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'Things can only get bitter' when you breach a press embargo

Could there be a worse time for a London Newspaper to get it wrong?

The 21st March saw the arrival of the much-anticipated Budget for 2013 – though some managed to see it sooner than intended, as shortly before the Chancellor’s speech was due, the details were revealed on Twitter by the London Evening Standard.

The paper had been given details of the Budget’s main themes prior to the speech under a press embargo until later that afternoon. The embargo was still in place when the Standard tweeted a picture of its front page to its followers – a front page full of Budget information.

This was unfortunate for all involved, including George Osborne who was faced with the opposition party mockingly waving copies of the front page at him from the benches.

Though a swift apology from the editor of the paper was made, and the offending tweet was removed, the damage had already been done. The journalist responsible was suspended, and the newspaper is now rumoured to be denied future access to the exclusive briefings given in advance of both the Budget and the Autumn Statement. For the London Evening Standard, this is a particularly big loss as, being London’s evening newspaper, it was often the first to distribute the news of such events.

We often hear about the responsibility those working in PR have to the journalists they communicate with, and the need to be honest and trustworthy, but what about the responsibility the press has towards its sources of information? The Standard’s situation clearly demonstrates how important it is for a journalist to uphold their end of the deal when it comes to handling sensitive information.

It isn’t unheard of to break a press embargo, but while doing so may bring short-term benefits to some, in the long-term it can only serve to damage relations. The Standard’s error is not likely to be forgotten quickly by this Government – maybe even by the next, and a profitable relationship for the newspaper is now most likely ruined.

The situation serves as a reminder of three key things anyone working in the media should always have in place…

A solid reputation – so that clients and journalists can be assured that they’ll get a quality, reliable service from you.

An effective crisis management plan – so that when things do go wrong you have a means to recover them in the best way possible.

And finally, a good understanding of the power of social media!

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