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Newsjacking: How to hit the bullseye, even if you’re coming in green

by | Oct 6, 2015 | Public Relations, Uncategorized

Newsjacking, also known as real-time marketing, is the not-so-subtle art of “injecting your ideas into a breaking news story…in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your brand”.

Although it wasn’t the first, perhaps the most memorable instance of newsjacking occurred in 2013, when Oreo inserted itself into the now-infamous Super Bowl blackout:


Applause followed in the form of 15,000-plus retweets for the creative and well-timed quip. Sarah Hofstetter, the president of 360i—the agency behind the tweet—says, “You need a brave brand to approve content that quickly. When all of the stakeholders come together so quickly, you’ve got magic.” Well-executed newsjacking has three elements in common: the right story, timeliness and critical thinking. Spokal’s blog shows us what happens when brands miss the memo on the first and last bit: there was SpaghettiO’s cheerful mascot reminding us to honor the victims of Pearl Harbour, the Gap mentioning Hurricane Sandy in the same breath as shopping, and Teamworks warning us not to “vanish” like Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. gap-hurricane-sandy-tweetSo when something’s trending in the media when should you, and how do you, cash in? Trying to turn something serious into a light-hearted gag obviously doesn’t fly. But there have been recent examples of brands converting the amusing into a seriously powerful advert: The Salvation Army in South Africa cleverly spun March’s “the dress” viral phenomenon into something that amplified their message, with their campaign image showed a bruised woman wearing a white and gold version of the dress accompanied by the headline: “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?” It was bold and daring—and it worked.


That “magic” Hofstetter referred to earlier takes sound judgement, creativity, deliberation and practice.

So where do you begin if you’re new to this technique?

  • Make a habit of scanning for potential newsjacks: David Meerman Scott, author of Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas Into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage, suggests companies begin to “watch for everyday ‘serendipities’—breaking news and events around which you can logically position your expertise.”
  • Set up alerts for major news outlets to monitor natural and out-of-the-box opportunities to spread your message. Monitor your own market as well as general news—and look for keywords, phrases and trending topics. HitTail breaks this down in detail, showing marketing teams how to grab onto a story as it is ascending, rather than after it has already peaked.
  • Differentiate your brand: why is your audience interested? How can you spin on the story in an original, creative way? What would your audience find amusing or useful? Do some in-house brainstorming.
  • Prep the first few in advance: In truth, the best newsjacks are those moments for which you can’t plan. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for a story that everyone knows is coming. In this respect, Oreo did another fine job with the arrival of England’s latest prince.


This may be the best way to dip your feet into the technique if you’re coming in green, giving your marketing team plenty of time to get into the habit of detecting, being creative and weighing the pros and cons around leveraging an opportunity in the news cycle—before attempting the spontaneous.

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