Pitching an Exclusive: Do’s and Don’ts

A woman puts her finger up to her lips in a shushing sign, while on the phone, looking at a laptop screen. She is telling the person on the other end that this is important information for an exclusive.

Most journalists could use a morale boost nowadays. And receiving a request to write an exclusive ranks up there with the best possible accolades next to someone saying they read your article. 

Some may define an exclusive as a “scoop,” but it typically means offering a single reporter a story at a single publication. They will be the first to distribute the news. 

But on the PR side, navigating an exclusive can be tricky. Most of it has to do with timing, access and just a little luck, but also months, if not years, of developing trusted relationships with media professionals. 

And while exclusives certainly may flatter a writer and pique interest, Natalie Maguire, VP Communications at Giphy, says “it doesn’t negate the fact that the story as a whole still has to resonate and connect with readers. 

“Make sure the story you are pitching tells a complete narrative that aligns with their readership and makes sense within the industry or the verticals that the publisher covers,” she says. “For example, for this story we worked on a few years ago with Variety, we ensured we had an entertainment partner involved to provide comment and add perspective beyond GIPHY for the story.” 

The Approach

PRNEWS talked with several PR veterans who gave us the do’s and don’ts for placing an exclusive story. 

Cecelia Prewett, Managing Director and the President of D.C. Public Affairs, SKDK, says the very first item a PR professional should consider is to “know your why.”

“Be able to answer, “Why is this kernel of news/report/etc. ripe for an exclusive?” If you can’t answer that, you’re likely to get a pass from any journalist you approach,” she says. 

Next, our experts note the importance of picking the right outlet. And there are some differing opinions on how many journalists to approach for an exclusive. Sherri Kirk, Director, Inspire PR Group believes in only offering an exclusive to one journalist at a time. Prewett makes a short list of no more than three people. 

“If someone is busy or on vacation, it’s totally different than if someone passes on your exclusive offer,” Prewett says. “If you get two passes not due to busyness, you need to revisit your pitch, and likely the exclusive strategy choice.”

Sara Joseph, EVP, Lifestyle & Hospitality, BerlinRosen, says her team puts a list of five targets together for a pitch and works from the top down. 

“There is no change between pitching a story and an exclusive when it comes to determining the right target,” Joseph says. “Always ask yourself what audience you need to communicate with and then determine what outlets hit that target demographic.”

And Kirk offers a simple, but helpful, point for your email to make your pitch noticeable. 

“Call out the type of pitch—an exclusive—in the subject line, along with the outlet’s specific segment, feature, column, etc. to demonstrate to the editor or producer that you’re familiar with their content.

For example: Exclusive for CNN This Morning – New report links pet ownership to an annual healthcare cost savings of $22.7 billion”


This is where pitching an exclusive can get a bit knotty—especially if you are dealing with a crisis or breaking news. However, our experts advise the longer lead time, the better.

“Journalists are up against the gun on timing to turn around stories, and too short a window may require them to pass on the news, even if it is something they want to report on,” Joseph says. 

Prewett offers a tip for making sure your story doesn’t make an unscheduled surprise appearance.

“Don’t neglect to put in a time zone for the exclusive to run,” she says. “I’ve been burned before when a reporter was on Central Time, I was on Eastern, and they went an hour earlier than I was expecting (face palm).”

The Agreement

Once you and the journalist agree to work together, it’s important to be transparent about any and all expectations. The same terms still apply, including on the record, off the record, not for attribution, for attribution. 

Joseph says one of the most important items to cover when nailing down an exclusive is letting the journalist know the agency or company’s expectations for the exclusive. 

As PR pros, we need to deliver for our clients, and a line or two for an announcement may not be deemed a success,” she says. “If a feature story is expected, that should be discussed so there are no surprises when the news is published. You only get one shot at an exclusive and both sides should understand what is possible and what result to expect.”


However, a good communications professional will always be prepared for hiccups. And if you are offering an exclusive to several journalists, or even better, media competitors or adversaries, you need to be ready to confront some emotions regarding where the story lands. 

“Be honest—tell [the reporter] why you went with [another] person as opposed to them,” Prewett says. “As with anything in life, put yourself in their shoes. They are going to have to answer to their editor why they didn’t get it—tell them why it was someone else.”

Prewett also offers some alternative angles to cover if available. 

“I also try to point out if there is anything the first person missed or didn’t elaborate on that they could take,” she says. “Some folks might think it’s better to have something than nothing. And some folks will hold a grudge. If someone doesn’t feel like they’re getting spun (ie, fed some lies) and they’re being dealt with honestly, it *can* be easier to take; not always, but it can help.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal