“What were they thinking?”
This was my reaction to an international PR firm’s recent response to a celebrity’s suicide. The PR giant wrote a blog post that encouraged mental health professionals and those who suffered with depression to use the tragedy as an “opportunity to engage in a national conversation” to discuss the issue and bring attention to the topic. Although their intentions may have been virtuous, the agency received a tremendous amount of backlash for the post and they have since offered an apology.
What the agency did is called “newsjacking.” The industry defines it as injecting your ideas into a breaking news story in real time in hopes of gaining media coverage and social media engagement. The term was coined in recent years, but newsjacking has been used as a PR tactic for quite some time. Newsjacking can be conducted via traditional media relations by contacting journalists to write a follow-up story after the initial news has been announced. It can also be done through social media or a company-owned blog by posting your own content as a response. Brands are praised when it’s done correctly. But when blundered, embarrassment typically ensues for all parties involved.
As an agency we’ve had great success newsjacking while working with a variety of companies. For instance, we worked with RuleSpace, a leading provider of categorization technology that made its mark by helping ISPs provide parental controls to make sure kids were surfing pages that parents deemed appropriate. Following a current story about the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into porn on the Internet and the government’s interest in protecting children, M/C/C captured the interest of the Wall Street Journal. Efforts resulted in a feature story highlighting the problem of unprotected mobile devices and the RuleSpace solutions. M/C/C also secured a feature segment on CNBC where the RuleSpace President and CEO laid out the problem and solution in compelling fashion. The coverage even got the attention of a mobile provider and led to new business opportunities for the company.
Best practices for successful newsjacking
Think your company has what it takes to gain coverage? Here’s what your agency should be doing for you.
- Lay the groundwork Set up the right tools before news breaks so you can respond quickly. Establish a blog or profiles on social media platforms now so they can be a mouthpiece when the time is right. Develop relationships with the media where applicable. When it’s time to contact them for a quick story, they’ll already know who you are.
- Listen to the news Stay up to date on the news. To be able to newsjack, you must first find the stories that warrant a response. Follow Twitter hashtags, journalists and news outlets. Set up RSS feeds and news monitoring alerts for specific keywords (Google alerts work, but we prefer an alternative, Talkwalker Alerts).
- Agility is key Time is of the essence. There is a window of opportunity in the news cycle in which newsjacking must operate in order for it to be successful. Once breaking news hits, journalists usually try to find additional sources for more information; this is the time to strike. If you wait too long the topic will become old news and the opportunity will pass.
- Use discernment Why do some newjacks turn out well and others lead to controversy? The key is knowing when to respond to a news story. There are certain conversations that you want to become involved in and others that are best left untouched. Think about the bigger picture and how your company will be perceived. Will your company look like it’s trying too hard to gain the limelight? Will you appear insensitive if you post about the topic? Do you even have a real connection to the topic, or is it too much of a stretch? Use an extra layer of caution before newsjacking.
- Make the connections Make it easy for reporters to clearly identify and understand why your company would be a good fit for a story. The correlation should be uncomplicated and simple to grasp. This should be a rule of thumb for all pitching; but with tight deadlines, it’s essential in newsjacking.
Newsjacking is a tricky business. When done correctly it can lead to long term brand recognition. The next time there’s a news story that you think might fit with your company make sure your agency has laid the groundwork to move quickly to be successful. Most importantly, don’t forget to be a part of the decision and use your best judgment together – not all events are “carpe diem” moments for newsjacking.