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Newsjacking – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.

Newsjacking is a somewhat negative-sounding name for a real-time marketing technique that can be quite successful.

To make newsjacking work, PR professionals have to be alert, well-read, creative, and thoughtful in order to inject their ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for themselves or their businesses.

How will you know your efforts have succeeded? David Meerman Scott, the inventor of the term ‘newsjacking,’ says that good newsjacking leads people directly into the buying process.

Before we look at the good, the bad, and the ugly examples of newsjacking, I want to clear one thing up: there is a difference between newsjacking and commemorating. For example, the September 11 tragedy means that news organizations will plan to cover news about the event on that date – e.g. events in honor of the tragedy, updates on those involved, etc. It also means that many people and brands want to commemorate the date by issuing sentiment or offering something special. Sometimes the ‘special offer’ becomes part of the news, but in general, brands shouldn’t try to generate “news” from their commemorations.

Wondering how to get started? First, you need to be on top of the news. This means using technology like TweetDeck, Google News and other monitoring techniques to follow what’s happening in your industry. It’s also helpful to plan ahead with tools like AP Planner that can help you build out your editorial calendar.

The New York Times recently wrote about Gary Vaynerchuk’s VaynerMedia and his efforts to help clients exploit topics that are trending on Twitter.

Vaynerchuk says, “Creative today is more about breaking news. We need clever, funny and quick. If orange juice trees burn down in all of Florida, is there a play for our Tropicana client?”

And the NYT writes: A “play” in this context means some kind of post that pivots off the news, most likely on Facebook or Twitter. Three weeks ago, a team of employees gathered with Mr. Vaynerchuk in a conference room to discuss a brand they oversee, a cookie that the client did not want named. The team spent much of the meeting trying to figure out how this brand could exploit topics trending on Twitter. They call it “riding the hashtag” here.

In this Entrepreneur article, Scott Smith and Jeana Anderson recommend asking these questions before newsjacking:

  • Does the event directly affect your brand or its consumers?
  • Is this largely self-promotional?
  • Could anyone say it?
  • Have you reviewed your scheduled content for that day? More important, has anyone else?
  • Is your post really better than saying nothing at all?

Lewis PR offers some other tips for getting going and recommends thinking about your spokespeople and the topics they are qualified to talk about.

Content Rules co-author Ann Handley recommends hiring a brand journalist to help you capitalize on news opportunities.

Intel’s Jamshed Wadia offers similar tips and shows how his company is leveraging news and trends in Asia Pacific.

Now, for a few newsjacking examples:

Banana Republic successfully capitalized on attention for Twitter leading up to its IPO.

Mixing in political messages or referencing scandals usually isn’t a recommended tactic, but Bertolli pasta pulls it off.

Unfortunately, the Golf Channel doesn’t pull it off.

When it comes to commemoration, I love this commemorative post by Devils Tower National monument on Veterans Day (click on the arrow keys to see additional photos of other military aircraft flying by the monument)

But the line between appropriate and inappropriate is a thin one, as these commemorative 9/11 gaffes show.

Share your newsjacking examples and experiences below!

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


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