As the field of digital PR becomes ever-competitive, placements in relevant and authoritative publications are increasingly difficult to achieve, especially in the presence of already contentious and trending news. However, the best digital PR agencies know how to leverage these current affairs and trending events to their client’s advantage, and they do so through a process called "newsjacking".
Newsjacking is a widely known content marketing strategy that involves leveraging and capitalising on trending news to advance your own message or brand. First popularised by renowned marketer David Scott, the strategy involves taking advantage of current affairs and how they relate to your business or client to gain attention. You’d be right to think that this is a very broad definition because the art and science behind newsjacking can occur in a wide range of forms - from a social media post right through to a new product.
With media outlets releasing breaking news on a daily basis, you might think that newsjacking is an easy yet effective strategy to amplify your sales or gain coverage. Unfortunately, it is this ubiquitous nature of the news that makes successful newsjacking a challenge. In fact, newsjacking is a fine art, and whilst it can be wildly lucrative if done well, it requires a combination of excellent timing, creativity, and consciousness to get right.
Beyond the big brands and social media posts, newsjacking is consistently used and relied upon in digital PR strategy too. Most good digital PR agencies will be vigilant and monitor live news in a bid to be among the first to respond to major events that present newsjacking opportunities. Whether this is by engaging daily with the news, monitoring an RSS feed, or dedicating an entire team or individual to scouting out reactive content, newsjacking within digital PR is a well-regarded strategy with a whole host of benefits.
Newsjacking an event at the perfect time means that when journalists go to find more information about an event before writing about it, your press release is fit and ready for their use. Essentially, it is the perfect way to gain organic links and citations.
Targeting the right event can provide thick and fast results when a campaign is sent out, which is perfect for getting last minute placements.
Brand reputation is improved by newsjacking since successful attempts to portray your brand name as relevant, timely, and proactive.
So, you’ve seen and heard the benefits of newsjacking as a marketing strategy, but how can you pull it off successfully? Here are Reboot’s top tips for nailing a newsjack.
Due to the nature of newsjacking and its popularity, being fast and reactive is always necessary. As most agencies will know, it isn’t enough to see news a few hours late or even take a few days collating the data, because trending news changes every day and you need to capture a story before it goes stale. What’s more, there are thousands of agencies in your position who are also trying to capitalise on the same headlines, so getting there first and providing the best response is key. Here are our tips on getting the timing right and acting fast:
Always be prepared to act on current news, having some flexibility with your workload and schedule can help you with this.
Be commercially aware inside and outside of office hours. News is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Having a general interest in current affairs and pop culture even outside of your role is a fantastic way to stay eagle-eyed for newsjacking opportunities!
Introduce a collaborative process whereby you can all contribute to generating a fast but high-quality campaign.
Check what is already out there. More often than not someone might have got to your idea first, so checking current coverage is crucial, especially if you don’t want to waste precious time.
Have a wide variety of tools available for use that can be suitable for lots of different ideas. This might include calculators, social media tools, and search volume databases.
Set up a way to keep up to date with current and trending news. This could be anything from an RSS feed to news outlet notifications.
Discuss the possibility of reactive pieces and newsjacking campaigns with your client so that you can get prompt permission and approval prior to campaigns rather than waiting around.
Understanding which newsjacking opportunities to fulfil and which to pass on is also an important aspect of successful newsjacking. Whilst every news story could bear some relation to your client and therefore be tempting, it is impossible and counterproductive to attempt to respond to all of them. Rather, we recommend fixating on the most lucrative, most helpful, and most relevant opportunities. Here are a few questions to consider when deciding whether you can pursue a natural and relevant connection to a trending story:
Would my research present a new angle on an already interesting topic?
Would my client be an authoritative source of information for this topic?
Would this gain coverage and placements that are within my client’s niche?
Are people looking for what I have to share? (E.g looking at Google Trends and search volume data)
It is also a good idea to consider the size of your client when deciding whether they have a strong enough connection to a story. As Oreo and Lego have demonstrated, big names can get away with newsjacking in matters they are unrelated to simply because they have a strong enough social media platform to do so. However, it is worth remembering that for smaller clients without this following, it may be best to stick closely to more relevant topics and news when newsjacking.
As with any ordinary campaign, the best newsjacking material will have been scrutinised before it goes out to check for any errors, inconsistencies, or areas it can be improved. Understandably, there is a temptation to rush reactive campaigns but it is important to remember that the cost of making mistakes might outweigh the benefits - especially when the law gets involved! Before you let your campaign go live, consider the following:
Is the idea interesting enough to gain coverage and attention or is it being pushed for the sake of it?
Have your team triple-checked all data, methodology, and write-ups involved in the campaign before release?
If the news you are responding to is especially contentious or political consider whether your campaign exhibits a bias, or might be offensive. If so, it may be better to avoid the idea unless you have complete confidence in it.
Gain client approval and understand whether this is the kind of content they want their name attached to.
Is it too similar to something that has been done before?
Perhaps the most important preparation to make in order to newsjack is to be resource ready. Too often agencies have jam-packed schedules and no contingency plans in place for big news to jack. Just look at Oreo during the Super Bowl - they had a social media team, copywriter and creative on standby in case of any major news or trends and they were able to execute a great piece of marketing as a result.
You don’t need to go as far as to dedicate a whole team on a certain date, there are a few things you can do to be best prepared for reactive opportunities:
Keep your news updates on
Maintain some element of flexibility in your routine
Decide how you will communicate your plan with stakeholders as quickly as possible
If someone is best placed to do reactive campaigns, it might be a good idea to designate some of their time to these
To provide you with a better insight into newsjacking in practice, we have compiled a list of some of the most famous newsjacking efforts by big names - most of which you might have already seen for yourself!
For those unfortunate enough to have missed it, last year Elon Musk’s brand Tesla brought out the Tesla Cybertruck, claiming that the model would be indestructible. Long story short, the public unveiling of the model involved various tests of resilience, one of which embarrassingly proved that the Tesla Cybertruck was not indestructible after all as a steel ball shattered the window. The unveiling video was shared widely across social media, with thousands gathering to laugh at the awkward moment.
With all of that attention, it is no surprise that brands attempted to newsjack the event, with Lego being the most successful. To add to the mockery, Lego Australia put together a remarkably simple version of the truck made of just a few pieces of Lego and called theirs unshatterable too, which they shared in a social media post. The brilliance of the content was that it juxtaposed what was supposed to be an extremely intricate and complex design with a very basic, simple alternative. Another reason for the newsjacking attempt’s success was that the content invited and encouraged discourse with the public who were more than keen to share their own creations and responses. In total, the tweet alone got 26,000 retweets, 103,000 likes, and 3,383 retweets, showing just how far newsjacking can get a brand in terms of attention.
Another widely shared piece of news it is difficult to forget was the dress debate where it was debated across social media and in-person whether a photo showed a black and blue, or white and gold dress. The photo left the world divided and it was a perfect opportunity for brands to newsjack and manipulate the news to suit their business.
Dunkin’ Donuts did just that. They created two doughnuts, one blue, and black and one gold and white, tweeting: “Doesn’t matter if it’s blue/black or white/gold, they still taste delicious” followed by the trending hashtag. Their response to the debate was simple, prompt, and effective and showed that even if your brand bears little relevance to a topic if you can draw a creative link and react quickly to news, you can insert yourself into dominant social media conversation.
In fact, Dunkin Donuts was not the only food-based brand looking to newsjack, since PizzaHut shared a picture of a crisp white and golden pizza, attracting 35,000 likes despite the simplicity of the post.
Another major global event that many brands sought to capitalise on was during the Super Bowl blackout where a power outage caused a half an hour-long blackout at one of the world’s most-streamed events. Despite the fact that no brands nor individuals could have predicted the malfunction, Oreo was immediate with their response and is claimed to have successfully newsjacking the event as a result.
Again, Oreo’s response was one of simplicity - it simply read “Power Out? No Problem.”, which was followed by a photo of a single Oreo that was captioned “you can still dunk in the dark”. The tweet garnered over 20,000 likes on Facebook and almost as much attention on Twitter, leaving many wondering how they were so prompt in responding to the unpredictable. Behind the effort was a media team fully prepared and equipped to respond to any major news during the event, which appeared to pay off!
At Reboot, we know a lot about newsjacking success, since our team is fortunate enough to have a whole host of newsjacking successes to date. So, if you are wondering what newsjacking looks like in a digital PR agency, read on for a few examples.
One of our favourite newsjacking successes followed the news that Harry and Meghan had reportedly been making unnecessary trips using a private jet this year and had been widely criticised for doing so within the media and on social media. As with most news related to royalty, we understood the momentum this story would gain over time and chose to react with our own, creative campaign.
In a bid to newsjack this, we quickly devised and pursued a campaign that involved a detailed index of eco-friendly factors such as CO2 emissions, support for environmental charities, eco-friendly fashion mentions, and other considerations to determine which royal family member was the least eco-friendly after all! Knowing that journalists would be looking for data-based judgements to substantiate their claims further, we were confident that our index-based campaign would provide just what they were looking for to build upon the existing news.
To date, the campaign has achieved 77 placements and has gained coverage in some of the biggest news outlets including The Sun, The Express, The International Business Times, and also in more niche outlets such as Plant Based News and Geo News which are within our client’s field of expertise.
Following the news that Ellen De Generes had been mistreating her staff, many fans took to social media to ‘cancel’ her, a popularised term for ostracising an individual or withdrawing your support for them often when they have done something problematic. When we saw how much potential the news had, our creative team decided to reveal which celebrities had lost the most followers this year, falling victim to ‘cancel culture’.
Our campaign which revealed Ellen to have lost the most followers then went on to reveal Jeffree Star to have lost the second-highest amount of followers, alongside other stars such as JK Rowling. The campaign was timely, topical, and driven by data - so it is no surprise that it landed coverage in major outlets such as The Telegraph, Metro and OK! to name a few.
Another successful newsjacking example from this year was our campaign following the news that hayfever was set to be worse this year, with thousands already suffering from the symptoms. Whilst that news might have appeared mundane to some, search volumes revealed that many people were already seeking help for their symptoms, so there was clearly value in expert input.
Seizing the opportunity, our campaign delivered just that and sought expert advice from our client on how to reduce the severity of allergies during hayfever season, specifically by targeting dust around your home. The expertise was delivered in our campaign just as people were reacting to the existing news and media outlets were eager to showcase the advice in conjunction with it, achieving our client 141 placements, most of which were in reputable outlets such as MyWeekly, Verge Magazine, Ideal Home, The Express and Yahoo among many others.
As far as newsjacking in digital PR is concerned, it is always a good idea to try and add value to existing stories before they surface!
Just as there are things to do right when it comes to newsjacking, there are also things done wrong. Having looked at many newsjacking attempts across the world, some of the biggest failures had the following things in common:
Often some of the newsjacking efforts that don’t get picked up fail simply because they lack substance. In a desperate bid to capitalise on the news whilst it’s trending too many agencies rush to get a campaign out without making sure it adds something new or valuable. Always be sure that you are offering something beyond the original story, whether that is an expert opinion or an original dataset that gives better insight into the matter.
Newsjacking campaigns often also fail because they misunderstand the trend they are responding to. A prime example of this is the brand DiGiorno Pizza who, upon seeing the hashtags “WhyILeft” and “WhyIStayed” trending decided to join the conversation by tweeting “WhyIStayed You Had Pizza”, which was completely inappropriate given the context of the hashtags. In fact, the hashtags were trending due to the exposure of a video which saw a famous sportsman punching his then-fiancée in a lift and was a tribute to domestic abuse victims. Given this context, the brand was widely slated and slammed for being insensitive and mocking domestic violence. This is a perfect example of how misreading the room or misunderstanding the key message can backfire and often prove far more damaging than helpful for your brand or client. You should never let a campaign leave the agency before having fully researched the implications and context behind it.
Another danger of newsjacking is that some online PR agencies are over-reliant on it for their results. Rather, newsjacking is the perfect tool to supplement your existing digital PR or marketing strategy and it’s often difficult to guarantee results from the news that hasn’t even happened yet.
So, is newsjacking worthwhile? We think so.
When executed properly, newsjacking can be very lucrative since it is a fantastic way to improve visibility, generate leads for your brand and achieve placements for your client. In fact, some newsjack campaigns often have similar pay-off to some other campaigns that take considerably longer and require much more thought. It simply depends on how well you understand newsjacking and whether you choose and execute the right opportunities well.