Why media exclusives are a bad idea

Recently I worked on a client project where the executive I was working with wanted to grant an exclusive to the Globe and Mail. He thought it would be a good idea to give the G&M the scoop first to secure a story in a high-circulation national newspaper; the exclusive story would be timed to come out the same morning we issued the news release to the rest of the media across the country. His thinking was that it would compel other media outlets to follow suit with their own stories the next day, and that his company would benefit from this approach because it would receive more news momentum and media coverage.

Should you give exclusives to journalists? My advice on this has always been ‘no’. Exclusives are a risky business – they make one friend at the expense of making a lot of enemies. In the long run, they are a bad deal for your business and make no difference to the audience you’re trying to reach.

Journalists are competitive and they care about who gets information first. They will not be happy campers if they know that you gave the scoop to their competitor first.

PR is a relationship game. I have seen, firsthand, how media never treat the person who snubbed them the same again. It’s been many years since I worked in the real estate sector, yet I still remember a prominent real estate beat reporter divulge to me that he had blackballed a major public-traded real estate company based in his city for screwing him over on an exclusive. For the next two to three years, I watched this big company issue newsworthy announcements and the real estate journalist of this major daily simply refused to cover the company’s activities and announcements. Is this professional? No. But the media have long memories and they hold grudges.

Of course, there are isolated incidents when an exclusive can work. For instance, if a major news outlet is willing to promise you prominent coverage, an exclusive may be merited. But what if the final story was published as a short blurb or cut by an editor? You will have upset competitors and had little to show for it.

If you’re going to play the exclusive game, at least try to make it a win-win proposition. Perhaps you can offer one reporter a first interview with your CEO, and give another reporter a scoop on another news item. Or you can promise the reporters who missed out on the exclusive a first shot at your next big announcement.

Generally speaking, I don’t think exclusives are a good thing for your business in the long term. Think twice before your company offers an exclusive.

Maria Loscerbo