I didn’t just mess up, I went full retard and broke an Aston Martin embargo.
There is nothing more sacred as a motoring journalist than an embargo, or at least, if there is, I’m nowhere near high profile enough a writer to know what it is. It’s something that’s been drilled into me from before I officially became a motoring writer, and something I hold in the highest regard. There is no greater crime than to break an embargo, and yet this is the story of how I did just that, completely unintentionally, and committed the greatest atrocity of my motoring career.
What is an embargo, you ask? Well, put simply, it’s when a publication is given early access to images and information with strict provisos of a predetermined time and date at which the confidential information can be published. In my time as a professional writer, I have been fortunate to see some of the world’s most incredible cars and read their technical details days, or sometimes weeks before they’re revealed to the rest of the world. It’s something I’ve always taken great pride in, being trusted with confidential information that feeds my automotive addiction, and it’s something I’ve always taken very, very seriously. So much so, in fact, that even when I’m given access to an embargo to write, I don’t share the information with my own colleagues in my closed office environment.
One such embargo that happened to cross my inbox was the announcement that for the 2021 Formula 1 season, Aston Martin would be supplying the safety car in the form of an up-tuned Vantage and the medical car, an Aston Martin DBX. In the particular week that I received this information, my editor-in-chief was away on paternity leave and his wife had just given birth to their third child and first daughter. I was deputising in his absence, which was something I’d done before and something I was relatively comfortable doing. I was well aware of the pressures that go along with managing a publication reaching 6 million + readers a month across the globe, but this was what I was born to do.
It was a Friday – one of the busiest days of the week as we try to write up enough content to tide us over the weekend – and things were going well. The embargo story was written up and I scheduled it just as I would any other – just as I had done for several embargoed stories earlier in that same week that had all gone up without a hitch. All was going well until I received a direct message from a colleague in the United States. “Aston Martin was embargoed!! Pull it down!!” At that moment, it felt like the floor had dropped out from underneath me. I was sure I’d checked the embargo date and time, but as I rechecked the email, I suddenly realised I’d schedule the article to go up at 7:01 AM instead of 7:01 PM. “FUCK. I read AM instead of PM,” I responded, knowing I’d royally cocked this up. But I didn’t realise at that moment just how badly I’d messed up, something that would be made apparent to me when my colleague responded, “She said it was three days ahead of time!”
I hadn’t just messed up, I’d gone full retard.
I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know how I’d misread it. “The following news is under embargo for March 7 at 7:01pm EST // 4:01pm PST.” the email had read, clear as day, and in bold, just in case I was visually impaired. Or retarded.
What followed next was a mad scramble. The story had been live for just under 2 hours, and in that time, just more than 1,800 people had read it. I may have unpublished the story, but the links had been disseminated over social media. The social media links were removed, but the damage had been done. “That may impact our status with Aston Martin,” my colleague messaged me, and I knew it would – embargoes are sacred, and you don’t break them without repercussions. As I succinctly put it to my editor in chief moments later, “I fucked up bad.”
We may have removed the article but people had started downloading images, and I learned very quickly that nothing deleted from the internet is ever really gone. Within hours, the images I had unwittingly published ahead of time were everywhere on Twitter, and Reddit, and Facebook. I was the dumbass that leaked confidential images, and I hadn’t even meant to do so.
“It’s only Aston,” my boss said to me, a phrase I’m sure was meant entirely innocently as if to say, “at least it isn’t a brand that pays to advertise with us.” Yes, it could’ve been worse, but those words were little solace. I felt, in those hours that followed my colossal screw-up, like I had broken a sacred oath, like I had compromised my integrity as a motoring writer. I had been entrusted with the reins and I had damn near driven the whole thing off a cliff. It was entirely unintentional, and something I’d never in a million years have intended doing.
I’ve made some big mistakes in my adult working life, including flooding a client’s house with water when I was a curtain installer and drilled into a water pipe a few years back, but this is by far the biggest screw-up I’ve ever made. I still don’t know how I misread the embargo date and time, whether it was the end of a long, stressful week getting to me, or the pressure of strain in my personal life, but you can be sure of one thing: I will never, ever mess up an embargo again.
Just how bad the fallout will be, I’m not yet sure, but I think it’s fair to say my chances of driving my first Aston Martin are worse now than they’ve ever been.