market what’s


October 27, 2016
How to Newsjack Like a Pro
Bob Musinski
Bob Musinski

Seize opportunities to align your company’s interests with a strategic spin on a hot news event.

Sometimes media outreach can feel like you’re throwing paper airplanes off a high-rise in hopes a gust will come out of nowhere and help it take flight.

Ah, but if you can tell which way the wind is blowing – and how strong – you have quite an advantage.

That’s one way to describe newsjacking, a method through which you can get outstanding media outreach results by pitching the right story or source at the right time. A newsjack is an opportunistic PR play in part because you can’t predict how long people will be following the news item to which it’s attached.

Here’s what it takes to do it effectively.

First, you need a highly visible news item.

This should be aligned in some way with what your company or organization does and to which you can add meaningful commentary or a positive spin.

Newsjacking works because newsrooms are classic examples of “hurry up and wait.” There could be no major stories for hours, then BOOM a major international, national, regional or – most likely – local event or announcement suddenly thrusts an issue into the consciousness of just about every media outlet.

This means a subject matter expert pitch that might have been moribund just an hour ago is now first on the list for reporters who want your expert on the evening news.

A recent example of this at CBD was our client’s reaction to the abrupt announcement of the closure of a for-profit college system that left 30,000 students in the lurch just as the school year was scheduled to start.

Our client, a national nonprofit system that serves some of the same cities and programs as the closing school, leapt at the opportunity to help these stranded students with counseling and transfer information for similar programs.

Also, because some of the closing school’s students were scheduled to graduate but now had nowhere to do that, the school’s campuses also invited them to “walk” in the upcoming graduation ceremonies.

These quick steps newsjacked the negative story about one school into a positive, “how can we help?” story for our client. The university provided news organizations with credible spokespeople, good visuals and a heartwarming epilogue with the “walk with us” graduation offer.

Second, you need to act fast.

Reporters, producers and editors can’t wait for you to get your act together to fit their needs. You need to have your messaging set and spokespeople available at any moment.

On the day the school closing news was official, our client activated a plan with us that began with a statement about how the university’s campuses nationwide were prepared to help students with information and counseling. Campus presidents were filled in and that statement became the foundational element of the media outreach that followed immediately.

Last, you need to know how your story fits in with the narrative.

Ideally, seek out a media relations or PR person on your team who can assist.

Your client should be able to help people make sense of a major news event or offer events that fold in perfectly with the story that’s going to be told on TV, radio, and print.

Media outlets appreciate when you understand their needs. This sort of connection – when you contact them with the perfect expert or storyline at the right time – is priceless.

With the school closure story, every market covered this story extensively – broadcast, print, online-digital outlets – because of the thousands of local students affected. Our client had great coverage as well, with campus presidents interviewed about how their school could help students continue their education or complete their academic career with a long-awaited walk across the stage.

Newsjacking. It takes a commitment to rapid response and an expert team. But it can be well worth the effort when the story you have to tell aligns perfectly with the news of the day.