Newsjacking sounds like a buzzword, doesn’t it?
But it has been around for a while.
It is essentially about using news stories and trending topics to gain coverage for your organisation.
It can be a vital part of the PR, comms and media team toolkit.
But it comes with its challenges.
News is fast-paced, meaning the window for success could be as little as just a couple of hours.
And when it goes wrong, brands can gain attention for all the wrong reasons.
So, should it be part of your comms strategy? How can you newsjack successfully? And how can you reduce the risk of it backfiring?
These were some of the questions we tackled in our latest masterclass for members of The Media Team Academy.
And they began by providing more clarity about what newsjacking means.
“Newsjacking is an odd term,” Don said. “It is essentially PR.
“What people see as newsjacking is often those big, creative campaigns that seem off-the-cuff and come out in reaction to something that is moving or a trend happening on social media.
“But there are many ways you can newsjack.”
Victoria added: “From a journalist’s point of view, we don’t say ‘let’s get some newsacking on the programme today’ or ‘let’s give brands lots of free publicity’.
“That is not where we are coming from. We want to move the story on and get a new opinion or hook.
“If you have an excellent spokesperson and case study, this is your opportunity.”
Essentially, newsjacking is about finding the right story at the right time to gain coverage for your organisation by adding fresh insight, personal experience and a different perspective.”
How could newsjacking benefit your organisation?
Newsjacking offers many benefits.
Jumping on current trends and stories is a great way to build exposure, introduce your brand to a wider audience and generate coverage.
Done well, it can boost credibility and help journalists view you as a trusted source.
The rewards are also immediate. There are often entire stories based on newsjacking responses.
But there is a lot of noise and competition for coverage.
The power of curiosity (and checking the news)
For Don, doing newsjacking successfully begins with being curious about the news cycle.
“I think it is about being curious,” he said.
“And part of our job is about being curious on behalf of clients and thinking about how we can go beyond an audience of consumers of their brand.
“How could you bring that brand into other places? What is going on in the news agenda or social media feeds that we could integrate the brand into in a way that reflects their tone of voice, and often, sense of humour?
“Ingrain that curiosity in your culture and be across as many different channels as possible.
“Go beyond your bubble and see what is happening in spaces where your brand does not normally go.
“Read the papers in the morning. Look online. Download those newsletters you are not sure you will find interesting.
“We have people thinking continually about what is in the news agenda and how they can work their client into it.”
Victoria agrees and says you need to be able to think like a journalist.
“Be aware of what is in the news,” she said.
“I did a feature file for Euronews on COP27 in Glasgow. I needed local companies to help me illustrate sustainability, which is a complex issue.
“A few companies responded. But the one that succeeded was a local beauty and cosmetics brand, which had a factory in Glasgow and was fully sustainable in terms of the circular economy.
“When they got me there to film, you could see what that means. They get their beauty products, they pop them in recyclable packaging, and when it has been used, customers can get them refilled. Or they can return empties, and they go back into the system ready to be used again.
“The story helps to explain sustainability. And they got their brand all over the story.
“But it was a struggle to find companies who would say ‘we’ll do it – come and visit us’.”
Newsjacking can feel like a spontaneous activity and a quick win.
But doing it well takes plenty of planning and consideration of what stories would work for your brand and which ones you should avoid.
Not every story will be right for your organisation to newsjack.
“Newsjacking seems off-the-cuff and seamless – almost like a thought that has just happened at that moment,” Don said.
“But the reality is there is a discipline to it. What seems like newsjacking is often planned spontaneity.
“It has been planned in advance. You have a story up your sleeve. You have things prepped and ready to go, and you put them out at the right moment.
“Knowing in advance what stories you would newsjack, and which ones you wouldn’t, makes identifying the stories coming up easier. And that is about understanding the brand and its audience.”
The TRUTH acronym we use during our media training courses is a handy guide for exploring what newsjacking activity could work:
Topical – It needs to be about something people are talking about. Or that is trending.
Relevant – Is it relevant to the journalist and audience?
Unusual – You need to offer something that has not been said before – a new take, opinion or case study. Offering an agreement or repeating what is already known will not work. Go against the grain.
Trouble – Journalists like to sniff our trouble and controversy. It means your spokespeople could face tough questions. How could you answer them?
Human – Tell us a human story. We are hardwired to love stories.
Calendar and culture
Looking at what is coming up can form a solid basis for newsjacking planning.
“Seasonal events provide good opportunities for newsjacking,” Victoria said. “Autumn is here, and we know there will be more issues around the cost-of-living crisis and with health.
“Big events, like royal weddings, also provide excellent opportunities for small businesses, like florists and dressmakers, to get themselves on air and offer an opinion – it doesn’t always have to be hard news.
“Think about what is coming up on the calendar over the next few months and how you would be able to contribute.
“There will be big events like Black History Month and Pride. But there will also be niche things like National Cheese Toastie Day, which offers opportunities for cheesemakers to get on air.”
Don added: “There is a day for everything, and some have more topicality than others.
“I think an interesting place to look is the cultural events – things like heatwaves, launches of Netflix series and sporting events.
“Think about the watercooler moments your audience is interested in and how you can integrate into that.”
The #journorequests hashtag on X, previously known as Twitter, can offer insight into the future stories and features journalists are working on.
“When I searched it yesterday, there were lots of requests, including one looking to speak to someone on the challenges of buying electric vehicles,” Victoria said.
“That’s really topical because we know that if you live in a terrace house or flat, there are issues around how you will charge an electric car. So, let’s get someone on to talk about that and the solutions.”
Back from a bit of annual leave and looking for pitches for Sky News' cost of living blog!— Katie Williams (@katiejnwilliams) October 5, 2023
Looking for decent consumer advice, topical stories and case studies. My email is email@example.com, or you can DM me here.#journorequest
I am writing a series of finance features - e.g. how people live to deal with the cost of living.— Charlotte Gill (@CharlotteCGill) October 4, 2023
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any press releases and insights.
I am also interesting in general pitches and tips (i.e. for scoops)#journorequest
Looking for tips on how to get through #soberoctober for a informative online piece in Women's Health – do email me on email@example.com if you have any real nuggets of wisdom #journorequest— Alice Barraclough (@al_barraclough) October 2, 2023
#JournoRequest - looking for an animal-welfare charity to comment on animal testing (and how can we move away from it).— Liam Gilliver (@LiamGilliver) September 26, 2023
The window to newsjack successfully could be just a couple of hours.
If you miss that chance, your attempts to get your brand in the news are likely to fail.
Internal sign-off can be the biggest barrier to acting quickly.
“Indecision and red tape are the killers of newsjacking,” Don said.
“The moment you start to go through laborious sign-off processes, newsjacking falls apart because the story gets old.
“You need to make sure you and your client are confident in advance about what you will talk about.
“If you have that, newsjacking starts to flow quicker.”
Don says having a sign-off WhatsApp group can speed the process and help comms teams move with the lightning speed needed.
And he also believes simple ideas help.
He said: “Probably the best way to get through sign-off is for ideas to be simple or cheap enough to fail. A complex, expensive idea brings complexity. If you can’t get the idea in a line or a WhatsApp message, it is probably not going to fly.”
Are some stories too complex for newsjacking?
There are some types of stories you should not try to newsjack.
Stories around death, destruction, tragedy and religion are sensitive and should be avoided.
But complexity should not be seen as a barrier.
“Some stories can feel complex,” Victoria said.
“But most of them can be broken down into simple human stories. The cost-of-living crisis sounds complex, but let’s get an expert who can talk about money-saving tips and hacks for when you do your grocery shop. Or how to save money on your Christmas food bill.
“The way we do news is a bit of a transaction. I worked as a producer on the Jeremy Vine Show, and it lives or dies by newsjacking. He will say things like, ‘Do we have an expert on the cost-of-living crisis who can talk to us?’.”
“Talk programmes, in particular, rely on contributors with great stories. As long as your spokesperson and case study can tell us a great story that will appeal to the audience on a human level, journalists will think, ‘This is a transaction that will work for both of us’.
“If you can bring something niche or small that adds to the debate around a big topic and gives us something new, journalists will be all over it.”
And if that spokesperson performs well, journalists are likely to turn to them again for their insight and expertise in the future.
Victoria said: “Once we’ve used you once and thought ‘that spokesperson was great’, we will use you again. We go back to the same companies if it has worked well before. A relationship is formed, and we know we can trust you because you have excellent experts.
“Journalists are not time rich. We don’t have time to find new speakers and guests all the time.”
During this exclusive masterclass for members of The Media Team Academy, we also explored what to do when your newsjacking efforts don't succeed. And what happens when newsjacking goes wrong. If you want to find out what was discussed and have access to future masterclasses like this, you need to be a member of The Media Team Academy - our learning and development programme – designed for comms and media teams.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.