the national press different embargoes for the same story on Friday.
Embargoed is a small town in Wales, my old ex-national newspaper editor used to say, emphasising the “ed” sound at the end of the word. It looks like AXA’s PR people give the embargo about as much respect.
There has been some debate about the embargo recently and I have stood up for it. It is great for those of us working outside normal office hours when getting hold of PR and other spokespeople can be hard.
An embargoed release, and even embargoed interviews, can allow us to get stuff ready in advance, rather than chase others still in slumber in the small hours.
But trust has to work both ways.
On Friday AXA sent Insurance Times an embargoed press release about a new direct motor insurance product with a 90% no claims discount.
The email from Allyson Da-anoy, media relations executive – external relations, said: “Please note this release and supporting material are embargoed for February 1st.”
The news editor, Saxon East, put the story up timed for Monday morning, dutifully following the embargo.
When Saturday comes
The story ran in the Guardian on Saturday. The release was then made available to the rest of the press on Saturday 30th January through Headline Money, with no embargo.
Perhaps the Guardian broke the embargo forcing AXA to release it as a result. Guardian reporter Miles Brignall replied to my question on the subject with “what embargo?” He then sent through the original release. Sure enough, the embargo is for Saturday 30 January.
And the Guardian’s version:
Axa’s Da-anoy explained the thinking: “Insurance Times was given it as an exclusive ahead of the other trades. Saxon knew we expected some coverage over the weekend.
“We could have embargoed the IT release for the 30th – which is how the personal finance journalists were treated – but you would not have put it up until today anyway.”
Kevin Taylor is past president and spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the PR people’s professional body. He said: “The embargo is becoming a very clouded area these days and a number of major titles have now said they will not honour blanket embargoes.
“The only embargo many nationals will adhere to is one that is designed just for them (or maybe a select few) and is agreed to in advance – it is often simply a timing issue fixed around a background briefing.
An earlier embargo for a national compared to a trade title seems like an attempt to give the nationals an exclusive – but it is a clumsy way of doing that, and by definition mass-mailed press releases are not going to generate exclusive stories.
“In reality, a story can only ‘break’ once so there can only be one embargo.”