PR Tips
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How to negotiate an exclusive with a journalist?

How do I pitch an exclusive with a journalist? Read our simple guide below.

Pitching an exclusive

What is it?

It’s how to negotiate when you have a really good story and you decide to give it to one journalist as an exclusive.

Why do you do it?

An agreed exclusive will give you guaranteed coverage which is worth a lot. You might have a story that fits a particular news outlet or journalist and it might make sense from that point of view too.So how do you pitch this exclusive with a journalist?

How do you do it?

The first step is that you have to follow all the normal steps for getting a story ready for release. Let’s recap on these:

  1. You have a raw idea for a story.
  2. It fits your communications objectives and meets the mission of your client/organisation.
  3. You shape this raw idea into a headline and get agreement on the story.
  4. You write the press release and get it approved.

In good organisations you get this done very quickly. The lead time can sometimes be as long as it takes to do each step. In such a process all of the trust of the organisation is in the PR person. In essence, the organisation is PR lead or PR driven. This is very much the case in politics.Once you have this step complete you need to consider the release strategy for the story. You have a number of options here:

  1. Send it far and wide to a national media list. In tandem with this if the story has local potential you could tailor the message for individual local markets to reflect its impact in each one.
  2. Publish it yourself on your own social channels.
  3. Give it as an exclusive to one journalist or media outlet.

The choice is very much between sending it far and wide and pitching it as an exclusive. The advantage of sending it as an exclusive is that if your pitch is accepted then you are guaranteed. The downside is that you are very unlikely to get coverage for your story elsewhere. You could also be leaving valuable media coverage behind and in the process alienating or annoying journalists.

So how do you make the decision?

It’s simple really. I always posed this question. “If this was the only coverage you receive for this story would you be happy?” If the answer is yes then proceed, if not then you have to reevaluate. Sometimes the decision will be easier. For example, if it is a story just suited to a particular media, or media type. Maybe it’s a tabloid story or one for a Sunday newspaper. Then the decision is easier. But it’s always a bit of poker and you have to be happy with your decision.

So you’ve done all the hard work and you are ready to pitch your exclusive to a journalist or media outlet - what’s next?

Firstly make sure you are pitching to the right person. It helps if you have a relationship with them. If I have a relationship with them I will start the process with a call. I will give them:

  • An introduction to the story.
  • Tell them that it’s an exclusive piece and that if they want it no one else will get it.
  • My timescale. This is important. Make sure they know when you need it published. This is part of the trade-off.
  • Let them know who will be doing an interview if that is required.

At this stage, I will know if they are interested. If they are interested, I will send them an email with all the details and follow that up with a call later that day, or the following day. If they are not interested I will probe why. One of the great things about the exclusive pitch is that it is like ‘Phone a friend’ on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. If it doesn’t work out, you’re still in the game. When you pitch it and they are not interested it's essential to find out what their reservations are. This will either make your story stronger or make you change your whole approach. Either way, it's good information.

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Jack is a media innovator with over 20 years of experience at the most senior level in the Irish communications industry. He has worked in marketing, journalism, and media relations. He is a former political spokesperson and government advisor, as well as an award-winning corporate PR practitioner.

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