Should you offer an editor or talk show producer an exclusive interview?
“Exclusive” is one of those terms like “off the record” that sound hip, but are subject to misinterpretation and fraught with peril, say public relations company pros who have been burned in the past.
A LinkedIn member wanted to know what to do about a journalist who agreed to an exclusive interview and then held the story indefinitely while alternate opportunities to promote her client perished.
Just like off the record, exclusive can mean different things to different people. Offering an exclusive is not simply a throwaway line in a phone pitch. Get the limits of exclusivity agreed upon in advance. There has to be a meeting of the minds among the PR firm, the client and the editor. Without agreement, trouble will ensue.
Let’s say you engineer an exclusive interview with GE’s CEO. If you don’t define the parameters, a journalist can expect exclusivity to extend beyond the interview – to news about a new GE jet engine contract, news you are required to make available to all media simultaneously.
Most times, it’s best to avoid offering exclusives and when it occurs, you can sometimes offer as little as agreeing to not push the story for a news cycle.
For some advice on exclusives from the professional media side, we asked Barry Nolan, former Hard Copy anchor and Boston magazine contributing editor.
“It works differently on different levels. At Good Morning America and TODAY, as well as TV news
magazines - booking competition is cutthroat. If you get on one show - you won't get on the other - unless perhaps you are the ultra hot flavor or ground shaking scandal of the moment,” says Nolan.
“If the network shows approach you,” adds Nolan, “you have more negotiating power - I saw a case where a Boston PR agency - handling a scandal figure pro bono - granted a network morning show an exclusive. But part of the unwritten agreement was that the morning show would also do a couple of stories on the PR person’s other – less scandalous - clients.”
Nolan points out, “The strict definition of exclusivity can sometimes be negotiated - as in a national TV exclusive - meaning you can still promote your client’s story in print and on local TV outlets.”
He explains that if working on a lower level - Extra for instance - and you have something attractive - but not "KIm Kardashian-ish" - the show may push for an exclusive. “However it may not be a deal killer to say no. You have to feel out every situation,” says Nolan.
On the other hand, “If it is a subject or person that has been all over the news for heroism or scandal – producers and reporters will grab whatever they can - and then they will call it their exclusive all on their own - meaning only that the competition does not have their mic flag in the picture,” explains Nolan.
“And sometimes - as seems to have happened to the PR person on Linkedin - the exclusive was granted - and then someone up the chain nixed the story, leaving the reporter too embarrassed to get back to the PR pro with an apology.”
In short, use exclusive sparingly. After all, an exclusive won’t make a ho-hum story interesting, any more than a sprig of parsley will make a boring meal enticing.