Newsjacking: the Guide. Definitions, examples and all you need to know

Newsjacking can be a risky tactic. When done right, it can lead to great brand exposure. In this article, we’ll give the definition of newsjacking, provide some good newsjacking examples, and give tips on how to get started. By the end, you should have enough insights to better understand it and what it means for your brand reputation.

published: May 9, 2021
updated: April 15, 2024

What is newsjacking?

Newsjacking is defined by Lexico as:

“the practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one's product or brand”.

Another definition, given by Tech Target is,

“the practice of aligning a brand with a current event in an attempt to generate media attention and boost the brand's exposure”.

It involves adding your opinions or thoughts to a breaking news story. You are essentially riding the wave of news that is trending to boost your brand and get noticed.

When defining newsjacking, there are a few foundational concepts. Due to the sheer amount of new stories coming in, the news life cycle is short. You have to take the opportunity and capitalize on the popularity of relevant news. Breaking news is short-lived, so you need to ride it while you can.

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Why use newsjacking?

Newsjacking provides the opportunity to position your brand and provide expert insight on a given topic. This can potentially result in immediate coverage.

The benefits of newsjacking are numerous. However you need to be sensitive about the stories you newsjack, some may not always be right to engage with. Newsjacking, done successfully, can augment your brand because you are involving yourself in larger social conversations.

Here are some benefits you can derive from hijacking the news:

1

Improved brand awareness

If your brand can find a way to synchronize with the trending news story in an appropriate way, it is possible to ride the media wave of a story. This potentially can provide your brand with additional audience reach. The content you use has the potential to make a lasting impression, possibly leading to further connections. Due to newsjacking’s talkability value, your brand’s reputation could scale up greatly.

2

Improved social engagement

Social media strengthens talkability. People love sharing their points of view on trends or discussions. This is why you want to give them something to talk about.

Posting your perspective on breaking news can boost your Social Media presence.

The more you share, the more opportunities you create to win brand traffic. Compared to the many newsjacking approaches, turning news into content on your site is arguably the best and most efficient way to build your brand and drive more traffic.

3

Viral potential

Depending on how your newsjack content is received, it can be instantly shared across multiple platforms.

Your brand stands the chance to go viral within minutes if your newsjack initiative is thoughtful and engaging.

The best thing is, that going viral is free and offers unmatched coverage in the press and social media mentions.

4

Showing you're up-to-date

Content should be timely.

This shows that you’re in tune with what’s happening in the world and that your insights are relevant.

It is easy for a brand to become inward-looking and lose touch with current trends. Aligning with current events shows that your finger is on the pulse. Keeping your brand featured in the news could get you leads and promising business prospects. In time, these initiatives can turn you into being recognized as a credible thought leader with great insight and authority over certain topics.

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The downside of newsjacking

Newsjacking is considered to be high risk, high reward. It should be mentioned that the benefits are accompanied by some dangers. Some of the potential downfalls include:

1. Short-lived content tends to go out of date soon

It should go without saying that the short life cycle of breaking news makes it difficult to be remembered when a new story comes around. While you are trending, you’ll see a sharp increase in brand visibility, engagement, and site traffic. However, when the story drops in appeal, so will your numbers. Trends die out, and interest wears off. Once the content is not relevant anymore, it is essentially redundant. People move on to new topics.

2. Potential backlash

Since you’re working fast, mistakes can happen. You run the risk that your message is received in the wrong way. Getting your Newsjacking content wrong can lead your brand to go viral for the wrong reasons. Contrary to what some say, the wrong type of publicity does exist, and negative press mentions can harm your reputation instantaneously.

Be cautious about the content you put out. Today’s media consumers are not scared to criticize you and can spot when you’re not qualified to newsjack.

3. Being late to the party

Due to the nature of news, you only have a small timeframe to decide if you want to participate in a trending news story. Missing your window can result in your efforts going unnoticed. Another risk is that you look late to the party and that you’re trying to get leverage from a story because it’s there, with no purpose in your greater marketing strategy. Newsjacking may not be relevant to the nature of your company. Not all businesses match the character of a newsjacker. That’s perfectly fine, so don’t force it to be otherwise.

4. Reading the room wrong

Some news stories are not suitable. The trick is to know your audience and to relate to them, whilst staying considerate.Keep in mind, that if you’re the only one who thinks it’s funny, then it probably isn’t, and you’re going to receive negative press attention. It is critical to understand the market and your audience.

Learn more about negative PR

5. Damaging your image

Your brand image takes years to build, so you don’t want to ruin it in an instant. The wrong comment or content piece can undo your reputation in an instant.

Care should be taken in determining if the opportunity is right for you and if it will add value to your brand image.

Since online posts are global and instant, the wrong move can be re-shared in seconds. One wrong move can harm your reputation. Take care to consider if the newsjack is adding value to your brand image.

Newsjacking vs trendjacking

As can be seen, newsjacking is the art of placing your brand into a current news conversation for positive media attention and social media ignition.

Trendjacking refers to taking advantage of a particular trend to boost brand recognition instead of hijacking specific stories hitting the news.

Trendjacking’s aim is to increase awareness.

How to begin newsjacking

Now that you know what newsjacking is, you can attempt it, too. You’ll need to practice and pay attention to doing this well. Luckily, we find a few key details imperative for you to remember and follow when you try to newsjack.

1

Watch the news

The first thing you need to remember is to constantly monitor the news.

You could go through the daily papers, news websites, Twitter or Facebook, or any source sharing news.

You have to do this so that you will notice the trends that are developing.

Google Trends is an easy tool to use to get a hand on what’s trending daily and can help you identify what you want to tap into and where to feature. You can see what people are Googling, the featured keywords, and where the news is trending. Stay informed about events and the stories covered.

2

Set up Alerts

Set up to receive news alerts about the latest topics and use Google Trends. This means the latest news and interesting topics of conversation are never far from your fingertips.

3

Pick the right story

While lots of news warrants your attention, not all will deserve further action. Picking the right story to newsjack is essential. Be sure to check the keyword search volume for your relevant keywords. Newsjacking the wrong content will come across as forced and make you look irrelevant.

Major events, such as sporting events or a particular annual holiday, provide great opportunities for newsjacking. As does the chance to insert yourself into topics around sustainability or the environment.

Major events are excellent opportunities for newsjacking because they capture widespread attention and generate significant media coverage and public interest.

High Visibility: Major events like sports championships, major political events, awards shows, or cultural festivals draw extensive media attention and public interest. By associating a brand with these events, companies can share in their visibility, reaching a larger audience than they might on their own.

Timeliness: Newsjacking revolves around leveraging current events to gain media exposure. Major events provide a predictable schedule for planning strategic marketing or PR efforts to coincide with times when target audiences are most engaged.

Relevance: Aligning a brand with a major event can increase its relevance, as the event's audience may see the brand as being in tune with current trends or important social moments. This can enhance brand perception and increase customer engagement.

Emotional Connection: Major events often carry emotional significance for their audiences. By associating with these events, brands can create an emotional connection with the audience, leveraging feelings like excitement, pride, or joy, which are heightened during such events.

Shared Content and Virality: The content related to major events is more likely to be shared and discussed online and offline, increasing the potential for virality. Brands that effectively newsjack can see their content amplified far beyond their usual reach.

Engagement Opportunities: These events provide a platform for interactive and engaging content, such as live tweets, real-time marketing, or themed promotions that invite audience participation. Such strategies can significantly boost engagement rates.

By strategically using newsjacking during major events, brands can enhance their exposure and relevance in a way that feels natural and engaging to their audience. This approach requires careful execution to ensure the brand remains sensitive to the context and sentiment surrounding the event, thereby maximizing the benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.

4

Become familiar with the topic

You need to know what you’re talking about. Not doing so could mean your newsjacking attempt falls flat, and you look out of touch or silly. If the topic is unfamiliar, make sure to read, research, and be able to answer some key questions on the topic before you dive in.

5

Speed and accuracy

While speed and timeliness cannot be overstated, it must be matched by knowledge and accuracy. If not, you risk harming your brand's reputation, and the newsjacking attempt will be counter-productive.

The lifecycle of news

Always remember that no matter what you do in the media, it should benefit your marketing goals and serve a purpose in gaining your publicity. That said, news has a timeline for different ‘life stages.’ This means that your actions towards newsjacking should be well-timed to meet the news in its appropriate life stage and benefit your overall strategy.

Graphic that shows the life of a news story and the impact of Newsjacking

1. Breaking news

The first stage is when an event just happened and is covered for the first time.

Reporters share any information they have as soon as possible to get the story out there and to be the first to respond.

Since the coverage is new, it gets a lot of media attention and generates a spike in ratings (web traffic, TV views, radio, etc.). Once a great story breaks, every news outlet and reporter wants a piece of the story and wants to be the original source who provided it until they can get their own information. This is where you should newsjack, before the second stage in the life cycle is reached. You want your content to ride the wave with the original news report while fresh and trending.

2. Additional story coverage

The size and impact of the event, as well as the initial hype, dictate how much time journalists spend gathering new information and carrying on with the story. They try to uncover new angles, expert insights, and interesting details. All in an attempt to get more attention.

As news develops, journalists spend more time covering the story. This adds to the media hype around it.

3. Public excitement

When public excitement grows, so do newsjacking opportunities.

In addition, public excitement means opportunities for journalists to publish new posts with their new spin on the story. This gives you another chance to newsjack. The more people sharing, commenting, and giving their own spin on the story - the greater the chance your newsjack will be noticed.

4. Peak

The peak can arrive after days, weeks, or months. It depends on the size of the event. However, the public has either moved on or their attention is dwindling. They’ve heard many takes on the story and are looking toward the newest trend. Jumping on a story at its peak or later is unlikely to deliver the results you want as interest is no longer growing.

At its peak, public excitement has peaked or is dwindling. The story has reached the top point of the life cycle and is coming to a close.

5. Old news

This is where the event has passed, and the new news takes up space. The story no longer holds the potential to profit from. All the story’s angles have been explored, and people have lost interest in the topic. This is why you want to get involved during the early life stages to get your content out there during the initial hype.

You can no longer profit from the story; news has died out, and there’s most likely a new trending topic.

Because news is short-lived, you must catch the wave at the right time. This is why you should stay informed about the newsjack in the early stages of the story.

Checklist

1

Develop original content

You need to be able to create the content you want to use for newsjacking fast. Speed is the key that enables you to jump on the trending news. Regardless of how fast you’re working, you want to keep in mind that your content should be relevant.

Remember, you want to ensure your content has a searchable keyword volume. This will help merit action from the news with market potential relevant to your brand. Otherwise, your posts can just disappear in the system without getting noticed. Link your content to news that shares key search terms with your business.

To enhance reach, use trending hashtags alongside your branded hashtags if you have any.

2

Be different

The main aim is to stand out from the crowd. You will not be the only company looking for a story to hijack. Try to be extra creative in your messaging. For instance, people respond to self-deprecating humor. You could even try to inject your own company values or products into a story to be memorable.

3

Timing is of the essence

Blink and you'll miss it. This is true for newsjacking. If someone else beats you to it then it's over. The internet reacts fast, so the key is to be quick. Have a feel around right before a launch or an important announcement. See what's out there that you could possibly make use of. Then get to work. You have to be vigilant to not miss your golden window opportunity.

4

Don’t be offensive

This speaks for itself. Unless you want to become known as a bad example of newsjacking, stay respectful and learn when a joke is appropriate. You want to differentiate yourself from the crowd in a good way.

5

Don't forget to promote

Newsjacking is done for a reason: to get as many views and as much traction as possible. You want people to talk about it. So spread it on your social pages. Effective hashtags will help it spread quicker and give it more relevance. Newsjacking can sometimes feel more casual than the standard, structured PR campaigns, think means the social appeal is also heightened.

6

Monitor the media

We’ve said this before. You want to know what others say about your brand and how your newsjack performs. Such as with any PR campaign, you want to make sure your initiative is effective. Media monitoring tools can present insights into how newsjacking efforts can be improved.

Look at your social ratings and if the stunt has brought you new leads or traffic.

Google Analytics is a great tool you can use to monitor your main sites’ performance and to see where your prospects are coming from.

You can read our post on 60 media monitoring tools to find the one that suits your needs and budget. Monitor your story to understand what others are saying about your brand and how your newsjack is performing. Watch how your ratings are changed by the newsjack and evaluate if this was the outcome you aimed for.

Learn more about media monitoring
7

Use infrequently

Newsjacking shouldn't be your 'go-to' strategy. Repeatedly using it will diminish the impact of your messages. It will appear that you have nothing to say about your brand unless it's done in the context of something or someone else. You risk looking tired and unimaginative, not to mention a little conceited. Only newsjack the stories that jump off the page for you. Newsjacking is still a risk remember.

Newsjacking and public relations

Newsjacking’s spotlight moment came when it was one of the "words of the year" in the 2017 edition of the Oxford Dictionary. Since then, it has expanded into inbound brand marketing and digital content practices.

It began as a PR tactic, implemented so companies could leverage news for attention in the media.

This was a highly popular way of creating publicity when Social Media was still in its infancy. Today, newsjacking presents journalists with your business’s reply to breaking news.

As Public Relations is oriented toward creating market exposure and press coverage, newsjacking can be used to strengthen the possible reaction value of your messaging. In turn, highly shareable content can sustain its longevity, giving you even further reach.

We often see PR specialists employ this technique to encourage sales in a measurable way. However, the art of creating remarkable second-paragraph content takes practice. When effective, your efforts are rewarded with a surplus of media attention. Public relations is concerned with creating content that is up-to-date and relevant in the present. The same goes for newsjacking. It is about fast responses and real-time comments. By doing this, you display that you’re staying in the loop of popular news and can react appropriately to trends and featured topics.

What are some examples of newsjacking?

Since we have mentioned both the potential positive and negative consequences, we will share some examples of exemplary newsjacking, as well as some that went terribly wrong.

Although newsjacking relies on trends, with their success quickly blowing over, some news jacks remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Here are the top 5 best and top 5 worst newsjacks of the decade.

Examples of good newsjacking

Wendy's

Wendy’s is no stranger to Twitter satire. They are probably one of the few masters, especially when it comes to mocking the competition. In 2017, McDonald’s fell prey to the quick wit of Wendy’s. After McDonald’s announced that they would only be using fresh beef for their Quarter Pounders, the fresh-never-frozen chain replied with, “So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants?”

The comment only called out the poor language choice on McDonald’s part; however, the quick response from Wendy’s was met with great community response. The comments didn’t stop there, with Wendy’s hijacking the entire thread with their replies and audience engagement to market their own beef.

Example of good newsjacking from Wendy's

BMW

Audi and BMW, two big companies in the automotive industry, have a long-standing history of newsjacking each other. From billboards to Twitter, the two brands seem equally matched in profiting from one another’s marketing initiatives. However, BMW takes the prize with their response to Audi’s attempt at jacking their M4 promotion.

The two brands have become so good at taking hits at each other that some people have started to wonder if they stage the entire marketing campaign, working together in secret to benefit both companies’ marketing efforts.

Example of good newsjacking from BMW

Salvation Army S.A

Most of us remember the image of a gold and white dress that trended back in 2015, with some people saying it is black and blue. When it was still trending, Salvation Army SA used the light-hearted internet trend and turned it into a powerful message to stop abuse against women. It only took slight wordplay to shift the discussion completely. This is a display of how community-created social content can be leveraged to draw awareness to more pressing matters.

Example of newsjacking from The Salvation Army

Edgard Watches

A relatively unknown wristwatch company, Egard Watches, reacted with a great campaign in response to Gillette’s failed “The Best Men Can Be”. In the heat of the #MeToo movement, Gillette received more than 1.5 million YouTube dislikes on an ad that men found to be condescending and disrespectful.

Gillette went viral for the wrong reason, while Egard Watches was praised for their quick content creation and how they reworked Gillette’s message to carry more meaning and relevance to the topic of gender inequality. Their spin on the original campaign showed how the small brand was in tune with the target demographics. At no point in the response video did Edgar Watches disagree with Gillette. It was just objective information, impossible to disagree with.

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ASOS

This is an example of how newsjacking is not limited to your specific industry. In 2019, an image surfaced of an EasyJet passenger sitting on a backless seat. The photograph alone cost the company bad publicity, yet their response cost them even more.

The fashion brand ASOS stepped in and profited from the Twitter war by introducing their latest summer dress arrivals. Their response was direct, yet they kept it light. Even matching the dress to EasyJet’s iconic orange.

Great example of newsjacking, from Asos

Good newsjacking can create long-lasting media impressions. You don’t have to be wildly creative to be remembered. You just need to hit your golden window with content that’s a representation of your brand and that gets your message across.

Examples of bad newsjacking

Sears

Department store company, Sears, used Hurricane Sandy to market their home appliances. The company was actually providing guidance to people who might have needed the products. However, a poor choice of words made it seem as if the company was profiting from the losses of others.

Example of bad newsjacking from Sears

Urban Outfitters

Not much to say about this one, trying to profit from a natural disaster, Urban Outfitters thought they could use a devastating storm to promote their online shopping with free shipping.

Photo of bad newsjacking from Urban Outfiters

Epicurious

Epicurious, an American digital brand that focuses on food and cooking-related topics, is also one brand that responded distastefully to a tragic event. The Boston Marathon bombing was devastating. Epicurious proceeded to “honor” Boston and New England by marketing breakfast muffins and energy bars.

Example of bad newsjacking, from Epicurious

AT&T

Telecommunications company, AT&T, made a grave photoshop mistake that referenced the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 disaster. The company thought it could promote its connectivity with a picture that lights up the sky.

Two light beams, representing the Twin Towers, with an explosive-looking cloud above them, were not received well by the Twitter community.

Example of bad newsjacking, from AT&T

Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole, the American clothing designer, is now known for insensitive Tweets whenever there’s a humanitarian crisis or disaster. During the “boots on the ground” support for soldiers trying to establish peace in the Syrian conflicts, Cole proceeded to remind his Twitter followers of all the other shoes that exist.

Photo of a tweet from Kenneth Cole, example of bad newsjacking.q

Most often, when a company apologizes for its failed marketing attempts, it sparks more public backlash due to the audience feeling that the brand was insensitive from the start and is not really apologetic about its actions. This is why newsjacking should be considered carefully before making errors that can diminish your brand's reputation. Do not try to help yourself at the expense of others; be creative but remain aware of the news and what it is about. As with anything, it takes practice and careful attention. If done properly, you and your brand may reap all the benefits that newsjacking has to offer.

Failed attempts can greatly harm your brand reputation. When you try to capitalize on a serious societal setback, it usually ends in bad publicity. So think carefully about the messages you send.

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Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what newsjacking is. Remember, success is not implemented easily. You will have to be up-to-date and carry a good level of expertise about the topic you’re about in the newsjack. Always stay sensitive, if you’re the only one who thinks you’re funny or smart, then you’re not. This is why you should monitor the media to get a feel of the discussion and track your performance with it. This way you can see if your newsjacking was successful and if it added value to your marketing strategy. Ultimately you want to achieve brand growth from your PR initiatives. Be sure to time your actions according to the stage of news, so that you can gain optimal results from riding the news wave.

May 9, 2021
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Jacolene Jonker |  Content Writer at PRLab
Jacolene Jonker
Content Writer at PRLab
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