Guest Post by Andrew Stein
As someone that pays my rent through my work as a so-called “PR flack,” I found Michael Arrington’s recent post on TechCrunch to be rather interesting. In his “Death to the Embargo” statement, Arrington proclaims that TechCrunch, one of the world’s most influential tech blogs, will no longer honor any sort of embargo or NDAs.
The blog’s new policy is, and I quote, “From now our new policy is to break every embargo. We’ll happily agree to whatever you ask of us, and then we’ll just do whatever we feel like right after that.”
I have worked with a few different clients where we offer news under embargo and the thought alone of explaining why their international product announcement date was blown by someone we OK’d makes me nauseous. However, I don’t completely disagree with Arrington’s frustration. I understand his sentiment that tech companies are desperate for coverage and some PR firms now offer pre-briefs as easily as the guys handing out strip club cards on Las Vegas Boulevard. By offering a “special” embargo to every TechJoeBlog.com, it cheapens the news. It also greatly increases the risk that TechJoeBlog.com will jump the gun in order to be first and create a name for itself. I get that, and couldn’t agree more that we as “PR flacks” need to do our jobs intelligently and strategically.
However, the idea that TechCrunch will now agree to a NDA, all-the-while knowing they are not going to keep it, is dishonest. And yes, shame on us for reading this post and thinking our agreement will be held. We have been warned. But for a blog that strives to be considered a respected editorial outlet, there needs to be some level of trust. PR firms are not going away and, while some may be irresponsible in their jobs, a large percentage of us represent our clients the right way. Blogs such as TechCrunch need our help, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Embargos are meant to be issued as a win-win for both sides. In my experience (can’t speak for all), we identify certain, top-tier reporters and bloggers that we deem as the major influencers, and offer them a head start on the news to provide time to set up their story and perhaps gain an inside perspective. The win for the client is improved relationships and visibility with important media outlets in hopes of placing positive coverage.
By sticking to this policy, I believe TechCrunch will eventually be hurting itself. Important technology companies that TechCrunch readers expect to read about will decide not to offer news in advance due to this “guarantee” of a blown NDA. Arrington states that a major reason for this policy is that sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize based on what site broke the news first, which has led to others jumping the gun. However, by scaring companies away from offering pre-briefs, this is exactly what will happen. The TechCrunch editors will obtain news at the same time its competitors are already posting their stories.
A double-edged sword? Maybe. I’m not in Arrington’s shoes to know how much PR spam email he gets. Again, I agree with Arrington that some in the PR industry have acted unprofessionally and lazily in the way they perform their jobs and they deserve to be called out and blasted. However, I do know there are PR pros that look to build relationships with influential outlets like TechCrunch (which can be a lot easier said than done) and I don’t appreciate how he blankets the entire industry due to the actions of a few. It’s true in any industry, not just PR, that some people are just not good at their jobs, and I don’t believe insulting the whole lot is the way to go about it. When it comes to this “I lie, but I told you so” mentality, I think it’s childish and there’s got to be a better alternative.