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What is Newsjacking?

By Tricia Harte

We consume news whether we want to or not. It’s all around us, on-air, online, on social media, and in day-to-day conversations. But there is so much news that it’s easy for content to get lost amid the noise. 

Content teams around the globe try to “feed the beast,” so to speak, and produce content that is relevant, interesting, and worthy of coverage (aka newsworthy). It’s a tricky game getting media coverage, especially when you never know exactly what the news cycle will be craving at any given moment. 

But every once and a while there’s a perfect storm of current events that relate to a client’s expertise. When these opportunities arise, savvy digital marketers can seize the news cycle. Thrusting their client into the limelight and effectively newsjacking the news cycle for their link and brand building benefit. 

It’s wild and unpredictable, which is one of the reasons we love newsjacking. Riding the coattails of the moment’s biggest stories can produce massive benefits for a business’s digital PR efforts.

How do Newsjacking and Digital PR Overlap?

Successful newsjacking takes an event or news story that captures the media’s attention, and finds ways to tie-in a client’s expertise or content.

David Meerman Scott, who literally wrote the book on newsjacking, defines it 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.

Female news reporter doing a live shot when a man interrupts her.

Because you cannot predict when the news cycle’s buzz and your client or content will overlap, newsjacking is inherently reactionary

When done effectively, newsjacking amplifies media coverage, exponentially increases brand mentions or inbound links, and associates your client or company with industry thought leadership.

When should you newsjack?

The best times to newsjack are when you have a client with subject matter expertise, or when you have relevant content or research.

In the first scenario, newsjacking means interjecting your client as an authority on the topic at large. It often entails your marketing team leveraging your client’s expertise with responsorial quotes and statements, as well as offering opportunities for interviews.

In the second scenario (when leveraging research or pre-existing content) newsjacking comes from media outreach. In the initial pitch email you must position your content or research as both relevant to the situation, and advantageous to the writer or media outlet.

In these scenarios, it about convincing journalists that your content about subject “Z” is extremely relevant for their follow up coverage. To do so, it needs to advance the narrative. If your content is picked up by major news outlets or influential journalists, it can receive a flood of inbound links as an authoritative citation.

A normal piece of research that might get “x” amount of coverage may suddenly get “10x” coverage. This can be due to the widespread syndication that tends to arise to feed media’s voracious appetite for any and all related information.

Either newsjacking strategy, when done effectively, can position your content/brand as a place of authority. Thus increasing your relevancy, while amplifying media coverage, inbound links, brand mentions and more.

How to Integrate Newsjacking into your Content Strategy

Now that you understand what newsjacking is, the natural progression is a discussion about how to newsjack. There are three simple ways you can easily integrate newsjacking into your content strategy:

  1. Keep tabs on relevant news alerts
  2. Produce content that is flexible
  3. Craft your pitches in a way that shows relevancy to the news cycle

Keep tabs on news alerts

Set up and use news alerts to your advantage! Integrate alerts for news related to your content’s theme to keep as up-to-date about the situation as possible.

Even if you’re not getting alerts, pay attention. Spend some time reading the news every morning and afternoon. As you do so, think about the human interest side of the stories you’re reading.

Go one step further and do some keyword work. Dig a little deeper by checking keyword search volume to find out what, exactly, people are talking about when it comes to a specific event or topic.

Flexible content

As always, remain flexible in your content ideas and think outside the box.

If it’s a news story that has longevity, think about where you can add to the conversation. Consider data you can get from trusted sources such as Pew or the Census Bureau or even your own surveys.

Doing so will allow you to differentiate yourself and your content. The key is to not tell a story that’s already been told. The more you can add to the narrative, the better – and all the more useful for journalists.

If you time it right, your information can be ready for eager journalists before the news cycle resets.

How to newsjack with your pitches

Let’s say you’ve already done your research, but another story angle pops up that you weren’t expecting. While you may not have time to change your data, your content may be a great source of supplemental information for that specific angle. 

To make sure you’re sharing timely content, find an angle that works well with headlines and pitch it appropriately.

For example:

Dear [Reporter],

Everyone is talking about [newsworthy event] and it’s understandable. The impact is broad and far reaching. But how will Americans feel about [insert relevant topic that advances the narrative] in light of [newsworthy event]?

Our client, an expert on [relevant topic] recently explored this in a recent analysis. The study found [x], [y], [z] will also be greatly impacted. 
Interested in learning more? I’d be happy to [share this research/set up an interview/provide a quote] if you’re interested.

In this hypothetical pitch email in response to “newsworthy event,” we’re leveraging content that advances the narrative. Thus filling the journalistic desire to dig deeper, explore nuances, and provide their audience with valuable, new insights and angles. 

Predicting Opportunities for Newsjacking

Despite what we said before, not all newsjacking is 100% reactionary.

Not every newsjacking endeavor has to involve a once-in-a-lifetime event. Because, let’s face it, breaking news stories are typically one of a kind and happen in real time.

Instead, jackable topics can be as routine as holidays or seasonal events. Identify stories that are relevant to events and determine the data and angle that will play best in a news cycle.

seasonal events for newsjacking including New Year's eve, valentine's day, tax day, memorial day, etc.

For instance, we recently conducted a survey on how Covid-19 (once-in-a-lifetime) has impacted holiday shopping (routine). By using a seasonal event and a relevant story, we were able to newsjack in the most effective of ways.

Benefits of Newsjacking

You might be asking, “What’s the point?” Simply put, the pros of newsjacking far outweigh the cons.

There are three clear benefits of newsjacking.

  1. The right timing means immediate media coverage. When you pitch a unique story at just the right moment (between a story breaking and journalists looking for more information), it guarantees media coverage – and quickly.
  2. Media coverage leads to your company being deemed a subject matter expert. Overnight, you’re a go-to source who knows what they’re talking about.
  3. Syndication. If you’re lucky, you could see one media placement turn into dozens through syndication. This is because local news outlets who share a single syndication hub also share their stories with those in their network.

    [Related: How Content Syndicates Across Local News]

Our proof that newsjacking works

Syndication works. In early 2020, we newsjacked a New York Times report about food delivery drivers. The Times article was going viral and every major news outlet was talking about it.

It just so happened that we just published a client’s digital PR campaign that dove deep into Americans’ relationships with food delivery apps. Our outreach team newsjacked the article’s publicity and saw hundreds (literally) of links citing our client’s research in the onslaught of supplementary media coverage.

Could the campaign have earned a successful amount of inbound coverage without newsjacking the Times article. Probably, the data was solid and interesting in and of itself. 

But would it have been as widespread? Probably not. Or in the same 2 week time period? Definitely not. 

The payoff of newsjacking – riding the coattails of a huge story – is immense. But at the end of the day, newsjacking is just one part of a successful content strategy.

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