By Melissa A Vitale
You don’t need to work in media to know the word “exclusive” is a big term thrown about in news. Your local paper may have gotten the exclusive tip that became a national headline; your favorite newscaster may have spoken to a source exclusively. A morning talk show could have the exclusive interview with a participant to a viral news story. There may even be “[EXCLISIVE]” in the headline of a jaw-dropping story.
Exclusives are sometimes so elusive that in times like this, the best way to answer this is to cite someone who said it more concise than myself…. Or in this case, the best result on my google search. Courtesy of Quora, “An exclusive is when you give only one title or publisher the story first. Sometimes you offer it, sometimes it's asked for. You would usually look to offer an exclusive if the story has high value/interest to the audience of the media you are targeting.”
An exclusive is a story, interview or announcement that a journalist and their publication get to publish before anyone other publication. Often, an exclusive story is published right before a media alert by the publicist to relevant media is made and before the release goes up on the wire. Depending on the announcement and scale, an exclusive story being published, the media alert and the press release on the wire typically happen within the same morning.
A well-executed exclusive can elevate an announcement beyond industry updates to breaking news. Exclusive stories can help reach mainstream audiences by captivating the timely focus of journalists already interested in a brand.
What does an exclusive look like when applied IRL?
A cannabis brand has a partnership that allows them to cross into state lines. The partner is publicly traded and legally obligated to notify investors within a certain amount of time of the deal, so they plan to do a press release at 9am Tuesday morning. A business magazine had accepted an exclusive on the story and will publish a writeup in their own words with original quotes from an interview that is not included in the release at 8:30am Tuesday morning. At 9:30am the same day, the brand’s publicist sends an email to as many relevant press in the brand’s network announcing the launch and offering interviews for coverage.
Exclusives are most often used with announcements like product launches, partnerships, expansions or executive changes but evergreen story angles that could be seasonal or timely.
Exclusives can be valuable in media relations campaign. Beyond strengthening relationships with journalists who are offered the exclusive, exclusives put a deadline on when a journalist needs to publish a story. Normally publicists don’t get to control when a story goes live; the rare exception is in the case of an exclusive. Often times, companies need to announce to investors, so press releases need to go live by a certain deadline. Thus, if the journalists wants to cover the story exclusively, they’ll need to publish before the release.
What types of announcements warrant an exclusive will fluctuate with the course of the newscycle. There are seasons when a $25M funding announcement can garner the attention of Fortune, where other days, staff writers are so strapped for time that they cannot entertain raises under $5B. As I mentioned, some evergreen angles can be exclusives. If a founder has an interesting background in sex education, a journalist may want an exclusive angle on the story in September to coincide with the start of school. Other announcements that can warrant an exclusive include new product launches, new executive hires, partnerships and collaborations, expansions and sometimes, rebrands.
There’s debate amongst publicists and journalists on the weight of an exclusive but when used correctly can be both beneficial to brand and writer.
For staff writers who have a quota of stories to fill even on slow newsweeks and freelancers who are paid commissions for every story, an exclusive is often beneficial to the journalist writing it in addition to the exposure for the brand and the success for the publicist. That said, if you’ve ever been offered a complimentary vacation that needs to be used this weekend, you’ll understand why timing is so important with offering an exclusive.
Securing an exclusive depends on two factors: interest & availability. The writer needs to be both interested in the story and have the availability to announce in the desired timeline of the brand. If a brand offers an editor a scoop but only gives them two days to announce, the editor will have to weigh their interest against their likely-packed to-do list. Unless the story is ground-breaking, the to-do list will win. Publicists can often still place a last-minute exclusive announcement, but the more time given to offer, accept, interview and write the story will allow a wider selection of potential outlets interested in covering.
Rules of an Exclusive
To the media outsider, the concept of an “exclusive” may seem frivolous, but in fact, beneath the sensation-inciting word is a delicate etiquette and unspoken rules of an exclusive.
An exclusive is a two-way street. Once an exclusive is secured, if either party were to go back on it – either the publicist offers it to another journalist who publishes first, or the writer publishes before the embargoed date which could cause legal ramifications for publicly traded companies – it would almost certainly sever the relationship (exceptions can arise but it’s a hail mary) and potentially harm the reputation of the brand/publicist or journalist/publication.
Unless you’re working with an industry giant, political or cultural figure, or a celebrity, you likely won’t need to learn the term embargo but that comes into play when offering the exclusive if the information is so juicy the publisher would ignore the etiquette and timeline of an exclusive to immediately publish the news. In my experience, I rarely use the word embargo myself, but once I mention the exclusive, the journalist will usually agree to an embargo themselves before receiving the release.
The first exclusive I ever placed on my own was a bit of a bumble along a learning curve. That is to say that exclusives can be intimidating and confusing for anyone not in media. For publicists however, this is our championship, our final battle. The day of an exclusive is both nerve-wracking and unbelievably rewarding.
For a brand, a well-executed exclusive can be the difference between viral coverage and a press release that receives little traction.
If you’re a vice brand hoping to navigate an upcoming announcement under the direction of a seasoned publicist, learn more about our services and schedule an intro call: https://www.melissaavitale.com/services.html
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.