media relations

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 and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Advice for Aspiring PR Pros

Dear PR Student:

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

Congratulations. You are embarking on a fascinating career ride in public relations. Here is some unsolicited advice that may come in handy.

1. Take journalism classes. You very likely will be asked to write press releases. You should know what it's like to receive one.

Understanding news media needs and demands puts you in a better position to help, not just send an email with a news release. The goal is to get your client's message into print, online or on air. Having first-hand knowledge of how news is identified, researched, prepared and delivered can guide when and how you approach reporters and editors, as well as what you serve up to them.

Volunteering to work for a student newspaper is a great way to get experience. It will ground you in basics such as Associated Press style and serve as a reminder of grammar. It also will force you to write with the reader, not a client, in mind.

2. Be a liberal arts student. PR clients come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their needs will stretch your knowledge. There is no way to know in advance everything you will need to know. The best you can do is to learn how to learn — fast.

Luckily, that is what a liberal arts education is intended to provide. All those non-major requirements may seem like boxes to check en route to a degree. In fact, they are important way stations to widen your horizon, to open your mind to knowledge you may have had no idea how to acquire or assimilate.

Take a physics class. You will be surprised how valuable it can be in understanding new technology. Take an economics class so your client's business plan doesn't look like gibberish.

3. Learn the tools of the trade. One of the exciting dimensions of public relations is that it deals with an environment that changes at the speed of light. Ten years ago, designing and building a website was a rarity. Today it is an imperative. Five years ago, people thought social media was a fad. Now it is viewed as an important communication channel.

The PR world five years from now is likely to be very different. However, you won't be able to leverage what's new if you aren't rooted in what's worked for a long time. A great example is how to fashion an effective presentation. The software may change and the animation may be cooler, but the fundamentals of a presentation that does its job won't be all that different.

You may write on an iPad or dictate into your Google glasses, but solid writing transcends the tools. Knowing how to tell a story and basic principles of design, which are universal, are foundation skills you should develop.

4. Know your chosen profession's history. PR professionals in the future will face an increasingly complex set of challenges in choosing the best platforms and the most resonant channels. A knowledge of how PR professionals in the past innovated is invaluable.

The use of events, contests, third-party validation, outrageous stunts, clever ads, smart writing and guest columns were all new in their time. Study to see how these ideas evolved so you understand, with some helpful perspective, how you go from problem to solution with creativity and élan. You don't need to discover gravity or reinvent the wheel. You can learn from your peers how they did it, so you can do it, too.

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.

Make Your Story Pitch Clickable

Effective story pitching today still requires a local angle and a good hook, but it also demands content that is clickable and shareable.

Effective story pitching today still requires a local angle and a good hook, but it also demands content that is clickable and shareable.

To get noticed, story pitches to the news media still need a local angle and a good hook, but now they also need to be shareable online.

A pitch containing useful, relevant information or an inspirational story has a good prospect of earning clicks and shares from readers. Shareability makes your story pitch more irresistible. 

News reporters and editors have always cared about the readability of stories, which they reflected in where they placed stories in newspapers or on radio and TV. But the digital era has added the new dimension of clickability to the equation of determining the value of a story pitch.

As more of the news and news viewers migrate online, there is more pressure in newsrooms to zero in on stories that have online appeal. Some news organizations use pay incentives to encourage reporters to find and write stories that are clickable. Online analytics take a lot of the guesswork out of what's being shared and what isn't. 

Shareability represents a whole new line of engagement between marketers and the news media. Companies such as Uber have employed sophisticated media relations strategies to burst into markets – even when they are operating outside municipal regulations ­– using stories that area highly shareable. 

The old rules of story pitching largely still apply. Your pitches need to be timely, newsworthy, locally relevant and basically interesting. Discovering that the dwarf planet Pluto has water droplets in its atmosphere probably wouldn't make the cut at the local news desk.

The new rules encourage story-pitching innovation with a clever hook, viewer interactivity or tools such as videos, photo galleries, infographics and charts – anything that can elevate a good story to a "you gotta see this" story.

You enhance your ability to get stories placed if you intentionally imbue them with shareable qualities. It is another way for you and reporters to get on the same online page.

Self-Publishing and Online Newsrooms

Attract attention and control your message by publishing high-quality press releases on your own online newsroom.Reporters and TV and radio producers routinely look online for story ideas. They also tend to work unusual hours, and many prefer to find information on their own. A nicely packaged and well-stocked online newsroom is a fruitful place to search.

Even if your website fails to snag journalist eyes, others will find it — bloggers, viewers looking for specific information and customers or stakeholders. They may not be looking for story leads, but are interested in your information and thought leadership. Bloggers frequently feed off this kind of information, which can extend the reach of your press release to a more targeted and interested audience than would read it in a traditional media outlet.

Fresh content such as a self-published press release can boost your ratings on search engines, increasing your story's chances of being discovered.

A Queue for Communications Audits

In Justin Timberlake’s song, Losing My Way, he sings: "Can anybody out there hear me?" And while the song is not about public relations or marketing, the question is essential. Are your target audiences receiving your message in the way you intended? Is your media buy investment delivering a reasonable ROI? Do people remember your key messages?

There is a strategic process to help you answer these questions, evaluate your recent efforts and chart next steps with confidence. The process is called a communications audit, and CFM’s track record includes numerous communications audits in its 20+ year history.

The communications audit provides an opportunity for CFM communications specialists to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of your communications toolkit. After conducting a comprehensive study of your communications efforts, we provide our findings and recommendations for increased effectiveness and efficiency. From that point, we can work with your team to develop next steps.

While the audit process is tailored to each client, there are six key lines of inquiry we recommend for communications audits.

Exactly What Is Media Relations?

At a recent event the CFM PR marketing team spoke at, I was surprised at some of the comments I received when I asked the question, “Does everyone know what media relations is?” There were a lot of “no” responses.

Media relations is building strategic relationships with various media for the purpose of informing the public of a company’s mission, policies and practices in a consistent and credible manner.

Sounds easier said than done.

While there are several outside factors that affect the way we communicate with the media, here are a few “best practices” of media relations today:

Know your brand.

You need to know what it is that makes your brand unique. This is going to be the selling point with the media.

Follow the Reader, Not the Advertiser

Magazines, once the wunderkind of the media industry, now are in the same sinking business boat as TV and newspapers. To survive, some magazines are changing their economic model and taking direction from their readers, not their advertisers.

National Public Radio broadcast a story last month noting newsstand sales of magazines have dropped sharply and advertising revenues plummeted 18 percent in 2009, as advertisers scrambled to the Internet. In a story aired today, NPR reported newsstand sales fell 9 percent in the second half of 2009 compared to the prior year. "The good news is that decline was less than the 12 percent drop the magazine publishers saw in the first half of 2009."