Managing the news is something PRs are paid to do. As journalists, we get that. Drip feed a story at an appropriate time to your target outlet, hope that both sides play by the unwritten rules and everyone’s happy. It’s a neat arrangement.
And one that is completely unworkable in 2014.
This morning I heard a typical example of a journalist sticking to an embargo while simultaneously breaking it. The BBC’s Nick Robinson told me the main details of speeches to be made in Scotland by David Cameron and Alex Salmond – weaving in some of the key phrases from those speeches without giving the whole game away. Listen out for it later; Salmond will use the phrase that the PM is making a “rare trip to Scotland”, no embargo will have been broken, except everyone will have heard the headline at least three times ahead of the actual speech.
Embargoing political speeches – in fact, any speech by a prominent leader – is utterly pointless in the modern world. The 250 people who’ve paid to attend your annual dinner, or the great and the good invited to your launch, will sing your praises anyway. They’re not the ones that matter. The tens of thousands of people listening to the local radio breakfast show, or buying the regional newspaper, don’t give a toss that you held on to a story for three days for the convenience of a nice photo call.
Factor in social media and the concept of an embargo is even more alien. I’ve seen countless politicians, senior police officers and others tweeting a snippet of information that turns out to be a major press release a week later. Journalists don’t even need to trawl through reams of council minutes to find the stories, since they’ve most likely already been posted on hyper local blogs.
There are rare occasions when an embargo may be justified. A company’s financial results still has to be given to the stock market before it’s made public. There might be a security issue surrounding a Royal visit, so the fine details of where and when someone will appear may be kept secret.
And yet I still have conversations with PR’s along the lines of :
“Why is there a 10am embargo? Our breakfast show starts at 6 and the local newspaper’s printed at midnight.”
“That’s just how we’re doing it. Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”
Yes you can. Shout up and tell the boss that it’s 2014.