The Truth about News ‘Exclusives’ – When to give them and why

Posted by Shelley Grell on January 20th, 2010.

The media can be fickle. One day they can’t spare a column inch for you, and the next they want all your stories and they don’t want anyone else to have them. Here’s a short primer on how to handle the sometimes desired, sometimes dreaded exclusive.

Weigh the story
The biggest thing about exclusives is the merit of the story. If you’re announcing that you just hired a new middle manager, send the story to all the migrations columns at the same time. If your story is likely to capture significant public interest, however, an exclusive might be appropriate.

Weigh the outlet
If you know you have a big story, aim high. Why not? In general, give the exclusive to the highest circulation media outlet that is likely to run with it. If, on the other hand, you think you’ll be doing well if the local paper picks it up, then perhaps it’s not worth the effort to bother with an exclusive. Come to think of it, in that case it might not be worth the effort to distribute the story at all.

Make a list of your preferred A-list media; for example you could start with television and move on to Sunday papers, national publications, daily newspapers, etc. When you have an exclusive start at the top of your list and work your way down.

What’s in it for you?
If you have an exclusive-worthy story, there are lots of benefits to keeping it that way. By giving an exclusive, you can get a bigger story with a higher calibre of publication or show than you otherwise might. The media are generally grateful for exclusives, and granting them fairly allows you to cultivate a positive relationship with them. Finally, if you are giving an exclusive and the journalist knows it, you are far more likely to be able to confirm whether or not you will get coverage. It is perfectly reasonable to say, “I’m holding the story for you, so please let me know if you’re planning to use it.”

How to handle them
As with most things in life, the best policy for exclusives is honesty. Discuss the nature of the exclusive with the reporter. If you’re only willing to hold it for a certain period of time, say so. If you talk to someone else about the story, be explicit about when it will be available to the rest of the media.

One of the indicators for the quality of an exclusive story is that it is quite time-sensitive – i.e. the media consider it to be “news” as opposed to something that could sit on the desk for a few weeks and fill a slot when they have one. Given that your story is time sensitive, e.g. a significant company announcement, a relevant response to a crisis or situation that is generating headlines, discovering or launching a breakthrough technology etc. you don’t want the media you are talking to holding up the process for long. If they can’t express a firm interest within a relatively short timeframe (i.e. two days at the most) then it is important to move on quickly to the next option. Failing a high level of interest from the key media, it is time to send out the release en masse.

If in doubt … always consult with your PR consultancy – we are happy to evaluate the story and discuss management options with you!

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