Guest post: Can you trust a PR when they promise an exclusive?

In this guest posting, journalist Jen Bishop of Dynamic Business magazine discusses the cover exclusive that wasn’t

An exclusive is an important thing in the world of print. I still remember the thrill of breaking news on the front page when I was a daily newspaper crime reporter. Now, on a monthly magazine, exclusives are a less common and closely guarded treasure. With a two-month lead time and the proliferation of instantaneous online news sources, they’re even harder to come by. This month, at Dynamic Business magazine, we thought we had one, but boy, did we get burnt. It’s a good job we had a quality Plan B up our sleeves.

Presenting exhibit A: the August front cover as planned for at least the last two months, featuring chocolate café creator and well known bald man Max Brenner.

Dynamic Business Max Brenner















And exhibit B: The front cover of the August issue (out this week) as it turned out, featuring Vision Personal Training founder Andrew Simmons.

Dynamic Business Andrew Simmons















An interesting glimpse behind the scenes of how we decide on a magazine cover, if you will.

So, what happened? Brenner’s PR agency, Magnum PR, approached us with the story and news of his trip to Australia from New York, months ago. I immediately asked if we’d be granted the exclusive business interview. Of course, we’re not arrogant enough to think Max Brenner’s going to come to Oz for a week and speak exclusively to little old Dynamic Business (Australia’s leading SME publication, or not), but if we were going to put him on the cover we wanted the business exclusive. Without that promise we would have done the interview anyway; he’s a fascinating chap. But without the exclusivity, we didn’t want him on the front page.

So Brenner came to Australia, I met him and did the interview, and the feature came together like a dream. Throughout the process of putting the magazine together I continually asked Magnum for reassurance that we had the business exclusive and was told yes. I even received a list of publications which had interviewed him (“The other magazines he spoke to were Good Food, Bean Scene (trade), Café Culture (also trade), Australian Traveller, Just Health and Beauty, Sunday Magazine and Nine to Five.”). Excellent reassurance and how very helpful of them, I thought. I went ahead and spent hundreds of dollars on commissioning an illustration for the feature, on the basis it was an exclusive cover story. Why not make a big deal of it?

It was all very exciting at DB HQ as we prepared to send this awesome issue to print. Then an interview with Max Brenner appeared in the Fairfax’s My Small Business section. Goodbye business exclusive!

I asked Magnum what had happened and was told they’d kept their word but that they’d offered the story to The Age’s Epicure editor, who had told them they’d passed it onto to The Age’s Metro editor and they had no idea it would end up in My Small Business (whose interview was great, I might add). I was one unhappy editor.

Magnum’s response? “We didn’t know that they would move the interview to the My Small Business section. Had we have known, we wouldn’t have gone ahead with that interview knowing we already secured the exclusive with Dynamic Business. Apologies that this has happened but it was out of our control.”

I should probably mention here that Magnum didn’t let me know when it did appear in My Small Business. I found that out through a colleague saying: “Hang on, I thought this was our exclusive?!”

So Magnum claim to have kept their word but to what extent is it their responsibility to monitor who they grant interviews to and where they intend to publish them if they’re promising certain publications exclusives? I thought I overreacted in my annoyance about what happened, but when I suggested to other PR contacts that maybe it was all an innocent mistake, they were pretty similar in their opinion, which went something along the lines of “you were totally screwed over”. I’m still not sure and I’d like to give Magnum the benefit of the doubt, but I’d be interested to know what fellow journalists and PR professionals think.

Regardless of what happened or whose fault it was, the fact was it still wasn’t an exclusive, so we pulled it off the cover. The replacement, Andrew Simmons, might not be such a big name, but, in hindsight, maybe he fits better with our profile as Australia’s leading small business magazine; someone at the start of what looks likely to be a massive international success story. Vision’s agency, MDPR, also promised us an exclusive. And do you know what? This time it really is one.

So here’s my advice to PRs: you’re not obliged to grant anyone an exclusive but, if you do, you have a responsibility to look after that exclusivity for the media you promised it to.


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