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Thirteen top tips for newsjacking

Using the momentum of news stories to get attention is a key part of PR work. Done well, it can seriously enhance a brand’s reputation, but done badly it can destroy it. Jenny Fieldgate, managing director of corporate and technology at PR agency Red Consultancy gives examples of some of the best and worst: “Newsjacking can be an extremely powerful tool in the PR toolbox - a clever and witty newsjack like Butterkist’s ‘Here for the drama’ can go far and wide, but a poorly timed, or poorly though through insertion into the new agenda, like WWF’s NFT launch, can have lasting reputational consequences.” Below, Fieldgate and other newsjacking experts, offer top tips.

1. Act quickly

Jenny Fieldgate: “The key to a good newsjack is having your clients on speed-dial and an ability on their side to make fast decisions. An understanding of brand tone of voice, levels of appetite for boldness and a thorough audit of themes your client wants to ‘own’ are all foundational to making sure that once an opportunity for newsjacking has been spotted it can be converted in time for it to make the desired impact.”

2. Check the news first thing

Laura Crockett, account director at PR agency Words + Pixels: “My first tip is to check the news first thing in the morning before you even check your emails. You should have a list of reactive angles your client can talk about aligned to their messaging ready for when there’s a potential angle.”

3. Be relevant

Will Ockenden, director at agency Prohibition PR: “Newsjacking is all about speed and relevance. For national news events, get in the habit of a super-early headline scan. And if you think early is 8am, think again. If you can get your statement or content together whilst everyone else is asleep, then you’re halfway there. I hate to say it, but your client will need to be awake too (and ready to sign off on your brilliant work). They might hate you for it at the time, but they’ll love you for it when it works.

“It’s not just about early morning responses, however. You need to be tuned into what’s trending all day (and night) and ready to act, fast. But don’t force it - there’s nothing worse than a lame brand response to an event that doesn’t quite fit.”

4. Go against popular opinion

Laura Crockett: “The key is to find an angle that goes against popular opinion. Simply offering an agreement does nothing - you need to move the conversation on. Everyone will be sharing the same opinions so really think about how you can go against the grain and get noticed.”

5. Stay tuned to Twitter

Amy Green, senior account manager at agency Full Fat: "We must be across the news agenda. I keep Twitter open throughout the working day as it’s the most fast paced news source and an easy way to see trending topics. When an opportunity is spotted, react as fast as possible as there is only a small window for the reactive newsjacking to be relevant and successful, you also don’t want another brand to get there first.”

6. Focus on the pitch

Amy Green: “The pitch is key. A punchy subject line grabs attention, with words like 'trending' or 'new stats'. Two to three bullet points at the top of the pitch works well and if possible, include a new stat or piece of insight to support the story. The press loves to report on trending topics, it’s good SEO and for social likes so if your hook and pitch are strong, and you’re responding fast (news is quickly old news), you have a chance of success."

7. Know your client

Shannon Serrao, associate director at PR agency Stir: “Have you aligned on which topics they are happy to get involved in versus those too scary for them, and tested it? Gauge their brave barometer early and it will save you a lot of time when being reactive.”

8. Keep it simple

Shannon Serrao: “The best newsjacking is turned around at lightning speed, meaning the client has to be as reactive as the agency. Don’t overcomplicate the idea. Have a punchy headline, impactful asset and a digestible call to action.”

9. Don’t jump on a bandwagon

Shannon Serrao: “Before even coming up with an idea, consider two things: Do you have a right to play here, or is it tenuous? Are you adding value to the conversation, or jumping on a bandwagon?”

10. Be a bit clever

Shannon Serrao: Not only does it need to be in keeping with your client’s tone of voice, but to make a newsjacking idea travel, make it clever, make it punny or make it raise a wry smile. Don’t expect everyone to love it, and accept it’s okay if they don’t. Just make sure it adds value and has personality.”

11. Don’t force it

Ruby-Jade Aryiku, co-founder and head of PR at social marketing agency VAMP: “If it feels like a stretch - it probably is! Don’t waste you or client’s time on something that has to be heavily sold. Therefore, always make sure you are authentically engaging with the news story or campaign you're looking to leverage - be considerate of all those involved.

“Remember you are adding to the existing campaign or topic, not distracting from it.”

12. Use a media monitoring tool

Amy Stone, communications consultant at marketing consultancy Hard Numbers: “Newsjacking is no easy feat, especially for a busy PR. Our job requires us to be hyper aware of the news agenda, but even then we can’t catch everything! Thankfully there are excellent tools out there to make newsjacking a bit easier.

“Media monitoring tools are the PR go-to. With endlessly useful options to set up keywords and categories, then have relevant stories land straight in your inbox, it couldn’t be simpler - but you will pay for the privilege. So if you’re looking for a cheaper tool, then of course you need Twitter. Check out #journorequest. But if you’re even too busy to do that, then IFTTT is the best PR hack I could ever recommend. I use it to get #journorequest tweets straight into Slack so I don’t miss a thing.

“I like to think of it as working smarter, not harder - because we already work really hard in PR!”

Last, but not least…

13 ... Be sensitive

Timileyin Omilana public relations strategist at AFEX Commodities Exchange: “When newsjacking, brands or content, makers must keep in mind that not every event or news report deserves commentary. It should go without saying that certain events, such as natural disasters and tragedies, should never be viewed as potential chances. This can not only come out as insensitive and disrespectful, but it can also harm a company's reputation.”

Read our Good and Bad PR column here for an example of newsjacking at its best

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