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Newsjacking: A New Approach to PR

by Ann Handley  |  
November 15, 2011

The traditional PR model is dead.

Traditional PR sticks close to the script, embargoes press releases, follows a prescribed timeline, and all that. But here’s the problem: Conversations careen with such speed and velocity that you need to rethink your approach if you want to be part of them, says David Meerman Scott.

Enter “newsjacking”—a process, as defined by David, “by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”

Yesterday, David published a new electronic book on the topic, Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage (Wiley) as a kind of field guide to this new approach. It’s stuffed full of examples of people and organizations who have had success with it—from Rick Perry, Oakley, Larry Flynt, and even a B2B company, Amdocs (more on Amdocs in a sec).

Newsjacking is all about telling stories right now—this instant, in real time—so journalists find your content when they are looking for another angle on a story.

I’m a fan of this short book (it’s lightning-fast to read!) for two reasons:

1. I like the way that David’s ideas nudge the marketing and PR industries forward. In an era when every business should be laying content as a cornerstone of its marketing, Newsjacking reminds us that it’s not just any content that will do. Rather, what works is content that’s relevant, interesting, enjoyable, and valuable to your customers. Also, speed matters: You can’t take forever to get your content on the Web (and allow it to get pabulum-ized by lawyers.)

2. I like the way Newsjacking nudges journalists forward. As a former journalist, I have a soft spot in my heart for news reporters and editors, especially as newspapers themselves struggle to survive. I’ve long championed the notion of hiring journalists and writers and editors—you know, people who actually know how to tell a story, because it’s practically in their bones—to help create content from inside organizations.

Newsjacking offers another validation of the idea that so-called “brand journalists” are increasingly important. (And, by the way, I’m moderating a panel on the topic of brand journalism at SXSW '12 with a few brand journalists—including Jesse Noyes, Eloqua’s corporate reporter and formerly of the Boston Herald and Boston Business Journal, and Karen Wickre, editorial director at Twitter and formerly of Ziff-Davis and Upside magazine.)

3. Actually, I just thought of a third reason I like Newsjacking. It underscores the importance of a good title.

David and I chatted over the weekend:

AH: What is "newsjacking"?

DMS: As journalists scramble to cover breaking news, the basic facts—who/what/when/where—are often fairly easy to find, either on a corporate website or in competitors’ copy. That’s what goes in the first paragraph of any news story.

The challenge for reporters is to get the “why” and the implications of the event. Why is the company closing its plant? The corporate website may offer some bogus excuse like “because it wants to spend more time with its family.” Competitors may quote some expert’s speculation on the real reason, but a reporter can’t cite that without adding something self-demeaning like “according to an expert quoted in the New York Times.” Journalists need original content—and fast.

All this is what goes in the second paragraph and subsequent paragraphs. That’s why the newsjacker’s goal is to own the second paragraph.

If you are clever enough to react to breaking news very quickly, providing credible second-paragraph content in a blog post, tweet, or media alert that features the keyword of the moment, you may be rewarded with a bonanza of media attention.

AH: Can any company newsjack? Like a B2B company?

DMS: Yes. In late 2010, officials from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were holed up in meetings to discuss the issue of bill shock, the surprise consumers experience when they receive a mobile phone bill with charges much higher than expected. As the meeting was taking place, Jeff Barak of Amdocs, a company that provides customer care, billing, and order-management systems for telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers, posted a commentary headed No need to be (bill) shocked on the Amdocs company blog. Barak argued that mobile phone companies have an interest in working with customers to avoid bill shock because customer loyalty is vital in a highly competitive market.

This clever newsjacking tactic worked because journalists interested in legislation that might emerge from the FCC meetings were eagerly looking for content via Google Alerts. So, they instantly found the Amdocs commentary.

Amdocs was quickly rewarded when the Penton Media publication Connected Planet devoted an entire blog post to Amdocs’ thesis. Several other industry publications followed up with stories of their own.

AH: What’s the key to newsjacking success?

DMS: You’ve got to be quick.

Real-time communication is antithetical to the mega-corporate paradigm in which any message should reflect a consensus that's emerged from an extensive process. That might have worked back when public discourse was essentially a corporate monologue. It surely does not work in the age of social media, round-the-clock news, and newsjacking.

I recommend drawing up a formal mandate—signed off by senior management, the PR department, and the legal department—that sets out rules of engagement in the same way that military commanders are empowered.

This mandate should give select frontline staff the freedom and flexibility to write a blog post or send a media alert when the time is right. That might be late at night or on a weekend or in the middle of a holiday.

To successfully newsjack—or fend off a newsjack—you can’t wait for approval. You just have to do it.


Catch Eloqua's Joe Chernov on how to find and work with brand journalists in his class, The Elements of Style: Hiring a Brand Journalist as part of  MarketingProfs University’s Content Marketing Crash Course running now through November 18. The 11-class course is designed to make you a better content marketer in just two weeks. You can also access all sessions On Demand.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Gordon G. Andrew Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Although the term "newsjacking" may be new, the PR practice of riding the coat tails of hot news items is an old one. The tactic can work very well for nimble organizations that have few layers of bureaucracy. But as your piece points out, if response requires approvals from senior management and legal, newsjacking won't work. The other concern for companies of any size is the brand risk of being associated with controversial topics. As my grandmother used to say, "If you fly with the crows, you'll be shot at."

  • by Astrelfrog Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    And this approach will win you the acid disapproval of anyone in the news media industry. We're very tired of going out, doing the legwork, getting the story, only to have our work stolen without attribution or linkbacks by marketers thinking they are doing something clever. Not to mention that niggly thing called it's illegal under copyright provisions. Most news media now are resigned to doing the hard part and having it stolen on the internet, but we'd at least like a hyperlink back to the original story. There is a reason people are calling it "newsjackng"....just like carjacking, you are taking something that doesn't belong to you under force without permission. Boo on this idea. Now, if you want to work with journalists, cite your sources, and be grateful, then add your sales message...well, you might be seen as a partner, not a leech.

  • by Integrityinjournalism Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    I agree with Astrelfrog. I'm a marketer but I am irritated with the numerous blog posts and Tweets from people who have not done the work and are only interjecting their personal, unfounded opinions for the advancement of their company or interest. There is no credibility in that type of practice. We have to stop believing everything we read online. Journalism is degrading to the point where there is no integrity - bloggers act too quickly and in doing so, get their facts incorrect. True journalists have to act even faster and it has become a vicious cycle that spawns incorrect information and annoying typos.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    First, I love your grandmother's saying... although I'm not sure it applies here. Do we shoot crows anymore? Seems to me that "shooting crows" is old-world thinking. In the new world, we recognize the value of crows, and appreciate their role in the ecosystem.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Hi Astrelfrog --

    "Newsjacking" isn't about not giving attribution or stealing anyone's story/original work. The idea isn't to steal/lift/take anything - but to add to the original story. To flesh it out. For example, look at what Amdocs (the B2B company above) did. I would say they added context and color to the original story. They didn't take away a thing.

    Or am I missing something...?

    For the record, the practice of lifting without attribution bugs me too. So does not citing sources and not doing the legwork, as well as passing off your "opinions" as fact. But that's a post for another day....

  • by Ann Handley Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Hiya Integrity --

    As I said above.. I agree with you and Astrelfrog. But that's what Newsjacking is proposing at all. I appreciate this book because it sets some specific and interesting guidelines for working *with* journalists and news stories. It's about extending the conversation and wrapping some context around it.... and not about stealing from others, manufacturing your own story, or mussing up the facts. As I say in my book, a "content rule" is learning how to tell a true story well.

    Thanks for chiming in here.

  • by David Reich Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Hi Ann. First of all, I disagree with your first paragraph that tries to describe "traditional" PR. Yes, there may be a script, but it isn't or shouldn't be inflexible and so mired in red tape that it can't quickly respond to breaking news.

    I agree with you that Newsjacking is a cool word, but the concept is hardly new. I've been doing it for some of my clients for more than 20 years. It's called being prepared and being able to move quickly with the right journalists. And it's never about stealing news or ideas from journalists, but instead anticipating their needs so when a story does break, you or your client will be called for comment or interpretation. It's not about trying to insert something irrelevant into the story, because if you waste reporters' time with that sort of nonsense, they won't take your calls again.

    I like and respect David, but if this is the gist of his book, I'm afraid it may do a disservice both to the PR field and the broader marketing field. (I say this without having read his book yet.) I can see a bunch of people now jumping to try this new newsjacking thing and going about it totally wrong and getting journalists really annoyed and less receptive to legitimate and relevant information from those of us in PR.

  • by Rob Winters Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Nicely written - and a great example of newsjacking at work!

  • by Bob Hebeisen Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Ann, great question about whether it can be used by B2B companies. I like his response (Amdocs example), but I would like to see more examples. Hey MarketingProfs audience, how about contributing some case studies if you have any?

  • by David Meerman Scott Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Gordon, while the practice of riding coattails has been around for ages, it is the new real-time speed of today's Web that allows instant newsjcaking. Now that Google indexes in real-time, a blog post can be found by journalists instantly.

  • by David Meerman Scott Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Astrelfrog - you are completely missing the point. Please read my book to see that I am not talking about the same thing as you. I do not advocate stealing. Heck I write books and magazine articles myself.

  • by David Meerman Scott Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    David, please read the book first. I too have been in PR for 20 years. The difference is that Gordon, now that Google indexes in real-time, a blog post can be found by journalists instantly. Newsjacking is getting your stuff in front of journalists when they are looking.

  • by David Reich Tue Nov 15, 2011 via blog

    Newsjacking is a new name for something we've been doing for a long time. It's just that we have tools now to make the process much faster. For newbies in PR, this will be an interesting concept and one that can work, if they do it right.

  • by David Meerman Scott Wed Nov 16, 2011 via blog

    Exactly! And if done wrong, it can be harmful which is why I put a chapter in my book about the pitfalls to avoid.

  • by David Meerman Scott Wed Nov 16, 2011 via blog

    Bob -- here is a B2B example form a few minutes ago. Smart people are newsjacking B2B news all the time.!/dmscott/statuses/136802303712837632


  • by Ann Handley Wed Nov 16, 2011 via blog

    Thanks Rob.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Nov 16, 2011 via blog

    Right. My take is that the new tools of social media give an old practice new legs. Which (to continue the metaphor) can be unsteady to the unpracticed. So be sure you know what you're doing!

    Thanks for chiming in here, David Reich! And for the record, you weren't the only one who took issue with the first paragraph. Clearly I'm not in PR. But at the same time, I have long been pitched by PR folks on the media side. So I see things happening differently these days -- and for the better. I see a shift in PR -- the death of the "old" ways, but not the death of it completely. . But to your point, perhaps I overstated.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Nov 16, 2011 via blog

    In software security, see how of Sophos has positioned himself as an important source of information and commentary. Site here:

  • by David Reich Wed Nov 16, 2011 via blog

    Ann, I know what you mean about being pitched the old way. As long as I can remember, there have been hacks who pitch indiscriminately. They make it rough for those of us who try to target our pitches, and to present ideas and information that we feel is relevant to the journalist we are pitching. A big part of the problem that you've experienced is that too many PR agencies don't properly train their young people, or they teach them bad practices.

  • by John R. Harris Thu Nov 17, 2011 via blog

    It would be good if Astrelfrog and others actually read Scott's book before commenting. Newsjacking (as defined by Scott) does not in any way involve stealing the work of journalists. Its about serving up fresh meat to the poor stiff sitting on deadline with only 200 words to file, the "terse, one-paragraph statement on the company's website." As Scott points out, companies beg to be newsjacked when they fail to give reporters enough fodder to write a complete story on their announcement. And there IS something new since the advent of the search engine: now anyone -- not just PR agencies -- can insert their view into the discourse. If that inserted view has no relevance, insight, wit or wisdom, it will not resonate. It''s still up to journalists to choose what goes in the second paragraph.

  • by Aaron Fri Nov 18, 2011 via blog

    Interesting article, and enjoy the comments. Clearly touched a nerve. I agree with the folks here who say that newsjacking isnt new, but I also agree with the premise that this a clever twist that takes advantage of new techniques and opportunities for it to actually work. It used to require creating a pitch and hammering away at the media to make sure they heard you, now you can write a clever blog post, tweet about it, inject comments in other news stories and voila! "NewsJacked"

    But, understanding when and how to do this particularly in B2B is equally as important. I am not sure that criticizing a competitor for not getting enough funding as in one recent case works as well as the Amdocs example. If your attempt to horn in on their news actually creates a bigger news story for THEM than if you had done nothing, seems better to lay low.

    As always, I believe its important to know your target audience and have a clear objective for when and how you will use this strategy like any other strategy in your PR + marketing toolbox. I believe that is the point of the piece of the infographic at the top of this article that says "Always use good judgement"


    P.S. David/Ann, I chuckled at your exhortation to read the book first before commenting. Isn't the point of Newsjacking getting out quickly and into the newstream as it happens. No time to read, must comment now!! :)

  • by David Meerman Scott Sat Nov 19, 2011 via blog

    John -- Exactly!

  • by David Meerman Scott Sat Nov 19, 2011 via blog

    I'd love for all the PR folks who say that Newsjacking isn't new and that they do it all the time to leave a comment here or on my blog describing the success they have. If you're so good at newsjacking I want to know about it and use the examples in my books, blog, and speeches!!

  • by Roel de Lange Tue Nov 22, 2011 via blog

    Check for some great Newsjacking Examples!

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