Nine golden rules of news-jacking




Richard Moss

The concept of news-jacking is not new to PR.  For decades, any PR worth their salt has been trying to hijack a breaking news story for the benefit of a brand or client. 

It is such a popular tactic PR expert David Meerman Scott wrote a book:  News-Jacking. How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.

However throughout my career I have seen many brands try to successfully piggy back a breaking news story and fail miserably to achieve any discernible result.  Why?  Simply because they got the timing wrong, the story wasn’t relevant, and they didn’t have anything credible to say.

One of the most successful news-jacking stories of the last 12 months was B&Q’s Fifty Shades of Grey linked memo.  Yes, it was our idea and campaign, but the point is not to just plug our own work.  There are key lessons from the B&Q example which brands keen on news-jacking can learn.

1. Timing is everything

News is now 24/7.  If you are trying to news-jack a story you have read in the newspaper, then frankly you are too late.  The story is old and the media have moved on.  The beauty of the B&Q story was getting it out before the news agenda.  We knew the date of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie release, we knew other brands would use it as a news hook, and we knew there was a wave film-related merchandise timed to launch with the film.  The key was picking the right moment to be ahead of the trend.

2. Your content must create a reaction

Content has been a PR buzz word for years now, and for good reason.  The right piece of content, which generates a reaction, will have a better result than a simple quote plugging your brand.  One reason Oreo’s Super Bowl effort was so well-received is because it communicated Oreo was listening and it was also dealing with the lighting issue at the Superbowl. More importantly, the “issue” was minor enough that a light-hearted reference made the content extremely relevant.

3. It doesn’t just happen

You cannot prepare enough for news-jacking.  It may seem like you can see a news story online and in an ideal world send a comment that gets picked up by the media.  In reality, it doesn’t work like that.  The B&Q example was a fortnight of hard work to get the content and execution right, and approved by the brand.  The Oreo Superbowl meme was the tail end of 100 days of Oreo content.  Preparation is critical.

4. Execution is key

The default reaction with PR is write a press release, commission a survey, speak to journalists.  But, while there is value in all three, to really stand out from the crowd you need to think about how you actually pull off your creative news-jacking and what is going the grab your audience’s attention.  Some of the best news-jacking undertaken by brands start as social media memes, internal memos or short pieces of video content.

5. You aren’t always relevant to a story

Is your brand really credible to comment on a breaking news story?  Are you adding to the conversation or forcing it? If you’re not adding to the conversation, you’re probably forcing it. And the end result, or lack thereof, will simply reinforce this fact.  Be really honest about whether your client or brand actually does have a relevant, interesting and credible point of view on the story or event.  You must be authentic and true to your brand.

6. Will news-jacking actually help you achieve your business goals

Measuring PR success in column inches is a dated metric.  PR must add value to your brand, and most importantly your bottom line.  For B&Q, during the week they received countless pieces of coverage which told their audience about the products they sell and their customer-focused ethos, in a cheeky and fun way.  The result?  An increase in the number of people going to a B&Q store that weekend.  A simple piece of PR had a tangible impact on the business.

7. Be brave

News-jacking requires an element of bravery and belief in the creative idea.  You will weaken the impact by forcing perfectly constructed corporate messages into an idea where they don’t fit or ensuring your logo is front and centre of a photograph.  The best ideas are beautifully simple and understandable without the need for explanation or lengthy messaging documents.

8. Paid and PR working hand in hand

If your news-jacking is going well, you want as many people as possible to see your efforts.  It is therefore always valuable to put paid support behind social posts to drive up the number of eyeballs.  Paid and PR can work together incredibly well when deployed against the right ideas.

9. Respect news

There are countless examples of brands trying to hijack inappropriate news in a highly distasteful fashion.  There are some events, such as natural disasters, war or death, where brands need to leave well alone.  You will only anger journalists and your audience by shameless publicity mongering.  Sometimes the right thing to do is absolutely nothing.

This was published by…

Headshot photo of Richard Moss

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