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How (and When) to Newsjack

How (and When) To Newsjack
  • Newsjacking is a tactic savvy communicators use that inserts their subject matter experts into breaking–or trending–news stories.
  • The key to newsjacking is that there does need to be value to be successful.
  • Tara Parsell is a OnePitch PRo contributing to The TypeBar monthly with how-to and feature pieces. See more of her articles on The TypeBar.

 

So, you’re interested in newsjacking. 

For PR pros who are responsible for keeping their business (or clients) in the news, you quickly learn that most businesses can’t stay in the news simply by telling their own stories. Often, business leaders and subject matter experts need to contribute to their industries by sharing their own knowledge. While communicators can do this with evergreen topics shared via podcast interviews or guest articles, there is also something to be said for the practice of newsjacking.

 

What is newsjacking?

Newsjacking is a tactic savvy communicators use that inserts their subject matter experts into breaking–or trending–news stories. Newsjacking isn’t always something that can be planned for, but, instead, relies on quick-thinking PR pros who can connect the dots between what is happening in the news, and how their experts can add value to the conversation that is being had.

The key to newsjacking is that there does need to be value to be successful at this. Pitching a patient advocacy group to discuss a stock market decline is not going to be successful. Pitching a patient advocacy group to discuss a new treatment approved by the FDA, on the other hand, might be successful. Pitching a doctor to discuss a pandemic makes sense – but why should a reporter look at your doctor above another expert? You get the idea.

What is unique about newsjacking is the ability of a communicator to be a resource for a reporter who may be looking for voices on this topic ASAP. In a 24/7 news industry, breaking news can last a few weeks, a few days, or even a few hours, so it’s vital that you understand how urgent a story is, and if it makes sense to pitch your expert right away.

 

How is it done?

The key to newsjacking is to watch the news. Sign up for the breaking news newsletters. Listen to podcasts. Understand what’s trending in the news, and what people are interested in. This doesn’t have to be a job for one person. In some jobs, my team and I would meet a few times a week to understand what national news was talking about or preparing for, and bounce ideas around about how our experts fit into those topics.

Once you have an idea about how your experts or businesses fit into that story, you can research who you need to pitch. Unless there is a specific industry, breaking news is usually covered by general assignment reporters, and assigned by the assignment (or news) desks. Talk a look at who is reporting on these stories, and think through your value-add pitch.

 

How to prepare?

I said before that, usually, newsjacking cannot be planned for, and, while I stand by that statement, there are ways to prepare. 

The first is to build media lists now. At the very least, know the emails and phone numbers of the local and national assignment desks. These emails don’t change (unlike the industries reporters cover) and the assignment desk will have a better understanding of how to direct your pitch. This way you also 

The second way to prepare is to understand what the media is preparing for. Let’s say you have a career expert who can discuss the jobs market. While you don’t know what the monthly jobs report will say, you do know that it comes out at the same time every month, and which reporters talk about it. This means you can prepare to pitch a story, or even “pre-newsjack” the story. A colleague of mine recently shared a great case study about how she prepared for the first kids’ COVID vaccines – something that would obviously be of interest, and that she knew would happen.

 

What to avoid?

A note of warning: newsjacking can go awry quickly. 

It’s important for communicators not to get so wrapped up in the idea of landing a big interview, that they forget to think through what the news story is. Avoid using tragic news stories for your own promotional gain. This can only make you (and your experts) look bad. Be mindful of the news that you are leveraging and make sure it is appropriate on all fronts to use.

 

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Do you have a PR question you’d love to have answered by Tara? Send your question to info@onepitch.co for a chance to be featured and answered. Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter, Media Pros(e), to get her unaltered thoughts and recommendations for navigating media relations in today’s world.

View all of Tara’s writing on The TypeBar to see what else she’s been covering!

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Tara Parsell began her career working as an assistant on a national news desk – where she experienced first-hand what works (and what doesn’t) when pitching media. With more than a decade spent in PR agencies, spanning the fields of healthcare, entertainment, startups, food, etc., Tara focuses on building the story behind the brand. In 2021, she founded Media Pros(e), a bi-monthly newsletter dedicated to media relations strategy and coaching.

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