The Big Pitch: Is it ethical to trade exclusives for various media agreeing to news embargoes?

J.S. O'ROURKE, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN

J.S. O'ROURKE, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN

J.S. O'ROURKE, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN

I consider it perfectly ethical. Ethics has to do with making decisions

under circumstances of uncertainty or ambiguity. If there is a very

clear rule that prohibits behavior, ethics does not usually come into

play. I have asked for an embargo for a specific period of time in

exchange for first call-back. When I was working in a public affairs

office in the US Air Force, I would customarily give an exclusive in

exchange for or as a reward for behavior that I would want to encourage

If a reporter had been good to us or fair to us, I would want to reward

that reporter. I don't have a moral obligation to reward all reporters.

I have had to punish reporters who behaved badly. When we found

uninvited reporters ringing doorbells of widows of people involved in

unfortunate accidents, I would do what I could to make that reporter's

life difficult.

PETER SHANKMAN, The Geek Factory, New York

I consider it ethical under certain circumstances. If you're dealing

with a breaking story that appeals to a definite audience segment that a

given media outlet targets - and you know the play will be higher - then

I'd be willing to brief someone for an exclusive. One of the things you

risk is if they don't take it, you've left the news out there. It's a

risky game. It's something you can only do sporadically and for very

justifiable reasons. I can't see doing it unless the story had a

definite hook to a specific journalist and a specific outlet. If you

have to play that card, be very selective in how you do it - and

remember that sometimes broader coverage could be worth more than an

exclusive from one source.

BETH LaBRECHE, LaBreche Murray Public Relations, Minneapolis

We don't view it as an ethical issue. Rather, we manage distribution on

an individual basis, according to the client, the information and the

media outlet. We might provide information in advance of an announcement

to a reporter who has been covering the story on an ongoing basis and is

further along in his/her understanding of the situation. Or we might

provide advanced information to a reporter who most closely targets the

topic and ask for special consideration in the timing of an article; for

the most part, that reporter will respect our request. Many times, our

distribution approach is tailored to the deadlines of the media -

monthlies may get information in advance of dailies so the information

breaks at the same time. Of course, for our public clients, managing the

distribution of information this way just isn't possible because of the

legal restrictions.

PAUL HICKS, Ogilvy Public Relations, New York

I think it's perfectly legitimate. However, you have to be able to deal

with the fact that if this exclusive is somehow exposed, that it will

pass the 'front page of The New York Times' test. I've done it with

clients and I found it very helpful on a two-way basis. The reporter and

client were both served by taking an in-depth look at a very sensitive

problem. I would be candid about where it had been offered. You can

offer different publications different exclusives. For instance, we'd

offer the corporate communication head to PRWeek but we'd offer the CEO

to Business Week because they'd put him on the cover.

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