‘What a scoop!’ – the death of the exclusive?

Offering a story to a carefully selected journalist before the rest and making the promise you will only give it to them, has always been an important relationship developing experience for PRs and their contacts.

But with the internet and online PR building up a full head of steam, questions are being asked about the validity of an ‘exclusive’.

Charles Arthur, Technology Editor over at the Guardian is no doubt a massively popular target for a stream of press releases and recently spoke about the need for PRs to learn to pitch in the digital age.  He made it clear that he is now only accepting stories pitched via Twitter. (Now is that Twitter pitching or Twitching…?!)

Anyway, in an interview about Twitter pitching by Craig McGill, this issue of exclusivity was raised. If pitches become so public, like they would on Twitter, a complete reinvention of the PR to journalist conversation, the PR cannot promise an exclusive. In response Arthur said: “I’d understand it was non-exclusive. That’s OK – exclusives last about three minutes online.”

While these thoughts might make Arthur the most forward thinking journalist out there (and we tip our collective hats to him for it), most journalists and PRs wouldn’t share this view.

There is still a huge demand from journalists offline and online for first dibs on a story, plus an indeterminate amount of time withholding the release from any other targets.

But perhaps this is because there has never really been a universal ‘exclusive’ code of conduct. It is a bargaining tool from which the PRs can ‘sure up’ a journalist who is maybe only half interested in the story, while for the journalist it is a chance to ‘one up’ its rivals.

Often we’ve chatted in the office about what constitutes an exclusive. We deal, on the whole, with SMEs here, not major major brands which are reported everywhere at the click of a finger.

To us, an exclusive is given to the key targets by sector and by publication type. If there is a business story we will offer it to a target newspaper, sector specific and vertical sector magazine.

But with the demand for online PR so high we also have important targets in our online distribution. On top of this, stories you thought would be held back until the magazine of paper is published can appear online within minutes.

The reality is there still needs to be dialogue and trust between the PR and the journalist, online or offline, to set out whether a story is exclusive and what this actually means. Even with everything evolving in both our worlds so rapidly, an exclusive can still exist if these conversations are maintained. And with any luck, the result will leave both parties happy.

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