Bloggers and Embargos — Like Oil and Water

18 11 2008

mb-headshot3Perhaps this has happened to you. A client has had perhaps a hundred journalists (in the US and abroad) sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent the media from reporting a story in advance of the official launch date. In exchange for signing the NDA, the reporters got more access to privileged information in advance about the upcoming news (images, interviews with key company parties, press releases, PowerPoint, etc.).


Then, your worst nightmare becomes reality. One of those reporters, misreading the embargo date, publishes the story online in advance of the embargo date. Your client calls you as soon as the Google Alert hits his BlackBerry and being a PR professional you follow up with the unfortunate reporter and ask her to take the news off the site. The reporter explains that she feels horrible about the mistake – it was the web team who mistakenly posted the news – and she takes immediate action to take it down. “Phew!” you say to yourself. “I was able to save the day. Now hopefully no one saw the leaked news.”


Yeah, right. In our online world, the spread of news moves faster than a California wildfire. In that brief hosting of leaked news online, other news sites that monitor for your client were also alerted, and then moved swiftly to grab that content and post it on their own sites. After all, they weren’t briefed under NDA, so for all they know they’re just circulating news they didn’t get via your press release. By this point, all of the reporters that signed NDAs are asking themselves if they should post the news or wait until the date and time on the legal form they signed comes to pass.


Then your client calls requesting that you approach all of the sites that have posted the news in advance. If you have relationships with the sites, they’ll understand and probably take the news down. But what happens if they’re a blog? If they’re a blog they may reply: “As we were not briefed on the topic and didn’t sign an NDA we can’t in good faith remove a story that’s now or was public. I think it’s best for all parties involved to learn from this mistake and to move on.”


Universally, I have found bloggers to hold NDAs and embargos in disdain. These official marketing tools don’t jibe with their generally snarky attitude. One part of me understands this. After all, we read blogs precisely because they are snarky, opinionated and anti-authority. And they want to get a scoop just like any journalist. On the other hand, PR practitioners provide special access to their clients for a reason: to ensure that the story is told correctly. Without that access, the bloggers can only speculate on what others have reported, rather than report facts.


What’s a PR flak to do? It’s impossible to brief everyone in advance so they’re ready to go live with news at the right time. Some sites won’t even sign an NDA if you want them to. And rarely does a company take any sort of legal action against a reporter who breaks an embargo – they don’t want to sour the relationship and they understand that mistakes can (and will) happen.


I’m not writing that we should abandon the process of getting reporters to sign NDA forms just because they’re not usually enforced and we can’t get the world to sign an NDA. If only one or two sites leak news, then they’re not really diminishing the big bang on launch day. And once a reporter has signed an NDA, they traditionally respect them. But never expect a blogger to hold to an embargo date (unless you have a great relationship and they’ve signed an NDA) or to remove leaked news. What you can expect is that the second something is on the Internet, it’s there to stay. As long as bloggers treat the marketing process with disdain, they will continue to miss out on full pre-announcement briefings. And, the likely outcome of being shunned by the very companies they should be courting.  


Redefining The Sports Pages

10 06 2008

I’m Eric Montague, VP in the PR group at Mullen. Being a sports fan in The Hub of the Universe has its advantages such as trips to the World Series, Super Bowl and NBA Finals within a nine month period. There’s always a hot ticket to track down for the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox or Boston Celtics and if you can’t attend in person, high-definition TV makes watching a big game from the comfort of home an outstanding alternative. I do a little of both and truly appreciate the crest of the wave we’re riding upon here in New England as much as any sports fan.

Recently, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time watching the NBA playoffs on TV. I’ve been exposed to doses of Charles & Dwyane, Michael & Cuba and a series of promos with the vertically dissected faces of NBA players so disturbing they’re reminiscent of Face/Off (Travolta/Cage), a disturbing movie for so many reasons I dare not list them all. That said, it’s safe to say I’m looking forward to the end of the season if only to move on from these ads.

However, I started thinking about some of the best ads involving athletes from past and present and read a great article by Bryan Curtis in June’s issue of Play-The New York Times Sports Magazine which explores the way athletes add context to their often unknown personalities through advertising. However, in the framework of a :30 spot, this image is highly contrived and we can’t be sure if it truly captures the essence and personality of the athlete or just delivers the key messages for which they’re being paid to deliver. At best, it’s a little of both.

Then I remembered Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has his own blog where he boldly goes where few athletes go by providing readers with his points of view on everything under the sun. And, I’d heard some good things about Gilbert Arenas’ blog too. The ability to build one’s own image through a blog is something athletes can do off the sports pages and off the field.

Which athletes do you believe have the most authentic blogs?