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Digital PR

Published January 29th 2021

Newsjacking Dos and Don’ts From a BBC Journalist Turned PR

You scan the paper and search the website and there it is…your brand or client’s name. And then again. And again and again. BOOM! Newsjacking success!

You’ve made the nationals, your industry media and an influencer has mentioned your client with an on-point quote about a trending story.

There’s no feeling like it for a passionate PR or marketer.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Write an email, send it out and maybe make some phone calls – afraid not.

There’s a fine art to newsjacking and I should know: I started my career as a broadcast journalist working in newsrooms across the UK and answering those pesky PR calls and emails.

Then I made the switch to PR, becoming the person on the other end of the phone selling in my client’s stories.

I’ll get to what I’ve learnt from both sides of the newsjacking process and my top dos and don’ts in a sec. But first let’s cover off a few of the basics…

What is newsjacking?

Newsjacking is immediately reacting to a news story with expertise to gain attention, achieve PR coverage and capitalize on a developing trend.

Let’s unpack that definition.

Definition Meaning
immediately reacting” For newsjacking to work, you have to be fast. Super fast.
“with expertise You can contact journalists or other influencers with your spokesperson’s viewpoint in the form of written content such as a quote, tweet or article. You can offer them the opportunity to interview your expert by describing why they are an authority on the topic. You can share owned data or a report.
“attention” For your data or content to be used it must either: say something obvious but in a unique or authoritative way that fits into the article or report the journalist is writing; or add something new to the story so the journalist has a new angle to develop.

Why try newsjacking?

As well as the usual advantages of PR and content marketing – building your brand, credibility, SEO and thought leadership authority – newsjacking shows consumers that a brand has its finger on the pulse of what matters.

It’s also a potential quick win, especially in comparison to an in-depth marketing campaign.

How to ‘do’ newsjacking

Let’s look at each of the four stages of newsjacking in turn:

Stage 1. Before

To react fast with the right spokesperson and expertise, preparation is everything.

Set your strategy

Newsjacking might not sound like the most strategic PR marketing activity, but it can in fact help you land your or your client’s key messages across a swathe of media – if careful thinking has been done in advance.

  • What data do you have available?
  • What are the messages yourself or your client need to communicate to customers?
  • What are the topics you / they can speak on with authority?

If you’re working in / with a mid-to-large organization, identify a spokesperson for each topic based on a leaders’ knowledge, experience and personality.

“When I look for people to add to a discussion or debate – especially for broadcast material – I always aim to find an expert or someone who has a strong connection to the issue. They should be able to provide strong and clear points to clarify matters.” Parisa Qurban, BBC

Know your objective

At this point you will also be thinking about what you’re looking to get out of newsjacking – is it increased brand awareness? SEO uplift? Building your authority as a thought leader? What PR metrics will you be looking at?

Your objective will probably have you thinking about how you want to be referenced.

That being said, all publishers are different in how they deal with links and references, and you may not get a say.

But if, for example, you’re intent on a link to your research rather than your homepage, it won’t hurt to do a bit of research beforehand, to understand the publishers’ linking style.

If your desired publication won’t drop an ‘anchor rich’ link to a specific page for you, remember that this will still be great coverage for your client or your brand.

When it comes to SEO, according to Rand Fishkin, Google is already making intelligent connections between brands and websites, even without links.

Newsjacking and digital PR is therefore going to become even more important!

Know your media

  • Constantly read, listen to and watch news outlets where you want to achieve coverage.

One way of doing this is by setting up feeds to come straight to your inbox on a regular basis.

BuzzSumo has a great tool for this called BuzzSumo Trending. You can quickly configure a custom feed around your target publishers, and see which of their content is gaining momentum on social.

  • Work out which journalists would be in charge of stories on each of your key topics.
  • Keep an eye on when they move to a new media outlet. Regularly search for who is writing on your client’s key topics.

A quick way of finding out this information is by making sure you have an Author Alert setup around the journalist’s name. That way you’ll be notified every time they publish an article across the web.

  • Build relationships with key journalists ahead of time so they know what your experts can offer, but know that breaking news can also be often covered by people on a newsdesk with little expertise in your specific area.

Think practically

Make sure that when a news story breaks, you will have everything you could possibly need at your fingertips:

  • Prepare media lists including emails, phone numbers and twitter handles for (a) online, print and broadcast newsdesks and (b) specific journalists for each topic.

A great tip for discovering this information is to use BuzzSumo’s Journalist Profiles, which give you the journalist’s:

– Name

– Location

– Twitter handle

– Followers

– Email (if available)

– Twitter bio

– Top shared articles (linked)

– Top publishers they’ve written for (linked)

This journalist information can help you create relevant content to share with the right journalists, and better personalize your emails when you come to do outreach.

  • Work out the chain of command: who will stand in for each of your spokespeople if they are on holiday or in unmissable meetings?
  • Determine how you want your research to be referenced and linked to so you can include this information.
  • Ensure you have easy access to high quality photographs of each of your spokespeople which are clearly labelled and easy to find.
  • Consider preparing a video of each spokesperson in a broadcast situation to show that they would make an excellent interviewee. (Bonus: This is great practice.)
  • Have detailed draft biographies for each spokesperson which can be adapted and shortened for each newsjack. Include information such as job role, previous experience, qualifications, media and conference appearances, tenure and time in the industry. (Pro tip: For broadcast opportunities, it can be useful to include the pronunciation of a spokesperson name.)
  • If you can, keep your client’s About Us webpage up-to-date so you can link to the spokesperson’s expertise when you send out a pitch. (Bonus: It increases the chances that journalists will find your spokesperson if they do a web search.)

Test and perfect

Make sure everyone knows their role, both in your team and within the client organisation, from the marketing manager to the spokesperson to their PAs.

Run a practice before your first newsjack, when you have new spokespeople, and test the technology you will be using, again and again.

Stage 2. Be aware

Hijackable news stories don’t land in your lap. Monitoring is a never-ending endeavor.

Always be on alert:

  • Have a TV on a news channel running in the background.
  • Listen to radio stations and programmes whenever possible.
  • Use tools like BuzzSumo and Google Alerts to find out about news as soon as it happens, spot trends and get a daily digest so you don’t miss a beat.
  • Set up a calendar with key dates across the year and keep adding to it so you can draft comments in advance.

Stage 3. Breaking

Assess the situation and then dive into perfectly planned action.

HERE IT IS! You’ve spotted a breaking news story that you or your client can speak on with authority across key publications, to meet strategic objectives. It’s time to put into action everything you’ve prepared.

Get your team together. Work out the angle. Divide and conquer. Who will…?

  • Contact your client If you’re working on behalf of a client, let them know about the opportunity. Find out if the spokesperson is available. Suggest the angle to take and request extra insights. Agree a quote they are happy to be sent out.
 “[Include] a subject line that spells out what the news is and a pitch written in honest, plain English.” Anthony Ha, TechCrunch
  • Put together an email pitch Prepare two types of email:
  • 1. A generic email for newsdesks which will hopefully be read by whichever journalist is working on the story that day.
  • 2. An email you can adapt for individual journalists explaining why you think they specifically will be interested in featuring your spokesperson e.g. if you have seen them write on the topic before or have spoken to them about your client. BuzzSumo can help you get a good idea of a journalist’s writing history.

The 5 parts of a killer newsjack pitch email

📬 Subject line stating the news story and what you are offering.

🗣️ Quote written which either says something generic that fits with what journalists are likely to say, or takes the story on.

📖 Concise, highly relevant biography of the spokesperson.

🎤  Offer of an interview with the spokesperson and two or three bullet points of what they could talk about.

📧  An accurate way to get in touch.

  • Create the media list for this particular opportunity Look through the media lists you have prepared and work out which publications will be reporting on this story. Check which journalists have already written the story and who is writing the liveblogs. Do a quick search on Twitter to see if anyone is asking for comment.

Don’t stop! Once you’ve got the messaging sorted and sent your initial pitch emails, it’s no time to pause. Get on the phone to the newsdesks to see which journalist is owning the story.

Talk to or resend the email to them. Tweet the quote from your spokesperson’s social media accounts. You could experiment with @mentioning journalists you know are covering the story and are aware of you or your client.

The Covid Effect

Newsrooms across the country look very different at the moment. Journalists are increasingly working from home. They’re carrying out interviews over video rather than face-to-face. And they’re getting even more PR and content pitches. Does that change how to pitch? The fundamentals of how to newsjack remain the same but now more than ever, only the best pitches sent to the right journalists at the right time will cut through

Stage 4. Beyond

Make the most of coverage. Reuse and repurpose content that hasn’t been picked up.

Congratulations, you’ve done some first class newsjacking! But – sorry – your work doesn’t stop there. There’s still plenty to do to make the most of the opportunity.

If your newsjack was successful and you achieve PR marketing coverage in your key publications:

  • How can you use that?
  • Should you / your client launch an email or social media campaign highlighting their comments?
  • Could you write a website article including a link to the coverage?
  • How about adding a slide to a sales deck showing publication coverage to demonstrate credibility?
  • How can you use it to demonstrate PR ROI?

 

Brilliant, you’ve secured a broadcast interview

  • Based on what you know of your spokesperson, prep them in the best way.
  • Are they a novice or a complete pro? Would they like to talk through potential questions and tricky issues or would they prefer to have your advice written down and to take it in slowly?
  • Always make sure they know about the programme, the journalist and the opportunity.

 

If your newsjack didn’t result in coverage:

  • What can you do to make sure that time wasn’t wasted?
  • Could you repurpose the quote into a blog?
  • Or reach out to publications with longer lead times offering an opinion piece?
  • Can you predict any future opportunities when you could revisit the topic (e.g. an awareness day or anniversary)?

Consider how you could improve your chances of success next time, for instance looking at who did get quoted and what marked them out.

Newsjacking dos and don’ts

Do…

✅ Make journalists’ lives easier. If you’ve secured an opportunity, keep them up to date on what is going on.

✅ Practice. Especially if it’s been a while, or you have a new spokesperson, or you are working on behalf of a client and have never newsjacked together before.

✅ Tailor your pitch to journalists and influencers. Spend the time getting to know journalists so you can work out the best approach. Many prefer an email pitch to telephone or social, especially as a first contact.

“I like access rather than being served or told what the story is.” Emma Barnett, BBC

Don’t…

❌ Ask if a journalist has received your email. Journalists do tend to read their emails and will get back to you if what you have sent is relevant.

If you call and get through (which is rare), say which story you are getting in touch about and explain why your spokesperson is an ideal interviewee and / or your data is relevant and unique.

Cut to the chase – journalists are always busy, working to deadline and likely regretting having answered the phone to a PR.

❌ Request interview questions or copy approval. You’re not going to get it on a fast turnaround newsjack.

❌ Offer a spokesperson who is not available. Nothing annoys journalists more.

It may sound fast and fun, and during those breaking news moments it really is, but successful newsjacking requires the right thinking and tools to be in place in advance.

Only then can newsjacking achieve its truly brand-altering potential.

 

If you want to get better at riding the wave of trend stories, BuzzSumo is here for you – try our 30 day free trial.

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