Marijane Funess November 6, 2012 | 01:13:46

PR Pros, To Newsjack Or Not To Newsjack?

Sometimes the lines are clear as day. A story hits, and hits hard, and you have a client with an ancillary message that meshes perfectly. Last year, as unemployment was peaking, and new grads were facing an uncertain job market, we mounted an unlikely, and therefore newsworthy, job search on behalf of a client. It was a positive pitch in a negative time and proved terribly successful with business and consumer press.

Sometimes the lines are not so clear, as evidenced by Superstorm Sandy and all that she unleashed. Many well-meaning companies, large and small brands alike, made such significant contributions to the recovery effort that they deserve mention in the media.

Where the need to newsjack became questionable was with certain companies or individuals who felt compelled to slap “Sandy” on a sale or promotion or unrelated piece of company business in the hope of riding the Sandy wave.

In most cases, this fails utterly and triggers a backlash, as when InStyle magazine offered a special package of cosmetics under the thematic name Hurricane Sandy Have You Stuck Inside? 5 Beauty Treatments to Help Ride Out the Storm. Clueless! Or when Online dating site HowAboutWe published a blog post titled “18 of Our Favorite Hurricane Sandy Date Ideas from HowAboutWe Members” that explores hurricane-themed date ideas from members.

These ideas may have seemed smart “on paper” but can only be considered opportunistic once executed. Do you find yourself questioning when to “newsjack” a breaking news event? Ask yourself these questions to help determine the best approach.

1. Is your client providing a true service to the suffering? Whether educational, monetary or tangible in any other way, if the answer is yes, then a modest message is palatable and even helpful.
2. Does the link between your client and the event pass “the smell test” (does common sense tell you that the connection is actually authentic, credible, ethical?)
3. Is your news timely? Can you get something relevant out in time for the connection to be meaningful rather than “me too?”
4. Is the client offering clever? Catchy? Avoid a lazy latch-on in favor of a smart, well thought-out approach.

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