How can PR agencies keep their clients top-of-mind in a 24-hour media environment? The most effective public relations teams develop strategies to “newsjack” for opportunities to keep pace with the news cycle. This is particularly useful when an organization doesn’t have hard news to share, or when the product roadmap doesn’t contain any new launches or innovations to generate media coverage.
Besides, elevating a brand or company’s image by carefully inserting their business or product into the existing conversation is exciting. It could essentially leverage one agency’s capability over another’s when seeking new business opportunities. And there are certain B2B tech sectors, like cybersecurity, where reactive media pitching is often a large and important program component. Digital security brands, among others, need to be visible when the latest ransomware story is dominating headlines.
How Newsjacking Works
Newsjacking, as defined by David Meerman Scott, is “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” Reactive media pitching should not be the centerpiece of a good PR program; however, it can help capitalize on opportunities that generate tangible results and positive buzz.
PR teams must operate in a real-time mindset to do this well in a 24-hour news cycle. Media must deliver new and compelling information to consumers instantly in a hotly competitive environment, and we’re here to help.
Speed is the most critical element of successful newsjacking, so the PR team should act fast. How soon is too soon, though?
Avoid breaking news that is controversial or polarizing
There’s a fine line between being opportunistic and being gratuitous. PR agencies must determine if the juice is worth the squeeze, acting judiciously and using good judgment. By using a thoughtful approach we can maintain the client’s integrity and our own credibility when actively chasing a breaking story. Avoid tragic events, or at the very least gauge risk by assessing how the audience might respond.
Brands should also make sure the messaging and tone employed along with the news or trend they’re focused on is aligned with their business or product. Jumping on a story for the sake of coverage may have the opposite result than intended, positioning the brand as insensitive or worse. We saw this when Urban Outfitters and others used Hurricane Sandy to promote online shopping by touting #SandySales.
Are you fast enough?
Because news moves quickly, the pressure is on to develop a creative, well-packaged message that provides an original, relevant angle. Don’t wait on the next big story to break; instead anticipate the needs of journalists with whom you have established relationships and know your industry. Beyond that, it is optimal to newsjack within 24-48 hours of news breaking as journalists rush to develop their next major stories.
At a typical PR agency, success can depend on getting timely client approval for a same-day response to a breaking story. That means that the broad messaging and coordination process should be worked out in advance. A good PR plan can include solid examples of relevant situations and stories for comment so that all parties agree on what’s appropriate.
“Early on, PRs must communicate the importance of newsjacking and explain how it works to ensure their buy-in and reinforce the value. Then, if a client is immediately needed for approvals, interviews, etc., they’ll understand and deliver,” shares our own Chris Harihar.
Finally, PR teams can ensure a speedy response by dedicating a team member to handling research. Knowing your audience is great, but understanding how media operate and whom to target at those outlets is key.
You can’t plan to newsjack, but you can anticipate trends
It all starts with the plan. PR teams should look ahead to forthcoming news events and determine trends, but, unfortunately, it is impossible to predict the next big story.
So, how can we position brands and companies as relevant when the news cycle shifts the conversation so quickly?
Stay up to speed on the latest news. Narrow the focus to your industry through media monitoring tools like Google Alerts, building a Twitter moments list and flagging trending news or relevant keyword searches.
Have easy access to a content library of pre-approved commentary from company spokespersons, compiled pitches, data reports and, if applicable, company blogs.
Streamline the process for journalists by keeping responses short, sweet and to the point.
Finally, bear in mind that newsjacking doesn’t have to be negative; in fact, it’s usually smarter to focus on positive stories or breaking news that’s relatively neutral, like an economic report or corporate merger. A cross-national study of negativity bias in humans shared “the potential for more positive content, and suggest that there may be a reason to reconsider the conventional journalistic wisdom that if it bleeds, it leads.”