How to Harness the Power of the Exclusive Story

Nikki Mitchell

The premise of the good, old press release is to give all media outlets equal footing on your story. But that’s not what the media wants. Outlets want to beat other outlets, plain and simple. They want the story other outlets don’t have.

As a news reporter, I fought daily for the coveted exclusive. So now, as I sit on the PR side, I remind myself to consider before sending out a press release: “What’s the media’s motivation to cover this story?” It’s a question PR pros sometimes forget to ask. Your story can quickly rise to become a reporter’s top priority if they know they will be the only one presenting it.

The common fear of promising a reporter an exclusive is losing coverage by everyone else. But the reality is often quite the opposite. If the exclusive story is run by a leading newspaper or television station, you will find all other outlets will take the cue and follow. It’s really using the media to write and issue your press release.

An exclusive can make your story’s perceived importance rise significantly. How? A story that would be buried as a blurb in the business section might make front page if the newspaper knows it’s the only outlet in town with the information. The story suddenly becomes much more important to the news outlet as it can symbolize a well-built relationship with a source or superior reporting skills, so the outlet is more likely to want to show it off. And once other outlets see the story get top billing, they are more likely to cover it as well. Here are some FAQs on handling the exclusive:

In what situations should you consider using the power of the exclusive?

This strategy can be ideal for significant announcements you want to lead the newscast or appear on the front page of the newspaper for which you might not otherwise get that kind of placement. Again, remember your story often rises in importance to the media outlet if they know they will be the only news organization in town with the information. Another time to consider giving an exclusive is during a crisis. Why? The strategy allows you to choose one reporter, perhaps one you trust or have an already strong relationship with, to work with one-on-one to get the right information out.

Won’t other reporters be upset you seemingly favored another outlet?

If the strategy is not well thought out or executed, this is the potential downside. Yes, other reporters may inquire why they lost out on getting the story first. But that won’t keep them from covering the story too, what’s news is news.

You definitely do not want to damage relationships over this strategy so it is important to think through what your reasoning will be to the other reporters about how and why they didn’t get the exclusive. Maybe the reporter you gave the exclusive to was the first to inquire on the story. Maybe the reporter you gave the exclusive to works for a media outlet that has some special interest in the story, (i.e. a business journal getting an exclusive on a new business strategy your company is announcing). So if the reasoning is strong, other outlets won’t interpret your move as simply favoring an outlet.

How do you choose which reporter or media outlet to give an exclusive to?

There are three questions to ask yourself when making this decision.

1. “What is the best audience for this story?” Again, a story about a new business strategy may best be featured in a business journal.

2. “Is there a reporter who I want to build a relationship with on this topic?”For instance, a reporter who writes heavily on the subject of your announcement may be a natural fit.

3. “What outlet will give this story greatest visibility?” Is this announcement a better print story maximized in the city’s daily newspaper? Or is the announcement a better television story that would be most impactful if aired on your market’s most watched news station?

How do you maximize coverage after your exclusive?

Remember, your exclusive can serve as your press release. So be prepared for other outlets to call immediately after it runs, and be prepared for them to ask if there is any additional information you can provide them that was not included in the exclusive. Also, consider that the exclusive story can announce a press conference. For instance, a story in the city’s morning newspaper can end by saying your organization will be releasing more information at a press conference later that day, helping you get the word out.

If deployed in the right situation and given to the right reporter, the power of an exclusive can make an announcement that might otherwise get mediocre coverage a PR success. PRN


This article is written by Nikki Mitchell, VP of public relations at Baylor Health Care System in Dallas. She can be reached at