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newsjacking tips for PR and marketing

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Newsjacking, the technique of injecting your brand into a breaking news story, is touted as one of the hottest trends in public relations and marketing. Done correctly, it can generate extensive media coverage and social media engagement.

A tweet from Oreos during the 2013 New Orleans Super Bowl blackout exemplified successful newsjacking. A tweet with a photo of an Oreo cookie read: “Power out? No problem. You can still tweet in the dark.” That successful tweet pretty much set off the momentum for newsjacking.

Many businesses prepare to newsjack major events or breaking national news. However, watching for everyday news events may be a more effective newsjacking tactic than focusing on heavily covered national events like the Super Bowl or Academy Awards, says author David Meerman Scott, who popularized the term.

Seek Serendipities

“Where I think newsjacking really is exciting, is in the story that you don’t anticipate, when you’re not waiting—when the rest of the world is asleep rather than the world all watching the same television screen,” Scott says in Newsjacking as a Content Strategy, a new guide from Ragan Communications and Red Touch Media that offers newsjacking tips and strategies.

PR and marketers can newsjack an event that’s breaking live on CNN or plan ahead for a major event such as the Academy Awards. They can use blog posts, social media, videos and even old-fashioned pitches to the right reporters.

When news outlets reported that Congressmen were sleeping in their offices because of long work hours, Crenshaw Communications sent them pillows from Sleepy’s, one of its clients. The news gained plenty of coverage, including articles in Politico and International Business Times. Dorothy Crenshaw calls the technique newssurfing. “You’re shoehorning your clients’ message or story or point of view into a bigger story.”

Newsjacking has its risks. There have been nearly as many newsjacking disasters as triumphs. Kenneth Cole was widely criticized for trying to promote his brand by newsjacking the Cairo uprising and the war in Syria.

“A military coup, the death of a celebrity, a natural disaster — these are not events of which you should take advantage,” wrote Mark Sherbin at the Content Marketing Institute. Newsjacking requires sensitivity, mature judgement, good timing, and creativity to make it work. The most successful newsjacking efforts also reveal a surprising sense of humor – often self-deprecating.

PR and marketing pros well versed in newsjacking offer these tips to aspiring newsjackers.

Act quickly. Tomorrow is too late. Create a plan of action and obtain pre-approval from clients or corporate superiors. Because you may need to act overnight or on the weekend, waiting to obtain approval on Monday morning will probably be too late.

Remember traditional PR tools. A press release or media alert can still be used to get reporters’ attention.

Be relevant. Find a connection between the news and your brand. Do not follow the marketing refrain “if it trends, it blends.” Attempting to attract attention just because something happens is ill advised.

Be tactful. The best rule is, “When in doubt, don’t send it out.” PR and marketing pros must always consider how the public will react to their messages. It may be perceived as corny, exploitative or inappropriate. Avoid commenting on disasters, wars or other gloom-and-doom events, unless you have a relevant, tasteful connection.

Monitor news. Stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for trending subjects, especially local or regional news. A media monitoring service can help to identify industry-related news suitable for newsjacking.

The strategy does have its critics, who view it as a lowbrow, opportunistic trick. The term itself has an unfortunate association with terms like carjacking and hijacking. However, the tactic appears to be here to stay.

Bottom Line: Newsjacking can be a powerful public relations and marketing tactic. Following these tips can help your team take full advantage of the technique.

Please share your thoughts about newsjacking by commenting below.

William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.