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

Eager to learn how to practice newsjacking in the right way without causing offence while still jumping on to trending news? In this article, you will find out what it is all about, as we answer common questions that we often hear, and what it all entails. We will be going over some good and bad examples of newsjacking marketing tools and also give tips on how you can start as a newsjacker.

This is a pretty risky public relations tactic. At the same time, when done right, your PR and overall marketing strategy has much to gain from it. By the end of this article you should have enough insights to better understand the PR practice of newsjacking and what it means for your brand reputation.

May 27, 2021 |

22 minutes

Photo of Jacolene Jonker, content writer in Amsterdam for PRLab

Content Writer at PRLab

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1

What is newsjacking?

Newsjacking is quite literally defined, by Lexico, as hijacking the news. It is “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”. This can also be interpreted as ‘rapid response’ comments.

Another definition is given by Tech Target, “the practice of aligning a brand with a current event in an attempt to generate media attention and boost the brand's exposure”.

Our own definition: It is the process of adding your opinions or thoughts to a breaking news story. You are essentially riding the wave of news that is trending to get yourself, or any content that you are creating, noticed by a larger audience.

In order to make it work, you have to understand how and when information and topics are going to break, or start trending in the news. To newsjack at the right moment means you have to get your opinion or thoughts out there at the right time, which is before the news has hit its peak.

When defining newsjacking, there are a few foundational concepts that encompass what it is all about. For example, news is constantly happening and breaking, all the time. With Google Trends, you can easily search for key terms to see where the world is searching for what.

Key to note is that new media is highly dynamic and constantly evolving to speed up story sharing abilities. This means that the life cycle of news dies down very quickly, due to the sheer amount of new stories coming in. Therefore, you have to take the opportunity and capitalise from the popularity of some news, and insert your message before attention in the story dies down and people lose interest.

SUMMARY

Newsjacking is the process of adding your opinions or thoughts to a breaking news story, to ride the wave of trending topics, so as to get noticed by a larger audience. Remember: breaking news is short lived, so you need to catch the opportunity at the right time.

2

Newsjacking and Public Relations

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

It began as a PR tactic, implemented so that companies could leverage present news for attention gain in the media. This was a highly popular way of creating publicity when Social Media was still in its early days. Today, newsjacking presents journalists with your business’s reply to breaking news.

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

We often see PR professionals 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 now. The same goes for newsjacking, it is about fast responses and real-time comments. By doing this, as part of your PR strategy, you display that you’re staying in the loop of popular news and can react appropriately to trends and featured topics.

SUMMARY

It began as a PR tactic, implemented so that companies could leverage present news for attention gain in the media. As PR wants to create market exposure and press coverage, newsjacking can be used as a tool to strengthen the possible reaction value of your messaging.

3

The lifecycle of news

Always keep in mind that, no matter what you do in the media, it should benefit your marketing goal and serve a purpose in gaining you publicity. This being said, news has a timeline in which different ‘life stages’ happen. This means that your actions taken towards newsjacking should be well-times, so as to meet the news in its appropriate life stage and benefit your overall strategy.

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, a media frenzy happens surrounding every detail of the event. 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 it is fresh and trending.

SUMMARY

New news is called “breaking news”, a new story just landed or broke. Since the coverage is new, it gets a lot of media attention and generates a spike in ratings.

2. Additional story coverage

The size and impact of the event, as well as the initial hype, dictates how much time journalists spend to gather new information and carry on with the story. In this, they try to uncover new angles, expert insights, and interesting details. All in an attempt to get more attention.

SUMMARY
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, great public excitement means opportunities for journalists to publish new posts with their new spin on the story. Giving you another chance to newsjack.

SUMMARY

The more people sharing, commenting and giving their own spin on the story - the greater 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, by now the public has either moved on or their attention is dwindling. They’ve heard many takes on the story and are looking towards 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.

SUMMARY

In the peak, public excitement is worn out or dwindling. The story has reached the top point of the lifetime cycle and is coming to a close.

5. Old news

This is where the timeline ends, the event has passed and new news is taking up space. The story no longer holds 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, so that you get your content out there during the initial hype.

SUMMARY

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

Because new news is short lived, you need to be prepared to catch the wave at the right time. This is why you should stay informed, to newsjack in the early stages of the story.

4

What are the benefits of newsjacking?

The benefits of newsjacking are numerous, as this is a nice technique to get featured in the press when done correctly. Note that you have to be sensitive about the stories you newsjack, as it is not always ethical to do.

Newsjacking done successfully will add many benefits to you or your content, because you are essentially involving yourself in predominant and larger social conversations of the day.

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

1.Raising your brand’s reputation or general awareness

In case your content is able to ride the wave successfully, a massive audience can be reached. This includes entities from your primary audience who haven’t heard of you yet. Your content holds the potential to make a lasting impression on them, possibly leading to further connections.

Due to newsjacking’s talkability value, your brand’s reputation can scale-up greatly. With a larger audience showing interest in you, your reputation has the opportunity to be well established in the market.

SUMMARY

A successful newsjack can generate a surge in brand awareness, leading to possible long term relationships.

2. Increased social engagement

Talkability is only furthered by Social Media. People love sharing in trends and jumping on the latest hits. This is why you want to give them something to talk about. Posting your perspective on breaking news, or making it more engaging, will greatly boost your Social Media presence.

The more you’re shared, the more opportunities are created to win brand traffic. This is because everyone wants to get a piece of you. 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.

SUMMARY
People love to share and repost entertaining content. So you want to give them something to talk about.

3. Viral potential

This goes without saying. Today, breaking news is instantly shared across multiple platforms via numerous channels. You stand the chance to go viral within minutes if your newsjack initiative was successful.

Virality does not cost you a great deal, but it does get you unmatched features in press and lands you social media mentions most companies can only dream of. With this, you gain the opportunity to prove to the public that you’re a reputable brand with a value adding purpose.

SUMMARY

Going viral is not expensive, but it does generate unmatched features in press and lands you social media mentions that your competitors wish for.

4. Showing you're up to date

Content shouldn’t only be timely, it should be accurate and insightful. This shows that you’re in tune with what’s happening in the world and that your insights are relevant. Keeping your brand features in the now could get you leads and promising business prospects. This shows you are relevant in today’s news, not yesterday’s news.

In time, these initiatives can turn into you being recognised as a credible thought leader with great industry authority over certain topics.

SUMMARY

Keeping your brand features in the now could get you leads and promising business prospects.

Newsjacking offers great benefits. Especially when the newsjack was successful. Building a brand reputation also speeds up, due to the viral effect that’s linked to this marketing tactic.

5

The downside of newsjacking

Newsjacking is considered to be high risk, high reward. It should be mentioned that the great benefits thereof are accompanied by many dangers. The downfalls of of this tactic includes:

1. Short lived content

Trends go out of season soon. The short life cycle of breaking news makes it difficult to be remembered tomorrow 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. Once the content is not relevant anymore, it is essentially useless.

SUMMARY

Trends die out and interest wears off quickly. People move on to new topics and talked about events.

2. Backlash

Since you’re working fast, mistakes can happen. Getting your content wrong can have your brand go viral for the wrong reasons, with a multitude of public backlash. The wrong type of publicity does exist and negative press mentions can destroy your reputation in seconds.

Be cautious about the content you push out if you’re not an expert in commenting on trending topics. Today’s media consumers are not scared to call you out and chances are that they can spot when you’re not qualified to newsjack

SUMMARY

You run the risk of great public fallout when your attempt is received wrong. This can damage your credibility and negatively impact your brand reputation.

3. Not relevant

You have to work fast, as you only have a small window to land a golden opportunity. Missing your window can result in your efforts going completely unnoticed. The other case is that you look late to the party and that you’re only trying to leverage from a story because it’s there, with no purpose in your greater marketing strategy.

Newsjacking will also not always be relevant to the nature of your company. Not all businesses match the character of a newsjacker. That’s perfectly fine, so don’t try and force it to be otherwise.

SUMMARY

If you miss your golden window, a lost opportunity can look like you're irrelevant in the conversation.

4. Reading the room wrong

Some news stories are not there to capitalise from. Humour is often associated with newsjacking, especially with social media. Although, the joke isn’t always funny and, quite literally “too soon”. The trick is to know your audience and to relate to them, whilst staying considerate.

Keep in mind, if you’re the only one who thinks it’s funny, you’re going to get negative press attention.

SUMMARY

It is critical to understand the market and your audience. The trick is to know your audience and to relate to them, whilst staying considerate.

5. Damaging your image

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

Extra care should be taken in determining if the opportunity is the right one for you to newsjack and if it will add value to your brand image. Since online posts are global and instant, the wrong move can be re-shared and multiplied in seconds, against the cost of your own image.

SUMMARY

One wrong move can harm your reputation. Take care to consider if the newsjack is adding value to your brand image.

6

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 an example of what went terribly wrong.

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

1. 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 will 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 have a long standing history of newsjacking each other. From billboards to Twitter, the two brands seem to be 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 one 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, 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 its 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 leverage to draw awareness to more pressing matters.

Example of newsjacking from The Salvation Army

Edgard Watches

A relatively unknow 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.

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
SUMMARY

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.

1. 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, poor choice of words made it seem as if the company is 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 who responded distastefully to a tragic event. The Boston Marathon bombing was recognised as a social devastation. Epicurious proceeded to “honour” 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 they could promote their connectivity with a picture that lights up the sky.

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

Tweet of AT&T, example of bad newsjacking.

Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole, American clothing designer, is notorious for his 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 apologies about their failed marketing attempts, it sparks more public backlash. Due to the audience feeling that the brand was insensitive from the start and not really apologetic about their actions.

This is why newsjacking should be considered carefully, before making devastating errors that can diminish your brand 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.

SUMMARY

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

7

How can you start newsjacking?

Now that you know what newsjacking is, and you have examples to learn from, you can finally start to attempt it too. Not for nothing, it is treated as both an art and a science by David Meerman Scott, who developed the practice.

Remember, you’ll need to practice and pay special attention to doing this well. Luckily, there are a few key details that we find imperative for you to remember and to follow when you try to newsjack.

1. Watch the news

The first thing you need to remember is to constantly monitor the news. Be that through the daily papers, news websites, Twitter or Facebook, literally any source that shares news in any fashion. You have to do this so that you will pick up or notice the trends that are developing.

Google Trends is an easy tool to use to get a hand on what’s trending daily. You can see what people are Googling, the keywords that are featuring and also where the news is trending.

SUMMARY

Stay informed about events and the stories being covered. Google Trends can help you identify the trends you want to tap into and where to feature.

2. 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 at the right time. Regardless of how fast you’re working, you want to keep in mind that your content should be relevant.

Remember, you want to make sure that your content has searchable keyword volume. This will help to merit action from news with market potential and that’s relevant towards your brand. Link your content to news that shares key search terms with your business. To enhance reach, use trending hashtags alongside your own branded hashtags, if you have any.

SUMMARY

You have to work fast, but you also need to make sure that the content carries searchable keyword volume. Otherwise your posts can just disappear in the system without getting noticed.

3. Demonstrate expertise

You have to show that you understand the news and that you’re up to speed with what’s happening in the world of media. Choose your field of interest and make sure to educate yourself on the topics relevant to these selected areas of focus.

This is effectively how you start becoming a thought leader. You display great knowledge and valid opinions in your appropriate field of expertise. Since your newsjack is going to be seen by thousands of people, you want to show that you know what you’re talking about. If you have the knowledge, spotting an opportunity to intercept is that much easier and more rewarding.

SUMMARY

You have to show that you understand the news and that you’re up to speed with what’s happening in the world of media. This makes your content more relevant.

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.

Use creativity to your advantage. Depending on the nature of the news, you can use memes or maybe show some sense of humor on social media. Doing so may further add to the potential of going viral.

SUMMARY

Avoid becoming known as a bad example of newsjacking by staying respectful. Learn to know when a joke is appropriate.

5. Monitor the media

You want to know what others are saying about your brand and how your newsjack is performing. Such as with any PR attempt, you want to make sure your initiative was effective. Keeping an eye on the media can present you with insights into how newsjacking efforts can be improved in future. If you want to make it a continuous part of your marketing strategy.

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.

SUMMARY
Monitor your story to what others are saying about your brand and how your newsjack is performing. Watch how your rates are changed by the newsjack and evaluate if this was the outcome you aimed for.

8

Conclusion

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what newsjacking is and the practice thereof. 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 the newsjack. Always stay sensitive, if you’re the only one who thinks you’re funny or smart, you’re not. This is why you should monitor the media to get a feel of the discussion and to 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.

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