When did a PR ‘exclusive’ stop being exclusive?

Last week saw yet another embarrassing media mixup as both The Sunday Project and Sunrise claimed to have dibs on an ‘exclusive’ interview with Kim Kardashian, ahead of the reality star’s turn as an Uber Eats spokesperson. Pure Public Relations' Phoebe Netto wonders when ‘exclusive’ stopped meaning ‘exclusive’ in PR.

Late last week, The Sunday Project host Lisa Wilkinson announced to her Instagram followers that she had secured Australia’s only TV interview with the one and only Kim Kardashian. The interview, which aired on Ten on the weekend, was also touted as an exclusive in The Sunday Project’s marketing material leading up to the program.

So – as News.com.au so rightly points out – it was rather strange when on Friday morning, Kim appeared via satellite on Seven’s Sunrise for an ‘exclusive’ live interview with Sam Armytage and David Koch.

This is just one of many examples from across the media of the word ‘exclusive’ being used in a very liberal fashion.

During my time in PR, I have heard three completely different definitions of media exclusives:

1. No other media outlet gets the story besides the one offered the exclusive.

2. Only one media outlet from a single category will get the story (e.g. a newspaper exclusive for just one paper, but radio might get it too).

3. One media outlet gets a head start on the story and then everyone else gets it after they have broken it.

Let’s take them one by one, shall we?

No other media outlet gets the story besides the one offered the exclusive.

This definition is every journalist’s favourite, since no other media outlet, of any kind, will receive the story. A good proportion of media will expect this definition, and see this as the only true meaning of the promise of an exclusive. So unless it’s spelled out in any other way, this is the definition a journalist will automatically assume is being used – and rightly so.

Only one media outlet from a single category will get the story.

Category exclusives are pretty common in agency-land. For example: “you are the only newspaper that will get this from us”, “you are the only radio program to score an interview with our client”, “we aren’t speaking to any other TV programs” and “you are the only mag to get the cover story”.

This can get murky quickly, as networks and publishers sometimes share stories around sections, mastheads, sites, and programs. You need to be very careful to remove all risk if you want to play with this kind of fire.

Finally, we move on to the most unlikely choice:

One lucky media outlet gets a head start, but then it’s a free-for-all.

This definition certainly wouldn’t work in most dating relationships… and it appears to be what Sunrise is defining as an exclusive. Clearly, not everyone shares this understanding.

In my experience, this doesn’t excite media – unless you’re offering huge breaking news that will ultimately get out anyway. In the majority of cases, I wouldn’t take up their time even offering it, because most journalists wouldn’t even categorise this as an ‘exclusive’.

But wait, there’s a secret bonus option, apparently considered a ‘good idea’ by some nefarious corners of the PR industry:

4. The one where a PR agent locks in an exclusive but doesn’t stick to it and the journalist finds out that someone else is also running the story.

The less said about this option, the better.

Sunrise also ran an ‘exclusive’ with Kim Kardashian, after one had been advertised by Ten’s The Sunday Project

So which is right?

When I secure media coverage for a client, I’m simultaneously trying to make the journalist’s job easier by giving them a story that they are happy to cover. Every PR agent’s goal should be to form good long-term relationships with the media.

So instead of taking the ‘instant gratification’ approach that’s all about immediate coverage, think of the long-term impact of your actions. It’s a small world, after all, and more than one client can benefit from positive media relationships.

Any PR whose definition of ‘exclusive’ differs greatly from the journalist they’re dealing with are certainly not making anyone’s job easier. It’s poor form, unprofessional, slack… and it certainly doesn’t benefit them in the long run.

It goes without saying PR agents must be completely transparent about their ‘exclusive’ at the very first offer. This sounds blatantly obvious, and yet I regularly hear horror stories from media outlets where this didn’t happen.

It’s almost as though some PR agents hope to trick media with a bait and switch, waving the shiny ‘exclusive’ offer in front of a journalist only to give them an ‘almost exclusive’ after they have given it their time and even approval. Instead, always ask the journalist if they are happy with the approach and be prepared to reconsider the original strategy.

Once an agreement is in place, it’s the PR agency’s responsibility to follow through and communicate. If you stuff up or something changes, do the next best thing to self-flagellation and fess up straight away.

Over time, I hope we as an industry can be more careful with how we throw around the word ‘exclusive’. If we are going to ‘bait’ media with it, we need to make sure that we follow through. If we don’t, the word will lose its power – or perhaps it already has.

Phoebe Netto is the founder of Pure Public Relations.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.