Published: Jul 16, 2021
Last Updated: Jul 19, 2021

(Part of an occasional series on public relations strategy.)

We've all heard of "newsjacking" at this point—the clever term coined by David Meerman Scott in 2011 to describe “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” It was one of Oxford Dictionaries' Words of the Year in 2017, as a matter of fact.

What you might not know is that newsjacking—also known as topical PR—has been around forever. PR people have been inserting their clients into trending news stories since the days of Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays.

What's changed, with the emergence of social media, is the speed of the news cycle and variety of information sources. We've gone from slow-pitch softball to 100 mph fastballs sailing just below our chins.

And that means to be successful with public relations strategy today, we have to be comfortable with rapid change.

Trend-Surfing in an Information-Obsessed World

You’ve heard this before and you’ll hear it again: we’re living in a information-obsessed world and there’s no going back. Devices, lists, and memes constantly surround us. We’re inundated with notifications almost by the minute, and we check our feeds even more often. Remember that time when you forgot your phone at home? I sure do, because I almost had a panic attack.

With all of this comes the reality of shorter attention spans and fewer human interactions. The way that audiences digest information is constantly evolving. There’s more competition for capturing attention, and brands must always stay ahead just to keep up with the pack.

So what about standing out? In a world where audiences have endless choices and innovations occur on a daily basis, PR strategists must learn to work with this evolution, not against it.

Look at it this way: for every challenge that comes with this reality, there’s an even more meaningful potential benefit. Technology lets us share information more creatively, globally and immediately than ever before. Human nature is such that we will always be exploring — always curious about the world around us. Lean into that opportunity.

Remember Google Glass? Me Neither

Part of successfully adapting to change in PR is being comfortable with uncertainty. Don’t get too attached to any one new method or breakthrough. Today’s treasure could be tomorrow’s trash.

Remember Google Glass? Everyone thought it was the next great tech innovation, and now we’ve all but forgotten about it. Give revelations time to come into their own, and don’t be so stuck in your ways that you miss the next big thing.

Once you’re committed to being flexible and nimble in your approach to strategy, it’s time to try out some new tricks. Embrace the newest algorithm or today’s top trend. You’ll have some hits and you’ll have some misses. Luckily for you, those misses won’t be nearly as painful when you’re quick to adapt.

Just remember: the companies that are left behind are those that are afraid to try.

Get in on the conversation

If you’re going to pursue thought leadership marketing in 2021, you need to keep up with industry news — and you better have something to add to the conversation.

These days, it can be tough to figure out what to pay attention to when there’s so much out there to consume. You need to understand which sources of information are most important to your audience. Fortunately, you have the opportunity to guide your audience toward the most important topics and share your perspective on the issues.

With all the purchasing decisions they must make, buyers want to see that you take the time to digest and formulate an opinion on industry trends that will resonate with them. Just because the information flies at you at high speed and from all directions, that doesn't mean you have to shoot from the hip.

Stay informed by subscribing to top blogs, newsletters, podcasts and publications. Then create content with your own unique spin and knowledge of your audience—and on your own timetable. 

Newsjack When It Feels Right

That doesn't mean you shouldn't also newsjack for quick PR wins. Dive right into trending topics; the water's fine—if you have a firm grasp of your brand and a steady hand at the wheel. 

In today’s busy world, news is constantly breaking and the next big headline is right around the corner. And who doesn’t want to be part of a trending story? But tread carefully, or the next headline could be about your newsjacking fail.

Following are a few newsjacking dos and don’ts for 2021.

Do Act Fast

The popularity of a news story comes to an end just as quickly as it rises. So in order for your company to reap the benefits of newsjacking, you have to constantly be ready to jump in when a story breaks.

As Scott has put it: “If you are clever enough to react to breaking news very quickly, providing credible second-paragraph content in a blog post, tweet, or media alert that features the keyword of the moment, you may be rewarded with a bonanza of media attention.”

The chart below is a good reference for when you should act on a story.

Our advice for accomplishing this: set up news alerts for key industry topics and use social listening tools to track relevant conversations in real time. This will enable you to constantly monitor conversations that you could contribute to.

Whatever you do, remember that it’s better to be right than to be quick. Give yourself time to check your work before it’s published.

Do Be Creative

Take creative risks. What will catch your audience’s eye? You won’t be the only company trying to relate to the news so you have stand out.

Experiment with a catchy approach to the headline. Whip up a unique visual. Also, don’t limit yourself to news that’s strictly related to your industry. Think about how you can tie a broader topic back to what your company has to offer.

A great example of getting creative by going outside of the bounds of one’s industry can be found with one of Idea Grove’s clients. We worked with Randstad RiseSmart—an HR technology company—to newsjack Super Bowl coverage annually for many years, earning attention in outlets ranging from The Wall Street Journal to ESPN and CNBC. 

Here’s the bottom line: creativity is worth the risk.

Don’t Newsjack Sensitive Topics

Be careful with topics related to death, destruction, war, politics, religion, sex etc. You will likely gain negative attention if people think that you’re taking advantage of something like war or death for your company’s own benefit. And you know what they say: don’t talk politics at the dinner table. Stay away from overly divisive issues to avoid isolating certain segments of your audience.

That said, do have a social purpose and take a stand on social issues that align with that purpose. You will earn the trust and loyalty of customers and the public for it.

When you do newsjack more serious topics, remember to examine the approach from all angles. Ask these questions: How might someone misinterpret your story? Is there any chance this will make your company look out of touch or insensitive? And remember, half of the fun of newsjacking is just that: fun. Don’t forget to have a good time.

Don’t Limit Your Platforms

Social media posts are not your only platform when newsjacking. Media pitches, press releases, blogs, podcasts and live streams are just a few examples of ways to share your newsjacking story. Use your website as a base of operations. When your newsjacking content lives on your site, it won’t be as quickly lost in the shuffle of a trending topic.

Experimenting with different types of content means analyzing which types perform best for your company. Track and analyze the results for each medium. Ditch those that don’t work so well and leverage those that do.

Find balance

Finally, finding balance is important—for you and for your audience, too. Always being the first to comment on a newly trending topic isn’t everything. Embrace the 24-hour information cycle and take advantage of technology's continued evolution, but don’t forget about human interaction in the real world—and taking a break once in a while. Encourage your audience to do the same.

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About the Author

Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell is CEO of the unified PR and marketing agency Idea Grove, one of the top 25 technology PR firms in the United States. His first book, Trust Signals, is scheduled for publication in 2021.

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