Master Class: What's the best way to use an exclusive as part of a media relations strategy?

This month's panel discusses the best ways to use an exclusive as a part of a media relations strategy.


Bruce Bobbins

Wayne Catan
VP, senior media specialist, Coyne PR

Lauren Glicken O'Leary
VP, Lippe Taylor

Nick Ragone
Partner, associate director, Ketchum New York

Michael Schiferl
EVP, director of media relations, Weber Shandwick

To (loosely) paraphrase the Bard: "To give an exclusive or not give an exclusive: that is the question."

The answer is how best to generate considerable media for your client. Casting a net far and wide on a story of national import will net considerable coverage. Yet, for my money, an exclusive gives the best bang for the buck. When executed properly, it will not only secure a significant story in a major outlet, it can also be leveraged to gain other substantial hits, but it depends on several factors:

  • News value. Reserve your exclusive for news both your client and its various audiences, most notably the public at large, will find significant. The findings of a study on a new cancer treatment, the discovery of a fossil of a new human ancestor, or a celebrity's mea culpa and rebranding effort can all warrant the exclusivity treatment. Conversely, a fast-food market's grand opening does not.    
  • Media outlet. Generally speaking, exclusives should be offered to the biggest outlets, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, People, 60 Minutes, Today, and Good Morning America. They have the biggest audiences and affect the widest constituency. The dominant outlet in a client's particular market or industry might also be preferred.
  • Relationships. Albeit hackneyed, the axiom "It's not what you know, it's who you know" maintains its relevance in securing an exclusive. Working closely with the journalist to ensure he or she has your client's key messages, appropriate interviews, relevant data, and other information in the timeliest manner is part of the equation. 

Oh, one last thing: an exclusive is like a contract. Whether oral or written, it shouldn't be broken.

Bruce Bobbins, EVP, DKC

I still believe in the exclusive, especially with respected journalists such as Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist at The New York Times, or broadcast outlets such as Today. To break a unique social media campaign, you should think about Mashable or Fast Company.

Choose an outlet that makes sense depending on the audience you want to reach. For example, a financial services company makes sense for the Journal. Elliott carries a lot of weight in the ad industry, so Business Week, CNBC, the Associated Press may follow with stories. Using Elliott as an example, make sure the story is comprehensive and includes all aspects of the campaign, such as the creative inspiration, strategy behind media buys, cause-related elements, social media tactics, and much more. Elliott is now your mouthpiece. The word will spread virally, in a controlled manner, with Elliott's byline.

When you score a broadcast exclusive, link up with the network's PR executive to devise an overall media strategy. For example, if you are working with a 30 Rock star on a major effort, work with NBC's PR staff to secure segments on Today, Dateline, MSNBC, CNBC, and Also conduct an SMT and concentrate on NBC affiliates nationwide. Shoot behind- the-scenes footage of the NBC TV tour and post it on YouTube. Have the talent provide Facebook status updates and tweets.

Get what you want with an exclusive story. You are making the reporter, producer, and on-air talent look good.

Wayne Catan, VP, senior media specialist, Coyne PR

The goal of the editorial exclusive is to create maximum buzz with the information given, as well as the information you create. The first thing you need to do is choose your top media targets based on the story and the client's objectives. Then pitch these outlets one at a time and wait to hear from each contact before moving on to the next one.

With a simple story like a product launch, create several angles. In beauty, for example, the first outlet to contact is Women's Wear Daily to let the industry and retailers know about the launch. Then you work with a long-lead magazine like Allure or Vogue. If there is a celebrity angle, use it to book an exclusive with both a broadcast and celebrity weekly. Always include a top blogger to cover the ad shoot or film an interview with an expert.

This is your starting point, but the art of the editorial exclusive has changed dramatically with the rise of social media. When the media is together in one room, we make the mistake as publicists of thinking there is no exclusive. However, long lead still does not want to get "scooped" by the online sites. Case in point, several fashion shows have embargoed backstage to one key magazine and denied bloggers access.

What does this mean? Now we use the "exclusive" as a way to control the distribution of information. Without a big event or press conference, which runs the risk of immediate exposure, we can still secure huge buzz in a timeline that we create and control. In the end, however, if you do not want information to reach the public, don't present it to any form of media. Remember, all media is now short-lead media.

Lauren Glicken O'Leary, VP, Lippe Taylor

Given the increasingly "fractured" nature of the media landscape, exclusives remain an important tactic for any media relations strategy. The key to exclusives is knowing when to use them and when to go with a broader approach. Typically, there are three scenarios when exclusives - either print or broadcast - make the most sense:

  • Get something. Often times, giving an exclusive is the difference between getting coverage versus no coverage at all for what some reporters would consider a borderline or marginal story.

We often counsel clients to shop around an exclusive before putting a release out on the newswires with the hope of enticing coverage. More times than not, the lure of the exclusive will put a borderline story over the top for the reporter.

  • Go deep. Exclusives are more than simply tools for enticing reporters. Increasingly, clients are looking for "high impact" stories - ones that go much deeper on their messaging and point of view.

Giving an exclusive provides reporters with more time and opportunity to speak with a broader range of company executives, analysts, experts, and other influencers as they piece together their story. Of course, you have to be confident in the strength of your story, but in the end an exclusive can lead to a much more rewarding result.

  • It's complicated. Sometimes it makes the most sense to give an exclusive when the story is a bit complicated.

We know that not every story is a linear one or easy to follow. For the ones that zig zag, with lots of moving parts, it's wise to focus on one reporter to make sure they get it right. It may lead to less coverage, but the final story will likely be accurate and more impactful.

Nick Ragone, partner, associate director, Ketchum New York

Exclusives seem like the vanilla in our multi-flavored world of media relations options. With citizen journalism, instant communication, and fragmented media consumption, why give a scoop to just one outlet? Like desserts, consider exclusives occasional treats.

Exclusives can create a sticky situation for PR practitioners: deepen relationships with one outlet while risk alienating others. If you do serve up exclusives, consider:

  • Exclusive menu board. Make your expectations clear - including timing and other outreach plans. Some outlets require category exclusives only. For example, a TV entertainment outlet may be content getting an interview its competitor doesn't while understanding your story will be out else- where, even in advance. Others have stricter, narrower views regarding "exclusives."
  • Broadcast media split. Guests can't usually appear live on two programs simultaneously, and many programs refuse to schedule guests who appear on other shows. Target outlets with the best reach to your key stakeholders. Beyond just viewership numbers, consider demographics, segment length, additional segment distribution, and how it will be promoted, including via social media.
  • Sour taste. Blogs, tweets, websites, and other leaks of your news prior to mutually agreed exclusive timing could anger outlets and taint long-term media relationships. Be clear with internal audiences, staff, and partners on your exclusive agreement parameters.
  • Sweeten the deal. Exclusives may work well for complex and longer-form stories, particularly with business, technology, and medical stories. If your end goal is a promi-nent feature versus wider coverage, a high and request much from the outlet in exchange for the exclusive.
  • Share the treat. Once a story is out, leverage it with others, including directly to stakeholders and other outlets, including social media.

Michael Schiferl, EVP, director of media relations, Weber Shandwick

The Takeaway

1. You can create a variety of "exclusives" among different types of media platforms by creating unique angles

2. Be strategic about what is a true exclusive. Without truly breaking news, it's not worth risking media relationships

3. Exclusives can be used for stories that are complicated and require more detail

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