December 1, 2011
The Power Of Newsjacking — A Winning Strategy for Tying Your Company to Headline News
By David Meerman Scott, Marketing Strategist, Best-Selling Author
The real-time Web has opened an opportunity for anybody to inject ideas into a breaking news story and generate tons of media coverage. I've been a communicator for two decades now, and I have never seen a technique as powerful as newsjacking. But it has primarily come up under the radar because it relies on a new communication speed that most organizations reserve only for crisis communications. I've noticed corporate communicators in large organizations unwilling to understand and take advantage of real-time communications, often becoming prey to smaller more nimble players.
As journalists scramble to cover breaking news, the basic facts — who/what/when/where — are often fairly easy to find, either on a corporate website or in competitors' copy. That's what goes in the first paragraph of any news story.
The challenge for reporters is to get the "why" and the implications of the event (which often goes into the second and additional paragraphs). Why is the company closing its plant? The corporate website may offer some bogus excuse like "because it wants to spend more time with its family." Competitors may quote some expert's speculation on the real reason, but a reporter can't cite that without adding something self-demeaning like "according to an expert quoted in the New York Times." Journalists need original content — and fast.
If you are clever enough to react to breaking news very quickly, providing credible content in a blog post, tweet, or media alert that features the keyword of the moment, you may be rewarded with a bonanza of media attention.
Paris Hilton was arrested with her boyfriend in Las Vegas in August 2010, he on misdemeanor DUI charges, she on felony drug-possession charges.
In a tweet to fans on September 1, Hilton said: "These rumors going around are so ridiculous, untrue and cruel. I'm not going to even pay attention to them, because I know the truth."
Whatever, Paris. I could not care less about the perils of being Paris, except for what happened soon after the story broke — which I absolutely love.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. spokeswoman Jennifer Dunne told the Associated Press that Hilton was to be barred from Wynn Resorts properties, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.
Now the media has another news hook. Not only has the party girl been arrested, but she is banned from Wynn Resorts properties! This melodramatic punishment quickly becomes an element of nearly every story about Hilton's arrest. It's huge news. Hey, isn't Paris Hilton a hotel heiress? Meow, what a deliciously catty story!
A quick Google news search of that period for "Paris Hilton Wynn" brings up a remarkable 5,286 stories from news outlets around the globe. The story may be about Paris Hilton, but Wynn Resorts crops up in more than 5,000 news stories.
Anyone familiar with how corporate PR spending effectiveness is measured by frequency of mentions in the media will grasp the implications. In one day with one call, I'd guess Dunne likely snagged more media mentions than Wynn's entire PR budget managed to achieve in the entire preceding year. And apart from the cost of Dunne's salary, it didn't cost a dime.
You can newsjack, too.
But you've got to follow the new rules of speed. The traditional PR model—sticking closely to a preset script and campaign timeline doesn't work when a story breaks.
Newsjacking is powerful, but only when executed in real time. It is about taking advantage of opportunities that pop up for a fleeting moment, then disappear. In that instant, if you are clever enough to add a new dimension to the story in real time, the news media will write about you.
Newsjacking favors quick, observant, and skilled communicators.
Are large corporations doomed to be little more than prey for newsjackers in a changed communications climate? Will formerly dominant giants find themselves suddenly vulnerable to newly empowered opponents — smaller and nimbler competitors, disgruntled customers, and crafty activists?
These are open questions. And the signs so far are not good — at least from a megacorporate perspective.
The obsession large corporations have with process may be their undoing. No move can be made without prior approval by a weekly meeting of department-level managers, if not the top brass. The slightest corporate utterance must be signed off by the legal department and be run past PR and ad agencies.
No matter what anyone might propose, in big business there are always grounds to oppose it. An entire species of sycophantic middle managers justify their existence by opposing anything that does not come from on high.
Real-time communication is antithetical to the megacorporate paradigm in which any message should reflect the consensus emerging from an extensive process. That might have worked back when public discourse was essentially a corporate monologue. It surely does not work in the age of social media, round-the-clock news, and newsjacking.
The majors that will truly thrive in the new environment, however, will be those that empower frontline staff to use their own judgment and shoot on sight. Empowering here means more than simply giving permission. People need to be encouraged and given rock-solid assurances that they will not be scapegoated if a shot goes astray. Scapegoating being an Olympic event in corporate life, that is probably hard to guarantee.
To successfully newsjack — or fend off a newsjack — you can't wait for approval. You just have to do it.
When I give this message to corporate audiences, I often see skeptical expressions on the faces of senior executives in the front row. Many are not comfortable with this. So I look straight at them and ask, "How can you afford not to react to news in real time?"
This is not simply a question of missed opportunities. If you cannot react in real time, you risk being torpedoed by a competitor, an unhappy customer, or the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Newsjacking may be relatively new, but it is here to stay because it works and it can generate huge returns on investment.
With a single hour's work, many people manage to generate more media attention than a whole year's return on a substantial PR budget.
David Meerman Scott is a marketing strategist, keynote speaker, seminar leader, and bestselling Wiley author. His books open people's eyes to the new realities of marketing and public relations. He is also the author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, now in its third edition, which has sold over 250,000 copies and spent six months on the BusinessWeek bestseller list. David's popular Web Ink Now blog and hundreds of speaking engagements around the world give him a singular perspective on how businesses are implementing new strategies to reach buyers directly and in real time. He is a recovering VP of marketing for two publicly traded technology companies and was also Asia marketing director for Knight-Ridder, at the time one of the world's largest newspaper and electronic information companies. Get more information about his Newsjacking ebook here.