In 2019, I painstakingly secured the UK exclusive for The Times to cover an imminent hotel in South Africa. That hotel was then – in the great tradition of new hotels – delayed. Then it was really delayed by the pandemic. Then it opened, but I couldn’t go due to international travel bans. Then it… appeared in The Telegraph. Yes. And that was the end of that.
Exclusives are funny things. From the journalist side, they’re often a meticulous faff to arrange and, as per this example, a total waste of time. They’re anxiety-inducing, too: the constant fear that someone will get there first, rendering your story obsolete.
I get it from the editorial side. “Exclusive” is a powerful, sexy word with which to impress readers, plus no travel editor wants their overall editor pointedly enquiring why other, relevant stories are always breaking in a rival publication, hmm?
From the PR perspective, they’re most stressful. There’s the challenge of keeping a lid on the story; in my South African example, a domestic South African journalist had pitched the story to the Telegraph without the PR’s knowing. Ultimately, that PR should have been more vigilant in declaring and protecting the story’s UK exclusive, but I can understand how that got overlooked amid all the other challenges surrounding a press trip.
According to independent consultant Matt Vines, “some editors who used to insist on (exclusives) have now relaxed their stance; some want them more than ever.” That only adds to the confusion. My suspicion is that calls for exclusives usually have classic rivalries to thank: the Telegraph and Times; the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday; TTG and Travel Weekly; Boutique Hotel News and Boutique Hotelier. When those are concerned, an exclusive probably matters more.
These seem to be the key things to determine:
1) Is the exclusive global, national or only sector-based (i.e. consumer?)
2) Have you clarified all exclusives to all journalists attending a press trip?
3) Are news stories okay, or will they compromise an exclusive?
The big one, of course, is – once the trip happens – when the exclusive will come out? Editors are famously reticent about providing publication dates, but this is the one scenario when they’re almost obliged to do so. You can then say that you’ll protect the exclusive until that date; if the publication runs the story later, then that’s their funeral.
Lastly, when your client wants to give the exclusive to a monthly magazine like Conde Nast Traveller, be clear that this likely means no other features elsewhere for at least six months after opening, so long is CNT’s lead time. Can they justify that? If so, and should they later express frustration at a lack of coverage, you’ll be able to point back to this conversation.