David Meerman Scott

Don’t Be Put Off by the Term. Newsjacking Works.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

“Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.”

David Meerman Scott hijacked this term to describe a new type of media relations that hops aboard a trending story or topic instead of trying to launch a story from a cold start. Not everyone in the public relations world thinks newsjacking is a great term or idea.

“As a public relations executive with more than 20 years of experience and a track record for creatively connecting clients to top-tier media opportunities, I was initially amused by the mashup ‘newsjacking’ – but only for about 30 seconds,” writes Tracey Boudine, vice president of Wise Public Relations. “Who wants to position themselves as an expert on hijacking news?”

Seen as a form of hijacking, the concept isn’t all that attractive. But that’s not really Scott’s point. In explaining his view on newsjacking, Scott says:

“When there is news in your marketplace, reporters and analysts are looking for experts to comment on the story. Newsjacking gets you media attention. With little effort.

"As a story develops in real-time, buyers become interested in products and services based on what’s happening now. Newsjacking generates sales leads and adds new customers. For free.”

One of the most appealing elements of newsjacking is that anyone who is plugged in can do it. “Newsjacking is being used right now by nonprofits, political campaigns, business-to-business marketers and individuals,” Scott says.

Since a lot of newsjacking involves social media, the cost is minimal. The premium isn’t on how much money you have in the budget, but on how much imagination you have in the brain. “News gathering happens in real time, and it can encompass anyone who steps forward quickly with credible input,” Scott says.

Boudin takes issue with calling Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet about dunking in the dark an example of newsjacking. She says the trending tweet is better described as “real-time, social media marketing.” But that’s semantics. “News” isn’t restricted to what’s covered by newspapers or TV stations.

In an amusing recent segment, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon noted that more people now get their news from Facebook than any other source. Then he provided some Facebook “news” examples: “Nobody Knows When to Unfriend a Dead Co-Worker” and “Wall Post Discussion About Pumpkin Spice Latte Still Ends Up About Obama.”

Those are fake headlines, but you get the point. News is what people make it. Newsjacking is just a tactic to surf on whatever news wave is sweeping by your target audience.

Don’t crinkle your nose over the term newsjacking. The concept works. Here is a great example from my PR colleague, Dan Keeney:

The Society for Heart Attack Prevention & Eradication (SHAPE) was frustrated by the slow adoption rate of its techniques to identify people at risk of an imminent heart attack. In the hours after former President Bill Clinton’s heart attack scare, Keeney coined the term “The Clinton Syndrome” and used it as an example of how SHAPE’s assessment process works to save lives. Keeney’s rapid response earned quality media coverage in major print and electronic media across the nation, including a cover story in TIME magazine. The exposure SHAPE gained from Keeney’s newsjacking of the Clinton heart attack scare created grassroots pressure and eventually led the American Heart Association to adopt guidelines based on SHAPE’s recommendations.

If you haven’t added newsjacking to your media relations arsenal, you are missing opportunities that literally are at your fingertips.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Newsjacking Versus News Releases

Earning media coverage by constantly pitching stories, including ones with flimsy news value, can seem depressingly hard and frustrating. Try newsjacking for a refreshing change.

Newsjacking allows you to hop on a trending topic with your own spin or comment, delivering your key message in a powerful, unfiltered way.

Newsjacking is a concept coined by David Meerman Scott for jumping on a trending topic with your own spin or comment. The advantage of newsjacking is that you are hopping onto a freight train already moving. The benefit of newsjacking is that your pile-on can be more message-centric.

In the media relations world, you need to jump through hoops to gain the attention of reporters, who receive hundreds of story pitches and treat many of them dismissively. All those hoops can obscure the main point you want to get across in your earned media attempt.

The 2013 Super Bowl blackout resulted in two of the best known consumer brand newsjackings. Oreo tweeted that people should use the blackout as a timeout to indulge a childish delight by pouring a glass of milk and dipping the popular cookie sandwich. Tide improvised with a tweet that said, "We can't get your #blackout, but we can get your stains out." Both were retweeted thousands of times at a value of millions of dollars in exposure. Their highest value, however, was in the targeted message they delivered at a time when people were listening.

Waiting around for major events to newsjack isn't a very productive media relations strategy, so you need to develop and pitch stories. But newsjacking should be an element in your plan – and an example of how to think of opportunities to drive your message, not just rack up column inches or blog references.

It's worth recalling that Scott also encourages marketers to create their own publishing platforms. To be effective, these platforms need constant content feeding. It is a perfect place for the media release the boss made you send, but will never see the light of day. And it is the perfect place to add more exciting content – including your newsjacking tweets or events –  that might appeal to reporters, bloggers and your own consumers.

Self-publishing platforms are a smart choice in an era when consumers have become their own content editors. You need to package your content so they can find what they want, but you can give them a lot of piles to search.

And your clever newsjacking will act as a neon sign for the media, online influencers and consumers as they seek you out online at your always open publishing platform.

This will be much more effective than trying to plug weak stories, me-too comments or non-news.

Twitterjacking the Grammy's

David Meerman Scott has extolled the power of newsjacking. Josh Martin, social media manager for Arby's, has proven the power of twitterjacking.

Tuned into the Grammy Awards, Martin was poised with some pre-developed tweets when he noticed online buzz comparing Grammy award winner Pharrell Williams hat to the fast food company's well-known logo.

Quick on his fingertips, Martin tapped this simple tweet – "Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs."

Martin's quick-witted addition to the conversation turned into a "great real-time moment," earning 83,000 retweets and was "favorited" 48,000 times.

More important, Williams playfully responded with his own tweet, "Y'all tryna start a roast beef?" which was flashed to the artist's 2.7 million Twitter followers, gaining another 16,988 retweets and 14,195 "favorites" — huge earned exposure for a second-echelon fast food restaurant.

Tips for Brand Journalists

Brand journalism is all about feeding your viewers content that interests or informs them, rather than writing a string of press releases about what you want to tell them.

For many PR and marketing professionals, especially those who never worked on a college student newspaper, brand journalism can be uncomfortable. Training to develop and deliver key messages must give way to reportorial instincts about story hooks, absorbing stories and visual storytelling. You don't push, you reel in. You don't hype, you engage.

For the journalistically challenged, here are some brand journalism tips: 

1. Think stories, not press releases

Reporters and their editors think in terms of stories. What's happening that is newsworthy? What would our readers or viewers like to know? Brand journalists should ask the same kinds of questions to determine what kind of content to post on a website or a blog. Understanding brand consumers and their expectations is critical to producing stories that will capture their interest and make them repeat clickers. Social media guru Jay Baer stresses the importance of "youtility" in brand journalism content. Tell stories that matter to your viewers.

2. Package your content for ease of access

Print, electronic and digital media package their content so it is easy for readers and viewers to find what they are looking for fast. ESPN divides its dense website into different sports. Newspapers have different sections, dividing national news from local news and business news from entertainment news. Television stations have different anchors for news, weather and sports. In addition to ease of access, packaging also is designed to expose as much content as possible. There is a reason why the sports page is usually deep inside the paper and the sports report is at the end of the news broadcast. Brand journalists need to employ similar packaging techniques to make their content accessible and expose as much of it as possible.

3. Behave like a photojournalist

Your website and blogs need what journalists call "good art." People like pictures and video. Reporters today, even for print and web-based publications, are asked to tote around cameras or camcorders. This harkens back to the days when reporters, especially those working for small daily and weekly newspapers, served in the role of photojournalists. They covered the stories and conducted the interviews while keeping an eye out for visual opportunities. My personal photojournalism gem was a picture in Portland Angeles showing a mile-long line of log trucks carrying single, huge logs cut down from an old-growth forest. The picture ran with no story. None was needed. As the hundreds of reader comments noted, it was a picture for the history books. Brand journalists need to look for pictures for the history books that tell stories and captivate viewers. 

Rethinking the Press Release

Thinking of fresh story hooks and communications channels is better use of your time than word-smithing a press release, which won't run verbatim in major publications anyway.While some organizations waste time word-smithing a press release, wiser hands think of creative ways to entice coverage of their story by reporters and bloggers. Others just publish their own stories.

This doesn't mean the press release is dead. It just means there are a lot more options to look at besides grinding out a faux news story, with the obligatory and often gratuitous quote by the CEO.

Here are some options for story pitching:

Trust Marketing Through Engaging Content

In today's marketplace, you need to build trust before you make your sales pitch and content marketing is the path to follow.Successful salesmen spend as much time building rapport with customers as pitching their products or services. The online equivalent is content marketing.

Content marketing engages a target audience by educating them or involving them.

Red Bull is a perfect example, with a website that looks more like an online news outlet than a product catalogue. Its online content is aimed at people who dream of a high-octane lifestyle — surfing on an exotic beach in Hawaii to free-flying from a mountaintop peak. Its news content feeds the appetite of pumped up people, molded into a community by their consumption of Red Bull.

Closer to home, Rogue Ales has invented Rogue Nation around the mantra of "Dare. Risk. Dream." Its pledge of allegiance includes "Rogues take risks," "Rogues have respect for diversity" and "Rogues have one foot in reality to let them get the job done, but they are, nonetheless, led by their dreams" — all this "in the Pursuit of Beer with Taste."


Okay that's not really a word, but it should be — to describe the failure of telling your story.

In a CBS News interview, President Obama said the biggest mistake of his first term was failing to "tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."

David Meerman Scott agreed in his blog with the president's self-assessment and reflected back on a 2008 post titled "Ten marketing lessons from the Barack Obama presidential campaign." Lesson #3, Scott said, was "clearly and simply articulate what you want people to believe."

Robert Holland, who handles internal communications for a Fortune 500 company in Virginia, took issue with GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney's comeback that the presidency is all about leadership, not storytelling.

"Yes, being president is about leading," Holland wrote in his blog, "but a big part of leadership is telling stories. Ronald Reagan knew it and that's why he is still called 'The Great Communicator.'"

Holland recalled the views of Carol Kinsey Goman, who counsels businesses on culture change. "Good stories are more powerful than plain facts," Goman said. "That is not to reject the value of facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in influencing people. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Stories give facts meaning."

Businesses, nonprofits and public agencies routinely spout facts and talk about policies without connecting them to the audience they are trying to reach. Storytelling would help.