No Consensus on Exclusives in the News Business


I want an exclusive, baby!

“Giving exclusives still can serve an important function in today’s viral media world, and even may be worth making a few enemies,” asserts Dan Primack in an article entitled How and when to give a media ‘exclusive,’ which arrived in this morning’s issue of  The Term Sheet,’s new daily email about deals and deal-makers. Primack was revisiting what he described as a “fairly contentious”  New England Venture Network (NEVN)-sponsored panel discussion last week with Paul Gillin over the practice of companies giving “exclusives” to select media outlets.

Gillin felt so strongly that such favoritism has no place in “the relationship game” of PR that the day after the panel discussion he blogged Are Exclusives a Good Idea? In a Word: No. Gillin’s rationale is that “exclusives make one friend at the expense of making a lot of enemies.” He noted that journalists “tend to hold grudges against sources who favor their competition.” Nonetheless, he admitted that in “isolated” situations when a company has the chance to be covered by a big-name publication like The New York Times, it may be worth losing some friends for a scoop.

Primack agrees with Gillin that there may well be some repercussions in terms of relationship fall-out, but he feels strongly that exclusives are worth considering for start-ups. In his article he details a six-point “process” for start-up CEOs to follow under the sub-headings of: 1) Is my news important enough? 2) Who should get my exclusive? 3) How do I approach the publication? 4) Negotiating the exclusive; 5) Handle the fallout; and 6) Did it work?

My own professional opinion for The JAGWIRE Group is that exclusives need to be weighed on a case-by-case basis. There’s no question that if you are a well known company you will alienate journalists if you single out one journalist from your coterie of beat reporters as the lucky recipient of your breaking news story. But what if you are — like many of my favorite clients — an unproven company launching new technology? You might well have the cure for cancer, but you will still have an uphill battle to get a journalist’s ear. Offering an exclusive story in these cases can often sweeten the deal, and you might just catch a ray of that elusive limelight.

In one of my earlier blog posts, Okay, So You’ll Only Talk “Off the Record,” I stated that unless your company is a Google or Microsoft behemoth it is unlikely that you will get an interview in your publication of choice once your press release hits the wire. I suggested that one solution is to grant an exclusive interview to a key publication before your press release hits the wire (and triggers online news dissemination saturation).

The elephant in the room: Embargoes

The Elephant in the Room: Embargoes

But what about the elephant in the room? The pachyderm of which I speak is the controversial news embargo. If journalists agree to hold the news under an embargo then companies don’t have to play favorites and they are free to brief key news reporters in advance of the story. In return the journalists have time to research, interview and fashion their stories for their readers.

But, as we know all too well, that approach often backfires. Case in point when eWeek broke Google’s embargo on its Gmail Priority Inbox announcement in August.  Twitter lit up with the grumblings of journalists who had up until that point kept their end of the bargain.  Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch will go down in Twitter history for tweeting: “Tech press, I invite you all to raise your collective middle finger toward eWeek for botching the Gmail embargo.”

Social media has given the masses a bully pulpit to communicate and cover news, but that doesn’t mean we should toss aside the established protocols of the media profession. Without protocols it becomes difficult to communicate effectively. It’s clear there will never be a media strategy that will suit everyone all of the time. It’s also clear that there will always be favorites in this business based on audience reach and trusted relationships.

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