Does your PR strategy include «newsjacking»? Are you aware about its importance? It’s a form of real-time branded communication and an effective channel for a good PR strategy. The strategy involves brands referencing topical news stories in their marketing communication to go viral, get noticed or make a difference. With news cycles being brutally short and public memory transient, brands that insert themselves and capitalize on a trending topic, or a current situation are often remembered better, sometimes for their relevance, and sometimes for their cheekiness or chutzpah. It’s a popular strategy as it has a potential high ROI if done well, within a low budget.

David Meerman Scott, author of the book Newsjacking, developed the idea back in 2011. Since then, the concept has slowly become an integral part of a smart PR strategy and a good addition to build a brand and gain the attention of your customers and the media. There are a few caveats. If done well, you will get new clients and stakeholders. However, there are chances of it backfiring on a brand if done thoughtlessly. A seasoned PR professional can guide you and build a newsjacking strategy that can help you use it as a tool to build brand awareness and get media attention.

Why should you include newsjacking in your PR plan?

PR is about increasing visibility for your brand and newsjacking as a tool can help your business grow measurably. It is most effective when brands can draw a clear connection between their brand values and the news but it has to be done quickly, before the news cycle changes. Newsjacking can attract customers and drive targeted traffic towards your website which can eventually turn into leads and sales. If general public likes your intervention, it can lead to a significant amount of social media leads and potential customers, which also help your brand’s overall recall value, including credibility and authority or a mention in Google’s Year in Search results.

Take the example of the AeroMexico campaign which happened as a result of former President Donald Trump’s insistence on a wall at the US and Mexico border. AeroMexico used the media coverage around the wall and the subsequent shutdown to create a video campaign which showed surprised rural Americans discovering that they had Mexican descendants and that they were happy to visit Mexico once they learned about the discounted ticket prices. The campaign went viral and saw a 33.7% increase in ticket sales. 

How to do it?

Newsjacking at the right moment and in the right spirit, as done by AeroMexico has helped numerous brands become memorable. For instance, there’s Gillette’s take on #MeToo which got a fair bit of traction (though some customers also criticised it), while Oreo jumped in on the speculation over Area 51.

When a news item is fresh and current, brands often use it to ride the wave and create the right impression about themselves.To accomplish this, you need to be on top of the news cycle and trends and automation tools can help in delivering the trending news. Brand managers constantly need to monitor news on social media such as Twitter and Facebook in their markets, to make sure that they can actively post on news trends important to their customers or stakeholders. Choose the right story that resonates with your brand’s image and core values so that the connection is easily made is important. What is also important is to use the trending Hashtags or optimal keywords for SEO so your brand gets recall value when people are searching for the story.

What to watch out for?

At the outset, newsjacking might look easy but you have to be careful while looking for ways to co-opt a news story so it won’t affect your brand negatively. In 2017, Pepsi got flak for the Kylie Jenner commercial that tried to appropriate the Black Lives Movement as an opportunity to sell cola. It gets worse when the news event is a tragedy, as AT&T discovered when they tried to use the September 11 attack featuring a smartphone that took the photo of the Tribute in Light memorial. It’s really best to avoid using any such grave event for your own PR.

Several brands have suffered backlash when they’ve chosen wrong events to news jack and it shows a lack of empathy and sensitivity which unfortunately, the world doesn’t forget even though news cycles are short. Epicurious discovered this soon enough after they tried to plug their breakfast treats connecting it with the Boston Marathon Bombing. Bigger brands and companies can often survive this but the same can’t be said for SMEs who are trying to make their mark in the world. Sometimes, you may inaccurately represent your brand and this can confuse and distance your consumers.

Therefore it is important to navigate regularly through the tricky world of newsjacking. This  can offer instant benefits such as viral campaigns.

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