Between Finessing Valuable Editorial Relationships to Synchronizing Multiple Moving Parts,
Press Exclusives Require Tremendous Mental Skill and Stamina to Successfully Pull Off
Last week, I started our discussion on press exclusives by providing the two main reasons to consider them in your next publicity campaign. This week, I explain how to successfully secure them.
Step 1: Develop a Priority Media List
As is often the case in publicity campaigns, the first step is to identify the right media outlets. Since it’s unlikely that the first reporter you pitch will be interested, be sure to develop and prioritize a list of about a dozen different key journalists.
While the rule of thumb is to get the biggest bang for your buck, meaning choosing the outlets with the largest audience reach, there may be other factors to consider, including:
- Existing relationships: is it important to maintain a long-term relationship with a certain reporter and therefore go to them first?
- Trustworthiness: can you trust him or her to adhere to the details of your agreement and not leak the pitch before you’ve even had a chance to discuss it with them?
- Credibility: is the media outlet respected/an authority on the topic you’re pitching?
- Appeal to your brand’s target audience: is it a story for the masses or your niche fan base?
- Timing/reliability: will they publish/air within the time frame needed or are they likely to ditch your piece when more breaking news takes over?
- Willingness to collaborate: will they be open to including your key message points?
- Ability to write/produce in-depth story featuring artwork, etc.: in the end, how much space/time will your placement actually get for all the work and energy involved to coordinate?
Step 2: Time Your Outreach
Depending on whether it’s breaking news or a feature, the timing of your outreach can last less than an hour or more than a month. It also depends, of course, on the type of outlet you’re pitching as the deadlines vary greatly. Below are general guidelines:
- Breaking news: these PR exclusives are extremely difficult to promise because the story is usually unfolding during the actual pitch process and therefore it’s very hard to avoid potential leaks. For this reason, keep your news close to the vest as long as possible—maybe even as short as the day you want the placement to run. Reporters in this instance will usually either jump on or decline the opportunity rather quickly.
- Feature pitches: start at least three weeks in advance to allow reporters and producers time to evaluate and present your idea to their editor/executive producer if they’ve deemed it worthy to pursue.
Step 2: Put Feelers Out
Carefully start your outreach once you’ve got a short list of priority reporters to pursue:
- Contact your first choice by phone before sending an email pitch. In talking to them, you’ll be able to determine their initial interest and get assurance they won’t leak the idea based on the details provided in your follow-up email to them.
- If the above isn’t possible, and that’s usually the case today, send a short email with “Exclusive Idea” in the subject header. Ask for that phone conversation and/or an email confirmation that they are interested in learning more and won’t leak the news.
- If neither of the above works, either move on or take a leap of faith by emailing the actual pitch to hopefully get their attention. (This is where the mental skill and stamina comes into play as every situation is unique and only you can assess the next best step to take.)
Step 3: Email Just Enough to Get a Response
Like all email pitches, press exclusives need to be attention-getting, clever and concise. They also need to clearly state what you’re offering them. (More on this in step five.)
Give them enough information to pique interest but not enough that they could run the idea without additional input/resources from you. It’s a delicate balance.
Do not attach any official press releases to this email. It makes the pitch seem less of a secret and tempts the reporter to run the story as is.
Step 4: Follow-up Until You Get a Yay or Nay
Back to the mind games for a minute. You now need to determine your next steps very carefully, based on any number of scenarios, including the ones below:
- Quick decline: luckily, most journalists today are respectful of press exclusives and will decline promptly if they aren’t interested. If appropriate, you might ask them why they passed and if they can recommend anyone else at their outlet instead.
- Initial interest: so this is a good sign, right? The reporter says he/she is interested and will send the idea up their editorial food chain. Great! However you are now stuck playing the waiting game. So be sure to agree to the definition of “exclusive” in this initial dialogue as well as a date when you can circle back with them for a final answer. (Step five explains more about definitions.)
If they don’t get back to you by that date, it usually means they are passing, but it’s best to continue try to reach them before moving on.
If the reporter continues to not give you an answer, remind them that the clock is ticking and you need to go elsewhere if they pass. Give them a drop deadline.
- No response at all: As mentioned before, most reporters appreciate the offer, so will respond in a timely fashion. Sometimes they don’t, though and that’s why press exclusives are so tricky. You don’t know if they haven’t read your email or are definitely passing but just haven’t responded for some reason.
To be safe, call/email them a couple of times before approaching the next reporter on your list. You don’t want to end up in the precarious position of having them finally get back to you after you’ve already given the story to their competition. Then you either have to renege with your second choice or tell your first that it’s too late. Once again, that’s a call only you can make.
If this does happen, it’s critical to be completely honest and upfront with both reporters. Depending on the situation, you may need to provide the name of the media outlet getting the exclusive to the other one. Obviously, they will see their piece anyway.
If possible, try to salvage the situation by giving both something exclusive about the news to use.
If this isn’t feasible, and it’s an important relationship to keep in-tact, consider promising the next one to your second choice and then be sure to stick to your word.
Step 5: Define the Parameters
Press exclusives mean different things to different journalists and come in various forms. In addition, because they are faced with so much fierce competition today, many outlets have started labeling and promoting the smallest details as “scoops” just to stand out above the crowd.
Therefore, it’s extremely important that you and the interested reporter agree to the exact definition before proceeding. When I asked one of the New York reporters requesting an exclusive a few weeks ago, he defined it this way: “We are the first to break news.” Sounds clear enough, right? Wrong. Be sure to clarify the following:
Is the exclusive…
- worldwide? Given the fact that stories appear online everywhere nowadays, technically every situation must be considered global. But the question should still be asked and answered.
- across all media categories? In other words, does it cover both print and broadcast?
- only for a specific element of the story? For example, will they be the only outlet to get an interview or a sneak peek photo/video but the rest of the pitch is fair game?
- good for a certain period of time? In this instance, is the outlet requesting that no other stories run until a day, week, or even a month after theirs? Or maybe not ever?
Step 6: Rinse and Repeat as Needed
Continue to repeat the five above steps as long as it takes and don’t give up unless you run out of time. This can happen, though, so be prepared to execute any or all three of these Plan B options:
- Expand your priority list to include reporters who regularly cover your brand and/or do not require an exclusive. Pitch accordingly.
- Distribute your news wide over PR News News or Business Wire.
- Post to your own brand channels.
On the other hand, if and when you do secure your piece, proceed to the coordination and synchronization phases of the press exclusives process. On the latter, remember to reinforce to everyone internally that the news stays under wraps until this traditional media piece runs.
Secondly, start pitching outlets that can potentially run something either after or without a conflict. For example, given that they can often take weeks to schedule, you might need to pitch national TV talk shows while you are fulfilling the particulars of the print exclusive. In addition, develop other creative story angles and identify a second round of reporters to pitch in order to keep the momentum going for as long as possible. Be ready to handle any complaints from the journalists who did not get the exclusive.
Step 7: Celebrate Your Press Exclusives!
Successful press exclusives are exhilarating! It’s time to thank the reporter for their fabulous piece and then bask in its glow for at least a few minutes! After that, it’s back to business as usual.