We work with embargos all the time in the world of journalism, and especially in car journalism. When manufacturer A invites us to drive the new such-and-such, they will set an embargo date that, in theory, will allow all the front-line titles to publish their thoughts pretty much at the same time.
Hence the reason you’ll see a great wave of “We’ve driven it” type publicity about the new BMW M3 in May of this year, because that’s when BMW has set the embargo for driving impressions of its new uber-saloon.
Except rarely is it as simple as that. Take the new M3 as a case in point. As it stands the UK’s journalists won’t get to drive the car on this occasion until the afternoon of the date itself, which means the only way you’ll be able to read about the new M3 on its embargo date – from a UK title – will be online.
The dear old magazines that still publish on something called paper won’t be able to publish until at least a week later, and that makes it very hard indeed for the likes of Autocar to publish anything meaningful by the following Wednesday. Which means our main magazine coverage of the new M3 will feel at least two weeks out of date when it appears in the magazine.
And that’s entirely thanks to the embargo system.
But in a weird kind of way, what goes around comes around with embargoes. Sometimes they work in your favour as a title, sometimes they don’t; it all depends on which day of the week the embargo falls upon.
So we all tend to get on with and agree to the embargo system by and large because, if you think about it, there really is no other way of being fair to everyone over, say, a two-year period. Eventually, everyone will get one up during that time. And at some stage they will go one down as well. Que sera sera.
Unless, of course, Ferrari happens to be involved. Allow me to explain.
Soon, I will be driving the new LaFerrari at Fiorano with a strict embargo date of 30 April. And on the face of it this looks very much like a bingo moment for Autocar (the magazine) because 30 April is a Wednesday.
Trouble is, Ferrari has quite understandably set a second embargo date of 12 May, which will apply to all other syndicated words about the car. In other words, if you are a front line invitee, you can publish on April 30. But if you’re not, then you won’t be able to publish words that you’ve bought (or sold) to other titles around the globe until 12 May.
Which is fair enough on Ferrari’s behalf. They want the titles that they have invited personally to be able to publish first, which makes sense.
But as is the way with publishing, we also want to then syndicate those words to other titles around the world in order to keep the wolf at bay financially; and without being able to do so, most publishing houses would go out of business.
Which is why it was somewhat perplexing to be informed by the Scuderia’s press office that, as of late this week, the embargo date for the syndication of words about driving LaFerrari has now gone back by a fortnight – to 26 May.
Result; editors of the world’s car magazines and websites that haven't been invited to drive the car direct, and who were relying on those who have to provide words and pictures to publish on 12 May, have just gone into a complete flat spin. Hundreds of cover stories that were due to hit the streets globally about the car on or very soon after 12 May have just disappeared into the ether. And I’d imagine the phone lines at Maranello have been reasonably busy ever since.
And so there you have it. The joys of the embargo system explained, sort of. And no, I have no idea how Ferrari will police this particular embargo once the initial wave of publicity has broken on 30 April – although I’d imagine that the threat of a 50,000 euro fine to any front line journalist whose words are published outside their stated titles before 26 May, might just be enough to put most people off. And if you think I’m kidding about the fine, think again.