If the recent Apple “off the record” snafu tells us anything, it’s that our industry can never stop sharing the best practices for safely and properly getting information from our clients to the reporters who cover them.
Talking off the record or on background, as the Apple spokesperson sought to do, is a close cousin to another media relations technique: Pitching a story as an exclusive.
The advantages of this technique are pretty clear. Reporters crave newsworthy information that no one else has, so offering up news as an exclusive is one way to stand out from the hundreds of other emails they receive daily. Oftentimes, presenting news on an exclusive basis makes the resulting coverage more substantial than securing it through other means.
However, the technique is all about the execution. Many reporters don’t like the transactional journalism that exclusives can exemplify, where reporters sacrifice principles for access. Use the technique to get attention and a commitment, but do not expect any courtesies you wouldn’t get with non-exclusive outreach.
Pitching news on an exclusive basis typically follows these steps:
Step one: Determine the story is newsworthy.
This is an important step with any media outreach technique, but it especially applies to exclusives. If your exclusive pitch is not genuine news, the reporter will have a tough time taking your ideas seriously in the future.
Step two: Get the client’s buy-in.
It’s also important to set the client’s expectations. Exclusives, by nature, produce one piece of initial coverage, and, ideally, follow-on opportunities after the initial story breaks. They also run the (slight) risk of alienating other reporters who did not get the exclusive.
As with any strategic move, there are pros and cons to exclusives. Clarify them and get the client to agree with the plan before doing the outreach.
Step three: Find and secure the right reporter.
Typically, you’ll want to start with the highest-value outlet when pitching exclusive news. This will vary based on the client and the nature of its business objectives.
The pitch itself is straightforward: Here’s what’s about to happen; I’m trying to get an exclusive on it; are you interested? If step one was done properly, a top reporter should jump at the chance pretty quickly.
Regardless, it is important to talk to one reporter at a time on this step. Pitch the idea and either give them a soft deadline by which to respond or move on down the list in a day or two. If you pitch multiple people at once, more than one may bite — meaning you have a problem on your hands.
Step four: Manage the opportunity.
Don’t expect reporters to give you any courtesies they normally wouldn’t. Requests to see the story before it runs or to include certain language, verbatim, in the story are tempting to make. Don’t do it. Trust the process to work on its own and don’t ask for anything transactional.
Step five: Think about downstream coverage.
After the exclusive runs, you’ll ideally have a strong, substantial piece of coverage that captures the attention of the client’s industry. Now what? Begin thinking about a strategy for day-two coverage after the initial opportunity is secured.