Newsjacking: Traditional PR Tactic Gets Jacked Up

by Scott Baradell | Public Relations

What is newsjacking?

In the first post in this series we outlined the growing trend of marketers using traditional PR tactics to strengthen their inbound marketing strategies. Today, we’re discussing newsjacking, which is a prime example of this trend.

Newsjacking Builds Buzz Around Hot Topics

David Meerman Scott popularized the term “newsjacking” and published the definitive book in 2011. Since then, hundreds (if not thousands) of unwary amateurs have played with newsjacking and been burned.

The only distinction between topical PR and newsjacking is that PR is more commonly associated with traditional media and newsjacking with social media – and social media moves fast.

Whether you call it newsjacking or PR, whether you do it to get a magazine interview or a retweet, the principles are the same:

  • Find a growing news topic that’s relevant to your brand
  • Understand the needs and interests of the media outlet
  • Contribute something valuable to the outlet that connects your brand to the topic

Brands Getting Jacked Up

Before the Internet, PR reps worked with editors and contacts to get the message right. Topical pitches that exhibited poor taste or other errors in judgment were weeded out before ever reaching
a reporter’s desk. If they did make it to a media outlet, they were quashed prior to publication.

In social media, those filters are gone. Facebook and Twitter 
are instant platforms. Running ideas up the chain of command, the “soft sounding” of topical pitches with media friendlies, and other traditional tactics are no longer options when time is of the essence.

One would assume that brands would only authorize their most seasoned professionals to manage their social media strategies. But the opposite often has been the case.

Instant media, combined with amateur management, has led to spectacular PR disasters.

One of the most egregious examples of 2013 came from Epicurious, who sent these tweets shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing:

Epicurious Tweet

Epicurious got plenty of attention, but mostly as a stunning example of insensitivity.

How to Newsjack the Right Way

To prevent newsjacking from jacking up your brand, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Am I reaching the right people?

Remember your goal. You want to get attention from your target audience with a message that strengthens your brand.

2. Will they care about my message?

Reaching the audience is only half of the battle. You still have to say something that’s interesting and relevant to your business.

News stories, no matter how
hot they are, are not infinitely flexible. If you cannot find a way to connect the story to your business, don’t stretch it. You will only irritate people by adding to the self-serving noise around any big story in the news.

3. Will this message have drawbacks?

The news is full of stories that are better left untouched. For example, avoid anything tragic. Trying to springboard off someone’s misery will not reflect well on your brand. Remember the Epicurious example.

Also, avoid controversial topics. That includes anything political. To associate yourself with a controversy is to connect your brand with one side of the issue and disconnect it from the other.

These questions might sound new and interesting to a marketing intern who is trying to understand newsjacking, but they’re old- hat to PR veterans. The next time you want to catch a ride on a big news story, ask someone who has taken the ride a few
times. They’ll keep your brand on the
right track.

Our next post in this series will discuss media outreach and its evolution to a crucial piece of any inbound marketing strategy.

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