Exclusives Ave. - The Two-way Street Between Public Relations and Journalists
There was yet another in a long line of advice to us public relations people from the journalist side over the past week. This one was in the form of "commandments," which takes this to a whole new level of requirements. I'm not sure who handed down these tablets, but these were penned (cut into stone?) by Ashraf Engineer, a content media leader for an agency in India. Staying with the religious metaphor, it's the usual list of PR people's sins, starting with "Thou shall be clear and concise." It was the second commandment -- "Thou shall not promise what you can't deliver"-- that caught my eye because of this example that Engineer related from his days on the fourth estate side of the business:
"Years ago, when I worked for one of Mumbai’s leading newspapers, Nobel-winning mathematician John Nash visited the city. The PR agency managing the visit promised us an exclusive interview, with other newspapers getting access to Nash only the next day. Turned out the agency promised every newspaper the same thing. Imagine our shock when we saw Nash’s interviews everywhere. My newspaper stopped dealing with the agency altogether. The CEO had to come over and apologize, but things were never the same again – we kept the agency at arm’s length and treated every communication from it with suspicion."
Ah, exclusives. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about a reporter's tips on good email pitches. The primary message of the reporter's original posts was that journalists essentially want exclusives.
I'm here to represent my PR colleagues around the globe to say, loud and clear to all of our journalist friends, "We get it. We know you want exclusives. We're actually working very hard to offer those to you. Honest."
But I'm going to interlace with that declaration some Reporter Rules Regarding Exclusives. As my commandment-yielding poster above notes,"The irony, of course, is that the journalist-PR executive relationship is deeply symbiotic – one can hardly do without the other." This is very true and needs to be understood.
Therefore, when an exclusive has been carefully worked out for you from one of your PR contacts -- and, believe me, a lot of work went into crafting that offer for you and convincing everyone involved that you are the most appropriate recipient for that exclusive -- the following are the ways that you can (a) show your PR contact that you recognize this is a great offer and (b) you can make sure the PR contact will keep you in mind for future exclusives.
Rule No. 1 -- Understand It's a Limited Time Offer and Respond Quickly Yes or No
The best journalists I have worked with over the years are the quickest and clearest to respond one way or the other. All we are looking for is "I'll take it; what is the next step?" or "Thanks for the offer, but it's not right for me" or "I'm not interested right now, but thanks." The journalists who make you rethink why you recommended them for the exclusive are the ones who either don't respond at all or take several days to respond. Sometimes they are on vacation or out of the office. But even then, it would be nice if they set up out of office responses to emails like us PR people do. We promise we won't track them down to their beach houses. We just would like to know if we should move on to the other potential target for the limited time exclusive.
Rule No. 2 -- Work with PR and the Company to Make the Interview(s) Happen within the Deadline for the News Announcement
This may seem to be fairly obvious, but it isn't always clearly understood. Typically a company that is able to give someone an advance on a particular piece of news or a particular spokesperson or customer is planning to make the news or contact people available more broadly when the announcement is set to cross the wire. Your trusty PR contact who set this up will make this very easy for you and the company if you'll work with them. They'll get time on the executives' or the customers' calendar in plenty of time for you to get everything you need to file something before the rest of the world gets the news. Let them do this for you. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. We don't mind moving schedules around, as needed, as your needs require. But stay right with us PR people on this so we can keep it moving and, ultimately, get it nailed down for you.
Rule No. 3 -- Don't Waste a Good Exclusive -- File before the Announcement Hits
One of my favorite reporters to deal with recently worked with my company on an exclusive and even finished the story over the weekend, while on vacation, to make sure it was posted in advance of the announcement hitting the wire. That's a journalist who understands the value of an exclusive and takes full advantage of it. It is always a pleasure to give this individual early access, when you can. Some other journalists can get sidetracked by other things and miss the opportunity you've carved out for them. That forces us PR people to do something we absolutely hate doing -- nagging journalists. We know how busy they are and we don't want to bug them to write. But if there's an exclusive at stake and they are at risk of missing the exclusive window, we'll figure out a way to remind them somehow that they need to file. [Note: We only do this when the journalist has indicated the story is a good one and they want to write. If a journalist ever tells us, "I talked with the person and didn't find a good story there," we back off and give the feedback to our client.]
Rule No. 4 -- Exclusives That Aren't Used Will Expire Before the News Is Issued
When the most politically correct gentle nudging of the journalist who has said they will write, but have not, doesn't work, the PR person has every right to inform the journalist they cannot wait any longer than XX date and time before giving the story or the customer or executive to another reporter. This is not a vindictive move and it's a tough one for the PR person to have to make, as the journalist offered second will not have as much time as the original reporter had to craft and file a story. But we can't wait forever, and we shouldn't be expected to. We only do this as a last resort. Please don't force us to do this.
In this symbiotic relationship of journalists and media relations/PR people, it's helpful to realize that we PR people have rights and rules too. And we have access to great stories and great spokespeople that we will only continue to offer as exclusives to the journalists who know how to work with us. Yes, it goes both ways. Our many thanks to the great journalists who "get this" and work with us when we make them a great offer. They shall be given many future offers.