Spoiler alert: Embargoes are here to stay

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months, you’ll know that this this month sees the release of the 2016 Christmas blockbuster, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

As audiences eagerly await the next instalment in the Star Wars franchise, it’s been 36 years since the release of The Empire Strikes Back, which contained one of greatest twists in cinematic history; “I am Your Father”. It could be argued this great revelation helped spawn what all fans of popular culture know today as the ‘spoiler’.

Although the days have gone of cinemagoers queuing aimlessly outside movie theatres, having to sometimes wait weeks for the latest film release, some modern day parallels can be gleaned. With the emergence of recent mega series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, promoters and fans are of course keen to hit social media immediately after a screening to share their views. This is often at the expense of fellow enthusiasts on the other side of the world and in different time zones.

With a number of Star Wars fans in our ranks, it got us thinking about examples of some ‘spoilers’ a little closer to home…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away…

The embargo was created over a century ago as a means of being able to share news with journalists ahead of the co-ordinated release date.

In theory, both press and PRs benefit from the arrangement. The ever-pressurised journalist has time to prepare their story and the source of the news is more likely to get an accurate and more fulfilling piece of coverage on the given topic.

Back then, embargoes were aligned to suit the deadlines of daily newspapers, but digitalisation has of course accelerated news cycles exponentially and also entailed an unprecedented upheaval of the media landscape. These changes beg the question of whether the news embargo is an ancient relic soon to become extinct.

“You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting” – Shmi Skywalker

Technology journalist and media trainer, Guy Clapperton, recently took to social media to express his irritation at a story that had been given to him under embargo as ‘an exclusive.’ The announcement was then distributed immediately after the embargo had lifted making the exclusive part of the agreement effectively redundant. Not to open another can of worms entirely on the subject of ‘exclusives’ – a whole other blog article in itself – but you have to understand Guy’s frustration at this example of where the system, for whatever reason, has broken down somewhere along the line.

A more stringent or analytical way of looking at embargoes would be to consider the release of sensitive data that can potentially affect financial markets; results, mergers and acquisitions etc. Where the embargo could have a key part to play here, legal compliancy has had the reverse effect with listed companies no longer embargoing market sensitive data but instead timing their news for immediate release.

“You can kill me, but you will never destroy me.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

As we stand on the cusp of 2017, the media landscape in general is facing tremendous pressure from all sides.

Publishers continue to soldier on in difficult conditions. Fewer editorial staff are expected to churn out higher quality content than ever before in order to compete for readers’ attention. And this is no mean feat when, according to research by Microsoft, the average attention span of a human is apparently now less than that of a goldfish, due to the widespread adoption of smartphones.

On the other side of the coin, communications staff are placed under the cosh to achieve better results for their clients, in an evermore competitive marketplace. Add to that a growing contingent of influential industry bloggers who can play by their own rules and it’s hard to believe that the embargo, which is essentially a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, has stood the test of time at all.

A couple of years ago, Oxford university published a paper entitled News Embargoes – Under threat, but not extinct, which examined the role of news embargoes and their relevance in today’s society.

Basing the research on interviews with an extensive range of leading journalists and communications professionals, it actually concluded “the news embargo still makes sense” and “the death of daily print deadlines has undermined the embargo’s raison d’être only to a limited extent. In principal, journalists and PRs largely agree that the embargo is still justifiable in our speeded-up 24/7 news world.” The study did however concede “the acceleration of news cycles and the tremendous upheaval of media markets in the last decade have left their marks.”

“Your focus determines your reality.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

We know how important it is to maintain great relationships with our press contacts, and we work hard to do this. The world may be changing, but traditional tools of the trade like embargoes are kept alive and continue to add value by affirming the right level of trust and best practice with our journalist peers.

After all, no-one likes a spoiler. Or does our determination to find out all we can about Rogue One mean we’ll read this, without considering the consequences?

Credits: .gif courtesy of giphy.com


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