How Not To Deal With The Media Part 94: Entitlement Edition

We interrupt our normal programming to bring you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily lives of your friendly neighbourhood tech writers. Now, over the years TechCrunch has grown up a little more, but even to this day we enjoy being a little punchy from time to time. Why else do you think we have a “Drama” category? But day-to-day we try to act professionally, even when things don’t go to plan, as they often do. One of those “things” can sometimes be a problem with the ever-present “embargo” on a story.

Now, I don’t need to remind long-time regular readers that we’ve had our problems with them in the past. Indeed, “Death to the embargo” tends to sum up our general sentiment on the matter.

But it’s now 2012. And as each TechCrunch writer has their own individual relationships with sources, we tend to review these things on a case-by case basis. One of those cases is [sometimes, not all mind] when a small startup is trying to make its way in the world. And the other day I was faced with such a decision. A chap called Uriah Av-Ron of approached me with an embargo for a story.

“While you accept an embargo?” [sic.] went the email from Uriah, to which I replied “Who are you?” given that there was no signature on the email. Uriah turned out to be a PR rep for startups and a number of clients out of Israel. He’d pitched other TechCrunch writers before. Ok I thought, but I figured I may as well push back a little, as one does from time to time.

I’ll take the embargo if I have it as an exclusive, I wrote back. Not an unreasonable request – he could always say no, right? We’d go our separate ways, happy fulfilled men.

I was mistaken.

“I’m a little surprised by your response” he wrote back. “…You clearly love tech start-ups, so why reduce the potential press coverage the start-up in question can get?”

Well, we do get a lot of stories, I thought. I read on.

“I have given TechCrunch plenty of exclusives since I began working with TC in 2006, most recently in April when I delayed distribution of a press release by an hour so that the TechCrunch reporter, who was running late, could post their story.”

O.M.G.. This guy had really pulled the stops out. A whole hour. Amazing.

He offered to not pitch competing titles and allow me to publish a whole 2 minutes (yes, I know!) before the embargo broke.

“I’m not a big PR agency” he said. He’d clearly be doing me a favour.

At this point in the negotiations, with some bigger and more pressing news filling my inbox I put this diplomatic wrangling to one side to do some actual work. I regret, I may have neglected to get back to him very promptly.

“Dude, can you get back to Uriah?” came a DM from a trusted friend some time later. Ok, I thought, I’ll play nice.

“Ok, deal. What’s the news?” I wrote back.

It was for youAPPi, a cross-platform app distribution startup that had secured some funding. No problem Uriah, let’s do the story!

The embargo was for a Tuesday. We were talking on email the week before.

The weekend came and went.

That Monday, in came an email from Uriah.

“It’s Uriah for youAPPi following up our email exchange from last Thursday. I hope you had a pleasant weekend… The embargo lifts tomorrow at 2:00 pm UK (minus 2 minutes for you).”

This Uriah guy was being helpful I admit.

Unfortunately, this was a Monday. Things get busy on Mondays and multiple stories come in.

All I read on the email was “2:00 pm UK”. In the heat of the moment I missed the “tomorrow” bit. Uh oh.

So, I started writing up the story, after asking a few questions. No further emails came in about the embargo time, but of course, I should have noticed.

Unfortunately, despite many years of being pretty good about not breaking embargoes, I went on to do a doozy. I missed the embargo time on the information (thinking we were talking about THAT day) and went ahead and published the story a whole 24 hours before the embargo.

Car crash.

In came the rightfully annoyed email from Uriah “The embargo date is: RELEASE EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY, JULY 3RD @ 2:00 PM UK (9:00 AM EST) And you accepted the embargo.” He wrote, helpfully.

Yes, I had indeed screwed up.

“For some reason I thought it was today. Apologies.” I wrote back.

More emails came in.

“Why is the story still live on TechCrunch? Please take the story down and remove your tweet. “(TechCrunch auto-tweets stories).

I wrote back.

“Hi man. Look I am sorry, I thought the embargo was today for some reason. We get pretty busy at TechCrunch.”

“You have done damage by reducing our press coverage,” came the reply.

Yes, this was true. It looked like Uriah and I weren’t going to be bosom buddies after all.

I attempted to help him: “My advice is to put out the press release now on general release.” This is standard practice when embargoes get broken, for whatever reason. In fact it’s SO standard that no PR should not know this procedure.

Usually PRs put it down to experience and start pinging other media outlets about the situation.

In fact the same thing happened to GigaOm the other day on the Playfire story, a much bigger story about the acquisition. You probably won’t know this, but they went early on the embargo, accidentally I gather, so all the other outlets had to come out ASAP. It’s just life as a modern journalist sometimes.

Unfortunately, given this thing called the Internet, there is really no point in taking a story down this day and age. It’s done. But Uriah didn’t get this bit.

“After Michael Arrington’s commentaries on breaking embargoes, I’m shocked that one of his own would break one,” said Uriah. Well, yes and no. I recalled Mike having a different view.

Then something odd happened. Uriah was now the master and I his Padawan. Or something.

“I’d like you to commit to a feature on youAPPi in the Fall (don’t worry about it, we’ll provide you with enough relevant content).”

Interesting tack I thought, but somewhat over-reaching himself perhaps.

“Like I said, it was an honest mistake” I said. “I’ve apologised. You now have a nice post, timed also for the New York time zone. I’d leave it at that and chill. I won’t be committing to further ‘features’. FYI you obviously never read Mike’s views on embargoes. Have a nice day.”

I figured I’d leave it at that. Unfortunately one can’t plan for news “in three months time.” Poor youAPPI, the innocent in this, might do something newsworthy in the meantime, like go bust or something. Who knows.

But Uriah wasn’t finished and quite lot more emails came back about the issue.

I decided to let him cool down.

But today Uriah came back to me.

He’s “lost coverage”, his “relationship with other journalists” had been “damaged”. (This is quite hard for some PRs admittedly, given their relationships with journalists can often be low to zero).

Yes, I’d screwed up his embargo, but I should be held “accountable”. Yes folks, I was now in the court of Uriah Av-Ron.

Therefore, he wrote, I must now “commit to righting your wrong by providing youAPPi with additional coverage in the next 3 months.”

Righting my wrong huh?

Normally PRs come up with “look, it was a shame about the other day, but we have some more stuff coming up soon so I’ll ping you then, yeah?”. That’s normally fine. Whatever. But “righting my wrong”?

Well, no Uriah, I can’t commit to that, as I said in the email. I gave you the chance to be reasonable about this.

But I can commit to this. I can commit to highlighting how not to deal with the media, when the media has been as honest as it can be about a situation.

And I can also commit to dealing no further with PR people who can’t act professionally amid the cut and thrust of daily media life, which often does not go “to plan”.

I hope that’s clear. Have a nice day everyone. And if you’re a PR, please read this (especially slide 37).

(This might also be helpful).