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Working With Exclusives And Press Embargoes

By Margo M. Mateas
The Media Relations Maven

The Low-Down on Exclusives
Exclusives are a powerful tool that can catapult your story onto the front page of top media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Forbes. Exclusives are among the most potent forms of journalism. Like any powerful tool, they must be used wisely. An exclusive means just that – you’re giving this particular story to one media outlet only.

Use care in selecting the right publication for your exclusive.
First, carefully determine your goal. What do you want this single, powerful story to do? Is the ultimate idea to impress investors, interest consumers in a new product, or profile your CEO? Make sure that you offer the story to the publication most likely to deliver the results you’re looking for.

What stories work best for exclusives?
Interviews with key executives, political figures and celebrities
“Whistle-blower” stories divulging corruption or insider information
Revolutionary developments in scientific, medical, health or religious understanding
Surveys, studies and polls
Stories that reveal new trends in thinking, behavior or consumer habits
Controversial ideas, visionary thinking or things that challenge the status quo

Pitching exclusives to several outlets
You may shop your story – provided it is strong enough to support more than one exclusive – by segregating your story into smaller pieces. Consider the coverage surrounding tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand: Exclusive interviews with him appeared on 60 Minutes (which broke the story), followed by stories in Vanity Fair and the Wall Street Journal.

If you can find more than one angle to give exclusively to non-competing outlets, do so. But make sure that the story angles don’t overlap. Start with the outlet that will break the story, and then follow with other exclusive angles or interviews with other outlets. You can pitch TV, newspaper, radio, magazines and web-based media concurrently -- as long as their audiences don’t compete. Depending on the timeliness of the story, you should wait three days to one week before giving it to another outlet. However, in the fast-paced world of television journalism, that window may be cut down to a few days or hours.

How Embargoes Work
A press embargo is an agreement made by a reporter or media outlet not to release your story until the exact moment you tell them to. An embargo is useful when an outlet needs lead time to prepare a big feature in line with major news (such as with the Apple iPhone). The company making the news wants a big media splash at a certain time. Under an embargo, a media outlet would agree to prepare and work on the story without leaking it –a big risk in today’s über-competitive 24/7 news cycle. Release a story under embargo only if you know and trust the reporter – and get it in writing via email.

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