Ward to the Wise

The Art Of Newsjacking

The Art Of NewsjackingBreaking News! Something relevant to your industry or client has happened and you believe your expert can offer perspective and commentary. As a public relations specialist, what do you do?!

Tick tock.

If you think the current industry buzzword “newsjacking” refers to a new strategy, think again. This tried-and-true tactic of purposefully entering a timely story in the news has been deployed by seasoned, proactive PR people for decades. Over the 24 years Ward has been in business, our PR plans for clients have referred to the practice as “riding the news” or “coat-tailing the news,” but the concept is the same. Here, we give you our insights into how it works, the risks, the time demands, and the potential outcomes when you decide to insert your brand into the day’s news.

What Is It?

Newsjacking a story means you are simply leveraging the popularity and relevancy of a breaking news story to magnify your company’s or client’s message. Simply put, news is breaking all the time and there’s a point in time at which public relations specialists have a unique opportunity to ride the wave of a popular story and benefit their business or messaging objectives by playing an expert role.

Timing Is Everything

The trick to successful newsjacking is to act immediately. Back in the days of slower moving print media, we had a saying: “News today, birdcage liner tomorrow.” Today, we’d be more accurate to say, “News now, history in an hour.” The speed of news has increased exponentially, which means “old news” may not be all that old, but rather sidelined by the next emerging story. So, speed is everything if you intend to ride what’s in the news right now. Obviously the more impactful the news event, the longer the life of the story, but the fact-gathering process is happening under extreme time pressure, so you’ll have to act immediately to even be considered as a source. If you wait hours debating whether to jump in, you can pretty much count on the ship having sailed without you.

Also, the news timeframe is directly tied to the public’s attention span, which, as we know, is very, very short…the popularity of a breaking news story is fleeting. Success comes down to being nimble and proactive.

There are five significant moments of time across the lifespan of every news story:

  1. News breaks…mania!
  2. Reporters search for credible sources and information
  3. Popularity of topic increases (or decreases)
  4. Story peaks
  5. Yawn…old news

The point in time by which the newsjacking process must be initiated is in the sweet spot between the first period of a story breaking and the second when media are searching for expert sources such as those that you may have the capability to provide.

It’s pretty simple: you snooze, you lose. So, if you think you want to play in this pressure-filled, intense game, you’ll need to educate and enroll your subject matter experts long before you ask them to act. You won’t have time to do it when the ideal opportunity arises, and without them performing their role on demand, you won’t realize the goal.

By the time a story has hit the third point of its lifespan, you’ve pretty much risked your chance of inserting your business or client into further commentary on the topic. (Of course there are always exceptions based on the caliber of your spokesperson’s expertise…) However, these tight timeframes are not impossible to penetrate and capitalize on if you follow some basic tips on how to newsjack a same-day breaking story.

Monitor The News

You can’t jump on a story if you’re not in the know. You must monitor your industry and general press in real-time for news stories. One way to do this is to make technology work for you. Set up Google Alerts or an RSS feed, sign up for business media notifications such as those by the your trade journals and New York Times, monitor social media trending alerts, etc. for all keywords and topics related to your industry. This way, you’ll be among the first to get breaking news and can initiate your newsjacking response plan right away. But, nothing beats being a constant consumer of news. Ward team members flip through every TV channel and multiple print and online outlets each morning to see what’s leading the news, and what’s trending. If you don’t live and breathe news, and deeply understand the patterns and nuances of how different types of news stories develop, you won’t likely compete well when you engage with the reporters, editors, producers and bookers who are choosing the sources for next-stage coverage of the story. Bottom line, you are simply being a fellow, supporting journalist to those who are getting paid to do the job of keeping the public informed.

Identify Your Story Angle

Upon the story breaking and realizing the potential opportunity, ask yourself if it is beneficial to your business or client to try and newsjack the story. Is the story right for your business? Do you have an approved spokesperson available this minute? Is the story one that your communications or PR strategy strives to create awareness around? Is it worth the time and effort it is going to take to do it well? (It will take over your day, if not your night and week, so don’t play if you don’t intend to stay.) Everything goes to the backburner the day of a newsjack so make sure it is worth it. And news doesn’t stop at close of business, so be prepared to work almost non-stop as the news travels time zones.

Be careful not to newsjack just to newsjack. You’ll develop a reputation for responding to every breaking story no matter how tenuous your connection to it. Always, always evaluate your level of credibility and relevancy against the story angle.

And, make sure you think through the potential risks. If it’s a negative industry event you were not involved in, you don’t want to associate your brand name with it as audiences will only take away “Something-Bad + Your Brand.” They may even confuse the real culprit in the story with your company since information is flowing so fast.

Also, think through the impacts of your association with the news you intend to ride. Will customers be unhappy that their supplier spoke on the issue? Will they perceive it as helpful? Is there a competitive reason or a deal going on in the background that makes this timely opportunity not viable at the moment? Does your company culture shy away from controversy, or does your management have a practice of industry leadership and speaking out on issues? Quickly check your landscape before you act. Again, you’ll have to have educated your management and gotten their buy-in long before you need to query them on a breaking news opportunity.

Get The Word Out

You need to develop the pitch very, very quickly. There are going to be any number of reporters writing on the topic RIGHT NOW. Get out a media alert or advisory over Business Wire or PR Newswire to let reporters know you have a reputable source or expert available to talk about the subject. Or directly email or phone your print, broadcast, radio and online contacts to let them know you have someone at the ready and available as a source. When reaching out it is vital to differentiate your expert and convey the unique angle or commentary he/she can bring to the story. Don’t forget, there are many others trying to rise above the fray and capitalize on the breaking news just as you are.

That’s it! If you follow the above steps and can establish a credible position of relevancy with a reporter during a breaking news cycle, chances are better you’ll land an interview. Strategically use newsjacking opportunities to get your business message into a news cycle that helps to advance the objectives of your communications strategy. Newsjacking is also an excellent way for public relations strategists to open doors with the media for future exposure of your business or client. Reporters are always looking for knowledgeable and reliable sources of information.

Be prepared that not all your attempts to coattail the news will result in coverage. You’ll win some and you’ll lose some. But, your attempt to support deadline-pressured reporters will make you a relied-upon source, as long as you really are coming to the table only when you have something of value to offer the reporter’s audience, with education, timely data, perspective, or forecasts. If not, you are a time-waster to a harried journalist, and you’ll be blackballed instead. Don’t just call to promote your company….kiss of death for your media relations.

When you are successful at riding the day’s news, you’ll see your brand and subject matter experts quoted as thought leaders, swaying outcomes by their vocal leadership. Often the phone rings with new partnership and project opportunities from readers and viewers who discover your company and expertise in the news. Clients tell us frequently about doors that opened and contract opportunities from companies they didn’t even have on their prospect lists, just because their brand name featured front and center in a news item that wasn’t their own announcement.

By whatever name you call it, newsjacking isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’d like to cause better proactive communication with reporters who influence your key audiences through strategic media relations tactics such as newsjacking, but don’t want to be a DIYer when the opportunity arises, or simply don’t have the time or resources internally to work with the speed and longevity required, contact us and let Ward show you how to cause the media results you seek.

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