Media releases are usually assumed to be in two states; ready to go or waiting for release. You'll see either 'For Immediate Release' or 'Embargoed' with a date and time. An embargo is an agreement between you (the organization) and a media outlet that information in your release will not be published until a predetermined date and time.
Although there has definitely been a change in the way media releases are used by the media and organizations, there is still a place for the embargoed release. Read 'Creating a great media release in the age of social content' for more on this.
Reasons for an embargoed media release
Embargoed media releases are usually used when there needs to be a coordinated approach to the release of information. In the example of the public sector, it could be that there needs to be a joint announcement by a number of agencies. Adding a release date should ensure that information comes at the same time from different agencies in a coordinated approach.
Alternatively, it gives selected media an opportunity to review the information and follow up with any questions or media requests that may come as a result of this. For example, it could be an annual report on health or crime statistics that takes time to work through.
Another great reason is that this gives journalists more time to be able to write more in-depth features on the subject matter and, if appropriate, offer the right to reply on anything they are about to publish. Which all goes towards building better relationships with the media. . Read 'How to build good relationships with the media'
Providing more time and advance notice is also a good way to guarantee better attendance at media briefings. With a clear outline of what the journalist will be able to ask about, it's easier to target those that you know will be interested who can put it on their schedule.
Challenges of embargoes
As previously mentioned, this is only an agreement and embargoes are purely based on trust. There is nothing legally binding about an embargo, but it is always in the best interest of the editorial team to honor them. You may put in place an NDA but this is not in the spirit of great media relationships and while it has been known for them to be broken, any good editor with integrity will know that it's not worth being 'blacklisted' in a bid to get a scoop.
A couple of key things to take into consideration; ensure you put the timezone of your embargoed date and time - especially when dealing with national and international media. You also need to be clear when it is not embargoed by stating 'For immediate release'.