The “exclusive” media story
What does it mean when a media outlet tells you they want an exclusive? In a nutshell, it means they want to be the first to break the story. It means you can talk to other outlets, but only after the exclusive has run.
News is a very competitive business and getting more so every day. Reporters are doing more with less and each news outlet is anxious to distinguish themselves from every other news channel out there. And in a world of citizen journalism, there are a huge number of channels, including blogs and social media outlets.
If a reporter asks you for an exclusive, think before you respond. It can be a very good thing, or it can kill your story. The higher the profile the outlet, the more likely they are to ask you for an exclusive. But there is no guarantee that they will actually run with your story. And in fact, there have been some very embarrassing public fights between outlets, including morning shows, over who had an exclusive and who had rights to what interview when.
The word “exclusive” has been used all over the place with Charlie Sheen’s appearances around his dismissal from his show Two and a Half Men. Are any of the interviews that were billed as exclusive really exclusive? Not so much. Not really.
But most of us are not the stars of a hit show whose lives have taken on reality show qualities and status. And that means, when we’re asked to give an exclusive, you need to consider the following.
How likely is the news outlet asking for an exclusive to cover it? If you have a finite amount of time, you have to weigh the trade-off. For example, if your story must run in a particular month – like a health observance month, say Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, try and negotiate for the outlet to cover the story early in the month. If they tell you can’t do anything until the month, you have a hard decision to make. Do you take your chances and go after others who may or may not come on board? Or do you hold out for an interested news outlet and not reach out to others, maybe losing your whole window of opportunity if they don’t run with the story.
Yes, it’s evil. But it’s the business as it is, not as it should be.
To make your decision, you need to assess how invested are they in the story. Do they get it? Are they asking the right questions about the story and the people involved? The worst thing for you is to surrender your story to one organization that either doesn’t get it, or will simply sit on it, preventing anyone else from doing it even though they do nothing with it themselves.
Does someone on the team seem personally invested? Do they have some kind of history with your topic that gives you the assurance they’re fighting for you? Do they return your calls and emails promptly? What does your gut tell you about this person?
This is not an exact science, and hard news could bump you in a heartbeat, even when an outlet has committed to you. No one predicted September 11th or the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster. Real life can change a news outlet’s focus on a moment’s notice, and you need to keep in mind that even if a news outlet as committed to the story, something can still get it off the rails.
But then again, the right media outlet telling the right story about your product or event can make all the difference in the world. Waiting for that story teller can be more than worth it, but it comes with risks, so go in with your eyes open.