IS NEWSJACKING A LEGIT MEDIA TACTIC OR JUST PLAIN OPPORTUNISM?

02 August 2021 Bec Derrington

In its purest form, 'newsjacking' refers to the process of piggybacking on a trending news topic in an effort to insert your story in the news. However, in recent years, the technique has been picked up by our digital marketing cousins, with some public relation purists finding their crass adaptation reflects badly on the technique, describing it as opportunistic, or even crass.

So, I went to those 'in the know' and asked them: 

Is newsjacking STILL a genuine way for brands to inject their perspective into a current newsworthy topic? Or has it become a knee-jerk social-media marketing tactic that’s more often seen cynically as opportunistic?

And I got a mix of answers. Some for, some against. Here’s what they said:

Michelle Glogovac of The MLG Collective:

Newsjacking is NOT positive brand profiling and quite frankly should never be used as a form of PR.

A great example of an alternative to this is what we saw Calm do when they donated the money to cover the fines incurred by Naomi Osaka. They didn't take the media attention and try to create gains for themselves, instead, they created a positive headline by doing something generous and good that also backed their mission and philosophy as a company.

Utilizing the sadness, stress, or negativity of someone else to increase your own visibility is a PR no! To me it means you:

a. prey off of other people; and
b. don't have anything newsworthy of your own to share. 

"Utilizing the sadness, stress, or negativity of someone else to increase your own visibility is a PR no!"

As a business, you should not be opportunistic, and as a publicist, you should know better and DO better.

Nicole Rohde of Maxwell-Scott:

I think newsjacking can be a great opportunity, especially for smaller businesses that might not have the budget for stand-alone media pieces. However, newsjacking strategies need to be done carefully as they can easily be too promotional and lack a genuine message.

In that case it might backfire and come across as opportunistic or insensitive, especially when they relate to a sensitive topic.

But I think if there is a highly discussed topic in the news that your company feels very passionate about and that aligns with the company’s ethos, then communication professionals should not shy away from newsjacking the conversation for their own promotional purposes. 

"...don’t force it and try to jump on something that doesn’t feel like a natural fit for your brand/company."

Just don’t force it and try to jump on something that doesn’t feel like a natural fit for your brand/company - people will notice and chances are, you won’t reap any benefits from it.

Muhammad Mateen Khan from Pure VPN:

Newsjacking. It’s an incredibly useful strategy for brands looking to raise their profile. But many people don’t know much about newsjacking as a tactic – what goes into it when it’s appropriate (and not so appropriate), why it’s a great tactic, who should comment, and how to go about it successfully.

Newsjacking can be either proactive or reactive. Proactive opportunities are easy to plan for in advance – there may be existing calendar dates, launches or anniversaries that you can comment on and tie back to your core messaging. These comments and statements are easily built out in advance and pitched to key interested media ahead of the event to maximize your chances of being quoted.

Reactive newsjacking is a different beast altogether – while with proactive commenting you can spend time building out and crafting the perfect comment, reactive opportunities are often a matter of timeliness. 

"...reactive opportunities are often a matter of timeliness."

When a news story breaks, you need to respond in a timely manner or you simply won’t be quoted. Reactive opportunities often provide the possibility for big coverage payoffs on topics like government announcements, large company or industry-changing news.

Like here at PureVPN, we newsjacked the Australian Bushfires successfully, resulting in organic Facebook 700+ shares, 90+ leading cybersecurity experts retweeting our post.

Joy Corkery from Latana:

Newsjacking is a great way to add more personality to your brand identity - especially if you want to show a more lighthearted, witty side to your brand.

It is beneficial to all brands but can best benefit smaller brands with a low budget as a way to garner high-profile advertising.

However, the key thing to take into account when determining if newsjacking will benefit your brand, is the story you take advantage of. A good example is Citrix. Starting with an initial campaign following a huge snowstorm in San Francisco which closed the major roads, the company now runs frequent campaigns around snowstorms. It builds an emotional connection with their target audience and, considering they are a virtual meeting software, they can easily connect their product to the campaign. 

"Newsjacking is a great way to add more personality to your brand identity..."

On the flip side, newsjacking can be distasteful and offensive. Back in 2011, Kenneth Cole had to publicly apologize after using the Arab Spring to get publicity, tweeting "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online. There is no "yes" or "no" answer as to whether newsjacking is positive or not. It is just a matter or picking the right news stories to harness your brand to.

Azadeh Williams of AZK Media:

At AZK Media, we believe authenticity is the key to effective newsjacking.

This is the best advice I can offer, having worked on both fences, first when I was a journalist getting pitched hundreds of newsjacking ideas by agencies, and secondly, now, running AZK Media, a media and marketing agency advising global clients on how to maximise their media coverage.

If you have something genuinely valuable, informative and useful to say, then by all means, hop onto that hot topic and take the time to formulate your opinion on it. Pitch to press and enjoy your time in the media spotlight. 

"...when you try to newsjack on something that is misaligned with...the key brand messaging of your company, then you’re doing more harm than good."

Newsjacking works best when the 'hot news of the hour' is directly aligned with your customer’s pain points, or the key brand messaging of your company. It positions you as an empathetic, trusted leader, someone who cares about the topic and is the ‘go to’ for the solution to that problem or issue.

Unfortunately, when you try to newsjack on something that is misaligned with your customer’s pain points, or the key brand messaging of your company, then you’re doing more harm than good. You end up firstly, annoying journalists with stupid pitches and secondly, your risk harming your brand reputation. As an example, at the end of every year, journalists in the technology sector get inundated with 'prediction' pieces for the year ahead. This sort of seasonal newsjack has gotten so out of hand, that there are journalists now announcing on LinkedIn they are blocking all prediction pieces altogether.

Another seasonal newsjack to tread carefully around is 'Federal Budget' time. Any opinion on budget outcomes needs to be very carefully crafted and targeted, otherwise it can come across as extremely rushed or contrived.

Kate Engler of Meet The Press MasterClass:

I think newsjacking allows key experts to add their voice to stories and issues that resonate with them. Often, it allows the journalist to gain more traction from the same issue but with a different perspective - which is great for media consumers as it gives them a different perspective, great for the journos as it helps them fully explore a topic or issue, and ultimately great for the client/subject matter expert as it injects their voice into the debate in a credible way.

Newsjacking CAN be done badly however - if someone tries to inject their view into a tragedy/accident with little thought or concern about those affected by the event, it can be a bit 'smelly' and reek of ambulance chasing... and no one likes that.

"...newsjacking allows key experts to add their voice to stories and issues that resonate with them."

Done well though, it allows a broader exploration of the topic with new experts offering their views - and diverse views are (or should always) be welcome in public interest journalism.

Shereen Kiddle of MilkK.com.au:

My Client AEG Group run Sexpo and the Tattoo Expo and with the recent expo / events / covid issues - Sexpo have become sought out by media as an ideal headline - so yes it works.

And yes, it's supported by media and readers who are avid readers of how a piece of action (highlighted by the news) creates consequences - and Sexpo being the more exciting events/expo industry platforms, has made headines over the covid-event's impact - recently the covid-rise in online adult services (only fans) articles interest, and last week the Exhibiton Centre covid hub having to move for 2021 expos now back in action - Sexpo and the Tattoo expo being 2 such examples.

So YES - newsjacking is a legitimate, responsive reaction to news stories.

Rachel Demarco of InsideOut PR:

Newsjacking is a highly relevant tactic for publicists.

As a PR, our work predominately surrounds supporting the creation of news. Newsjacking can occur through two ways: pitching on the back of an existing news story to a journalist; and monitoring the evolvement of a particular topic gaining social/news momentum and crafting a pitch to enter the conversation.

The advantage of newsjacking in these instances is that the angle is very topical and journalists are more ready to jump on these opportunities, leading to fast and strong content for the outlet. 

"The advantage of newsjacking... is that the angle is very topical and journalists are more ready to jump on these opportunities..."

Where it can fail for a brand, is where they ride on the back of an emotionally sensitive topic for commercial gain. That’s where it is blatantly opportunistic and can draw adverse reaction.

David Latham of Good Talent Media:

GTM works at the news end of PR, and we think there is a danger that marketing-based PR companies trivialise issues by newsjacking a tacking product promotion onto a serious discussion. 

"... nothing replaces setting the agenda yourself by getting your own story up in the media."

Newsjacking can work for advocacy campaigns dealing with serious issues, but nothing replaces setting the agenda yourself by getting your own story up in the media.

My thoughts?

Personally, I think newsjacking can be a very effective media relations tactic for clients.

Looking at what’s going on in the news and predicting AND answering the follow-on questions is what a skilled PR professional does for a client, and what business owners with a good nose for news and curious and agile minds can warmly embrace.

I don’t think it can ever be dismissed as a mere tactic that has been hijacked by brands on social media trying to muscle in on an issue in an obvious way. 

"...newsjacking is a technique that is carried out by stealth with the objective being to leave the journalist thinking... a subject matter expert has reached out to them with answers to the very questions they were just about to ask."

In fact, done well, newsjacking is a technique that is carried out by stealth, with the objective being to leave the journalist thinking just think how lucky they are that a subject matter expert has reached out to them with answers to the very questions they were just about to ask.

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