Technology & Innovation

Newsjacking 101: PR Strategies to Break Into the News Cycle

Tara Dalton

May 19th, 2021

Newsjacking

Newsjacking can help companies leverage publicity to accomplish countless goals. 

Press coverage can open the door to critical decision-makers during a heightened fundraising period, or introduce a new product to potential customers following a launch. In the maelstrom of public debate, media relations is also a tool to have your advocacy goals heard on the issues that matter most to you and your customers. Increasingly, good corporate citizenship is cited as a consumer wedge issue, with 75% of people expressing that they’re more likely to buy products from a company that supports an issue they agree with. 

It’s an understatement to say that breaking into the news can be challenging, especially when your next major announcement is months away—but pitching news commentary, commonly referred to as newsjacking, is one avenue that can help. Common examples of newsjacking include: issuing a rapid response statement following a major news development (like a Supreme Court decision, natural disaster or passage of major legislation) or drafting a letter to the editor in response to a hot-button op-ed. During major news moments, companies also have an opportunity to offer executives, employees and customers with relevant experience as sources for the reporters covering. In practice, this could be a CEO providing a unique point of view on the latest U.S. jobs report, or an in-house expert explaining how an education study could affect existing public policy.     

Media engagement always carries some degree of risk, so determining whether a particular story is one to weigh in on should involve considered reflection. As you sip some coffee and scroll through your morning Substacks, feel free to refer to this quick newsjacking guide on when to speak up—and when not.

Newsjacking Dos

Speak to your own expertise: Why does your company belong in this conversation? Think carefully. If a reader sees your name at the end of the quote, a reporter should be able to communicate with just a handful of words why your voice is credible. The strongest perspectives are those that are informed directly by highly relevant and recent experience.

Our Technology PR & communications client Octopus Energy recently spoke out during one of the worst winter storms Texas has seen in decades. With more than two million people forced to go without electricity, our team offered CEO Michael Lee to interview with local and national media as the head of an energy retailer operating in Texas. This resulted in substantive conversations with Bloomberg, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Mic on how energy providers could best be supporting customers, as well as an op-ed with the Dallas Morning News addressing the fragility of the energy market and needed consumer protections for variable-rate pricing plans.   

Choose the Best Voice: Even if a company has the standing to speak credibly, that doesn’t mean a spokesperson is available who can tell that story well. Depending on the angles arising from a news moment, a certain type of source may be more appealing for commentary. A CEO is drawing from a different area of expertise than that of a supply chain manager or VP of social impact. The medium matters as well. Broadcast producers, for example, will need someone who’s comfortable on camera, while for a less traditional online outlet, sharing quotes via email is just fine.

Act Fast: Once you’ve decided that commentary is the right decision for your company and spokesperson, act quickly. Google Insights has found that many news stories last only a week, and in practice, that window can sometimes be as narrow as 24 hours. 

During the 2020 U.S. Open, we anticipated a potential commentary opportunity for our client Barnard College, given Barnard President Dr. Sian Beilock is a renowned expert in the mental habits of professional athletes who has extensively studied the impact of high-pressure environments on athletic performance. By closely following the tournament, we were able to schedule an interview for Dr. Beilock with Sports Illustrated the day after the final match to discuss Dominic Thiem’s Grand Slam and the psychology behind the most anxiety-inducing moments that occurred. 

Newsjacking Don’ts 

Ignore Your Larger PR Goals: The adage that “all publicity is good publicity” is debatable, but at the very least, not all publicity is worth your time. If you’re one of the TV shows employing writer Jensen Karp, who became a Twitter sensation this March after discovering shrimp in his Captain Toast Crunch, helping him set up interviews to talk about the perils of Twitter fame will likely not be the most effective way to get audiences to tune in. When investing time, research and effort into pitching commentary, the results should always tie back to the core reasons you sought public relations in the first place. 

Offer a Generic Perspective: Lean into what makes your perspective unique. Media inboxes are overflowing with offers from companies asking if a reporter would like to hear an executive’s point of view. Statistically speaking, they probably don’t. There are six publicists for every journalist, and consequently, there is no shortage of sources eager to help round out a story. When deciding whether to speak up, determine if you’d be bringing something of genuine value to the conversation.

The above Dos and Don’ts are a good indication of how worthwhile it would be to pitch your commentary to traditional media. That being said, your decision to pitch reporters—or not—should not determine whether you speak out. Company-owned platforms including social media, blogs and newsletters, as well as paid media opportunities, are all available to you to make your company values known and to communicate during important social and political moments. It will always be worthwhile to pay attention to the major conversations underway in your industry and the media ecosystem at large, particularly if your customers are being affected. 

If you’re still not sure if you should wade into the news of the day, here’s a handy checklist of what to cross off before you do:

Issue Relevancy

  • Does this news affect your customers?
  • Is this news relevant to your industry?
  • Do you have experience related directly to this news?

Corporate Citizenship

  • Is weighing in part of your responsibility to board members and/or consumers?
  • Do you believe it’s unethical to remain silent on this issue?

Risk Magnitude

  • Does your commentary conflict with any existing—public or private—company practices and values? If so, are you prepared to address those conflicts?
  • Will your commentary alienate your core customer base?
  • Alternatively, will the decision not to comment alienate your core customer base?
  • Do you feel confident standing behind previous business decisions, practices and relationships that may be brought to public attention?