Commentary…under embargo

The New York Times (I know, it’s a long ways from Austin, TX) has a special section called Times Insider, designed to “deliver behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times.” It’s a phenomenal concept in a day and age where Americans need to understand more about the free and open press and their role in commerce and democracy.

 

A few weeks back Melina Delkic, a senior staff editor with the paper, published an article entitled “Ready, Set, Embargo,” explaining a newsroom perspective on embargoes, an important tool in the public relations industry. The NYT defined an embargo as “an agreement between a source and a reporter, or the reporter’s publication, that the story will not be published before a given date and time.” Nailed it. The author does an excellent job of outlining how embargoes impact the newsroom and complicated decisions that influence when to break an embargo for transparency or public interest. The struggle is real.

 

An interesting angle that was missing in this fantastic piece was the perspective of the public relations professional requesting the embargo in the first place. From my chair, the embargo is a valuable tool for the client, the public relations industry and most importantly, the public. Here’s why:

 

Embargoes give a reporter time. Reporting the news can be complicated and the news media is charged with accuracy. When an embargo is in place, especially as it relates to a major news cycle, embargoes give news organizations an opportunity to be thorough. In the current world of fake news accusations, most often it is simply inaccurate news that could be cured with open communication in advance of publication.

 

Embargoes encourage detail, research and fact checking. We operate in a world of #BREAKING news and first to publish approaches are a disservice to the reader and viewer. The content lacks detail, is often led by an explosive headline (click bait) and the outcome is a reader or viewer with an incomplete perspective. Embargoes can solve these problems. Credible newsrooms are trained to tell excellent, in-depth, fact checked stories. Shouldn’t they have the appropriate amount of time to do so?

 

Embargoes stretch the finish line. When a major news cycle is pending release of information, sometimes all of the details aren’t in place. For example, an important deadline is in flux because the legal team’s due diligence isn’t complete. Reporters deserve a chance to get a running start on the story, even if details are not yet finalized on an announcement. It will position them better to tell a story completely, even if a few details are not finalized.

 

The news cycle has evolved. There was a time when breaking news would last a week, then a day, then an hour and now only as long as a tweet stays in your feed. Embargoes can help slow down a chaotic environment for the benefit of accuracy and the audience.

 

Strategic media relations are an important part of what we do each day at The Monument Group. We take great pride in being a resource for our reporting counterparts, not an impediment to their path. How our team interacts with the media also facilitates quality reporting, which can be especially important when hunting for a powerful news cycle that your story can call home.

How a Simple Whiteboard Changed Our Office

In May, a brown box the size of our conference table arrived. As curious eyes peeked around the doorway, our operations manager, Sarah, broke out the scissors and brushed by us to begin opening the box. A “finally,” murmured under her breath.

Eventually, our team of ten stared at the scattered pieces of a massive whiteboard that was, of course, missing several screws.

“So, what are we doing with this exactly?”

Well, we’ve come to realize that something so simple can help productivity in many ways:

Managing bandwidth
From key projects of the week to upcoming vacation time – it all goes up on the board. So far, it’s been a straightforward way for our team members to communicate “Hey, I’m drowning!” without physically raising a white flag.

In a mid-size agency, this is vital to establishing a work-life balance, determining availability for some hands-on help, and not planning an event when half of your team is out.
Sure, emails and calendar invites can be helpful, but there’s nothing like a stark white reminder as you walk through the office.

Monitoring current events
With clients ranging in industries from ridesharing to renewable energy, monitoring the news cycle for every industry we work with or could potentially engage can be daunting, and as a mixture of public relations and public affairs, the layers of need-to-know information only continues to grow. And, these days, a news cycle that would have lasted a week now only lasts a few hours.

To combat the Grand Canyon-sized fountain of knowledge, our team will pick a few issues at each weekly staff meeting and track its lifecycle in the news, even placing bets on how long it will stay relevant. This promotes an environment of in-depth discussions on client opportunities, foreseeable issues and, sometimes, a light political conflict internally, which can be a refreshing perspective to start your day.

Brainstorming (the obvious one)
As a company approaching our 10-year anniversary, it can be easy to get caught up in the daily drumbeat of client needs. From one-off requests to ongoing projects, looking for a way to refresh a service model can be questionable if everything is working just fine. But, our clients (and us) are facing an ever-changing and competitive climate where we must consistently reinvent what it means to do business, which is where the white board comes in.

Long before May we’ve been accomplishing strategic wins through creative brainstorming, but sometimes, simply picking up the dry erase marker can spark a conversation. When you’re working on paper or at your laptop, the world can feel a lot more permanent and a lot less collaborative. Having the whiteboard in the center of the office can open a smooth flow of communication that allows for even the “bad” ideas to enter the arena.

I know what you’re thinking – doesn’t every office have a whiteboard? Isn’t this a little too simple?

But, it isn’t – simple tools like collaboration and an open line of communication can be lost in small offices where it’s easier to keep your head down and get to work.

Brainstorming, combined with your knowledge of your team’s availability and current events, can be an effective tool to increasing productivity, creativity and more, depending on what mountain needs to be climbed by the end of the day. In the end, the whiteboard is an asset for the client.