I had an offer of an exclusive story last week. It wasn’t huge but nonetheless the idea that it was coming to my publication and my publication only was appealing. So when a press release with all the details went far and wide just as I was typing the story up, I was livid.
The PR company didn’t seem to understand why. So here are some details.
I had a call from the PR people. They offered me a story exclusively and I said I’d be pleased to look at it. It was interesting and two days later they called back and I said yes, I’d like it as an exclusive. They agreed. So today I was in the middle of typing it and, as I say, I received the release – I checked with them that it hadn’t gone elsewhere and I found that it had indeed, and that this was part of their normal conduct with an embargoed story.
So what’s an exclusive?
A Facebook conversation I started seems to be quite divided about this. There are people who consider that the “exclusive” may have meant “nobody else sees this before it’s released so you get extra time to write it” – which means the sites that just publish press releases get it at around the same time I did because they don’t put the research in. Meanwhile I get about 30 seconds as the only person with this story on the Web.
There were people who considered that I should have published earlier – dead on the stroke of midnight – to ensure the exclusive (because all of my readers are poring over my stuff at midnight, of course). Many people thought the executive had confused the fact that there was an embargo with the notion of an exclusive.
Exclusive means exclusive
So here’s the news, if you’re in PR or organising your own publicity. Exclusive, to a journalist, means only one thing: you’re not giving the story to anyone else. In the trade press and in the case of a huge story, this can be a silly thing to promise. Unless you have metrics to prove that appearing in a particular outlet will benefit you or your client more than any other, or if a major outlet will only cover the story if it’s exclusive, why would you do it?
But don’t, really don’t, tell us something is exclusive and then send out the general release when we’re typing up the story. Irritation and a general reluctance to deal with your company again will inevitably follow.
Know your terms
It reminded me of an occasion ten years or so ago when I was invited to a press briefing. “We’re having a day of exclusive interviews,” the PR person gushed. I asked, reasonably I thought, how you could have a whole day of exclusive interviews. “Oh, the interview Accountancy Age does will be exclusive to them, your interview will be exclusive to you…” she said.
Which might have been accurate but it was so general that it devalued the whole day, which would probably have done quite well if it hadn’t been overhyped. Likewise today’s “exclusive” – I would probably have gone for it anyway. I’ll now be looking twice at any press release coming from that particular PR company.
“Exclusive” if it is no such thing is actually a damaging promise to make. Like “off the record”, if your understanding of it is not the same as that of the person to whom you’re talking, it can be a very bad thing. If you’re going to offer an exclusive, be very sure that you and the journalist know just what that means.
And if you’re sending it anywhere else, why do you think it’s exclusive?
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