Newsjacking is one of the oldest and most productive tricks in the book for digital PR pros: reactive outreach to major breaking news and pegging content to it can result in a treasure trove of links and viral status if timed correctly. But what is newsjacking, or reactive PR?
The basic idea of newsjacking is to aid journalists covering breaking news by providing new data that furthers or contextualizes a given story. While it is tricky to get the timing right and to have the right content for the job, it can be a huge boon to agencies and journalists alike.
But how can you ensure that you’re the most prepared you can be for that golden moment of relevant breaking news? Here are some newsjacking tools to maximize the results of effort and ensure that no one has to scramble (for the most part).
While it’s impossible to predict the news, do everything you can to have a compelling pitch if that magic headline does roll across your Twitter feed. Reach out to your client ahead of time for a few relevant quotes to your content piece that elaborate on trends and reflect more deeply: this gives you a few talking points to provide in a newsjacking pitch without the potential pitfall of waiting for client response.
If you can, establish with your client a point person to function as an expert source should journalists want to interview someone with expertise beyond the piece about your content piece. Obviously, there are limitations here; not every client is extremely responsive, or even willing to engage in reactive PR, but even just a few talking points can maximize the chances that even where the content piece might not be enough to newsjack, furthering the narrative through an expert interview will seal the deal.
Additionally, and perhaps most fundamentally, it’s of utmost and obvious importance to stay plugged into the news. While Twitter might be a less reliable source of breaking news than it used to be as NPR and other major news outlets depart, consider signing up for breaking news alerts from the New York Times, AP, and CNN to get the most current suite of updates throughout the day.
If you have a client specialized in a certain vertical, like tech, it behooves you to subscribe to RSS feeds for publications in that niche like The Verge or PC Magazine. It might clutter the inbox a bit, but having your thumb on the pulse of immediately breaking news is priceless. Additionally, a regular touchpoint amongst outreach managers is advisable to talk through what will likely be the major news points of the week and how to angle outreach campaigns accordingly.
Even the most relevant campaign to breaking news is only so strong as the pitch discussing it, so taking time to meet and workshop angles can be of huge benefit to all involved.
Relevant news to your content has broken and the media is fully in the throes of a new news cycle: how do you find the journalists that will take your content and run with it?
There are a few shortcuts to old-fashioned manual prospecting that will save you time:
#journorequests is a hashtag used on Twitter that journalists use to put queries out for assorted needs, generally sources they can interview. This can look like anything from an ask for a psychologist with expertise in the bystander effect to wanting to hear from women with endometriosis– requests range from incredibly niche to broad. Searching for this hashtag will show the full spectrum of asks out there- or simply follow @PRJournoRequest on Twitter.
Similar to the above but a bit more streamlined is HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, a platform offered through Cision that aggregates journalist requests submitted to it by vertical. You can opt to receive these emails once a day or more frequently, as well as by specific vertical. While the number of emails can occasionally be overwhelming, each is a treasure trove of potential newsjacking leads. It’s important to take time to go through them!
While Twitter is in a state of flux currently, it’s still worth keeping an eye on and using its “Trending” feature to see what the internet is talking about. While the algorithms seem to be a bit questionable at times (why is it every third post on my timeline is Elon Musk? I don’t even follow him!), it’s still home to many journalists buzzing about current events.
Other potential similar social networks include created-by-Twitter BlueSky and Mastodon, though the former is still currently invite-only (and this PR pro isn’t quite cool enough to be in yet).
Another way to find journalists thirsty for content is to see who is already writing about the breaking news. Besides the aforementioned news outlet wires you can subscribe to, never underestimate the power of content analysis. BuzzSumo, Muckrack, and other platforms all have keyword search capabilities to see what journalists are writing about and provide specific articles; a few simple searches later, and you’ve built a highly relevant press list of breaking news journalists.
Let’s take BuzzSumo’s Content Analyzer, for example:
A simple search query like “tipping” will showcase a list of articles that feature the word (some in the restaurant sense, some in the “tipping point” sense) – you can nuance your query with helpful suggestions from BuzzSumo as well.
Looking at the articles, you not only see the title, but also overall engagement. The second tab will show an analysis of the term, including a graph showing engagement over time, type of content (is the article an explainer, or something else?), overall sentiment, and top articles by engagement. This can be an invaluable tool for figuring out not just WHO is talking about a piece of breaking news– but also HOW.
Another useful tool that will keep you abreast of trending topics while still in the sweet spot of when to newsjack (i.e. right after the news breaks) is Exploding Topics. While less breaking news and more breaking trends- the smallest amount of time you can look at is 6 months, which means that this might be better served informing content subject than newsjacking – it is still a useful way to predict what might become breaking news.
Exploding topics highlights what search terms are trending in popularity on Google, and as such can be predictive: an increase in search terms for “crypto insurance” might mean that a personal finance piece could be extremely relevant very soon.
I want to take a moment here to say what perhaps might be obvious: there is an ethical stance to newsjacking PR. As PR pros, we must be opportunistic and seize chances to get coverage when we can– but we need to retain a sense of ethics in choosing which opportunities we take advantage of.
Events with an element of human tragedy should be hands-off. When human lives are affected on a mortal level, it’s never, ever a good idea to swoop in and do a PR pitch. Broad economic trends often have human consequences– we all know the economy isn’t great right now, and many are struggling, but there’s a difference between struggles that content can draw light to versus taking an opportunity to promote a brand when people might be in mourning.
While a story might be of utmost relevance to your content, take a moment to ask yourself how it would feel to be a journalist or reader reading the pitch you’d send. Would they be excited to further the narrative around a trending story, or would they be taken aback at a callous disregard for the emotional impact of the breaking news? If the fundamental purpose of newsjacking is to help journalists with their breaking coverage, then opportunistic newsjacking is the last thing you want, anyway.
No one is perfect and one must always balance the needs of outreach: but it’s worth thinking about.
An important aspect of the entire newsjacking process is to take a page out of the book of Mohammad Ali: Float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee. Agility is crucial: did you plan out several careful rounds of outreach and schedule emails well in advance? Be prepared to scrap extant plans if it means seizing a newsjacking opportunity.
I’d advise scheduling pitches only a few days out and keeping major tabs on the news: the alternate side of newsjacking is also maintaining a sense of timing as to when it DOESN’T make sense to send a pitch: if you’re planning on sending a message to the pop culture or entertainment vertical, be sure to avoid doing so in the opening days of the first writer’s strike in 15 years, or else your pitch will never be looked at. Similarly, a personal finance pitch might not do so well in the midst of a bank or crypto crisis.
When news does break it’s important to know exactly how to pivot as quickly as possible, whether it’s unscheduling pitches, pushing up pitching rounds, or even scrapping your outreach plan altogether in the face of a new one.
The most important aspect of newsjacking is the swiftness with which you reach out to journalists. There’s an extremely finite window to effectively newsjack, and if you float like a butterfly, it makes it all the easier to sting (pitch journalists) like a bee (that has a very relevant content piece to breaking news).
If you wait too long, other PR pros will fulfill those journalist requests, or even get in front of breaking news with reactive content. Not only that, but by the time breaking news hits peak coverage, it’s effectively over from a PR perspective- that’s why trends like “Great Resignation” might have worked in Q1 2022 in a way they absolutely don’t now.
It also bears noting that newsjacking should not be the only play in your digital PR playbook: repetitive newsjacking can make you seem more like a vulture than an entity with strategy and content that stands on its own. Making sure you have a mixture of proactive and reactive PR is key to ensuring that your overall PR strategy stands the test of time.
With these tips in mind, you now have the toolkit to really maximize the likelihood that newsjacking will not only work, but work incredibly well. Let’s just hope the news breaks our way!