Pavel Datsyuk and the Art of the Media Exclusive

By: Stephanie Cosby

Rumors about Pavel Datsyuk’s future with the Detroit Red Wings have been swirling all season. While he still has one year left on his contract, fans have been asking for the better part of the 2015-16 season: Will Datsyuk stay, or will he go back home to Russia?

Datsyuk released news of his intentions in a unique and strategic way—rather than releasing the news to the masses by hosting a press conference, or sending out a press release, he and his agent chose to do an exclusive interview with Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press. The comprehensive story clocked in at nearly 2,500 words, and through a series of interviews and reflections on big moments over the past few years, allowed Datsyuk to explain in detail why he intends to leave the NHL after this season ends. At Datsyuk’s request, the Free Press waited to publish the story until the day after the Wings’ regular season ended.

Word spread immediately as soon as the story went live—outlets large and small quickly covered the announcement, and the original story has been shared nearly 30,000 times on Facebook—and the majority of the coverage included the emotional, family-focused narrative Albom built. Following the story, there were of course rumbles from discontented fans about the contract issue, and also sadness over his departure, but all in all, the public seemed to understand and accept the personal reasons for the decisions—thanks in large part to how closely the Free Press article focused on these reasons.

You don’t have to be a pro sports player to take a few cues on how to artfully unveil big news with an exclusive. Here’s what we can learn from Datsyuk’s method:

Know when an exclusive makes sense
Will your news have a major impact on how stakeholders and target audiences think about and interact with your organization? Is your announcement complex and detail-rich, so much so that a press release might not be enough room to tell the full story? Is timing an important factor?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, offering your announcement as an exclusive to a trusted outlet could be a good strategy. Releasing news as an exclusive affords you more time to prepare and share details, and builds a rapport with the reporter that often shows through in the final story. In addition to getting the chance to tell your full story, you also may be able to negotiate its release date to ensure it’s in line with your overall strategy.

In this instance, Datsyuk is one of the most loved, respected and celebrated team members in Red Wings history, so news of his departure was bound to have a massive impact on not only the fan base, but also the league and sports industry as a whole. In addition, with the Wings gunning for a playoff spot, it was a very precarious time for news like this to come out. Thus, Datsyuk requested it be held until the regular season had concluded, so as not to distract anyone from the playoff push, and before the playoffs began to allow him and the team to focus on competing rather than the rumors.

Choose the right reporter
Once you have decided that your news is exclusive-worthy, the next step is to carefully determine the reporter and outlet that will best fit the story. In Datsyuk’s case, Mitch Albom was the perfect choice. Albom has been writing about the Red Wings for many years, so he has a strong familiarity with the team and with Datsyuk himself. His stories often have a feature- or message-driven angle weaving complex details and narratives together, and he has become known for his empathetic, emotion-inducing writing style—a style that was conducive to a tricky retirement story that could potentially upset people. And as an internationally recognized and respected columnist with the Free Press, one of Detroit’s two major print outlets, his reach is substantial.

When determining who to approach with the potential for an exclusive story, ask yourself: Does it make more sense to break this with a local publication or a trade outlet? Which reporters in this sphere have we built strong relationships with, to the point that they have a solid understanding of our organization’s mission and history? What is their reach like? Who has a style of writing and topic focus that matches the news we have to share?

Be prepared to share
Part of what made Albom’s piece about Datsyuk’s plans so compelling was how in-depth and personal it was. It was very clear that he and Datsyuk have had many conversations over the past few weeks and months, and that Datsyuk and his agent were very honest and open every step of the way—even on difficult topics like the cap space Datsyuk’s contract will take up for another year on the Wings’ roster when he leaves. All in all, the story answered every potential question a reader might have because Datsyuk was so forthcoming with Albom during the interview process.

Use the exclusive as the chance to tell your entire story—now is not the time to be coy or hold back important information. Put the time and effort in with the reporter, be candid, be responsive and share as many details as you can to paint the full picture.

Be ready to respond
Whether you decide to distribute a press release about your announcement after the story officially breaks, or if you hold off on proactively sending out details, you should be prepared to respond quickly when phone calls and emails start rolling in from other outlets after the story breaks. This can include everything from having the necessary releases, fact sheets and photos ready to go, to thinking through potential spinoff questions other outlets, who will be looking for a unique angle to take to differentiate their story, might ask.

What other types of instances do you think announcements should be broken as an exclusive?