How to Achieve PR Glory with Newsjacking

News is one thing we’ll never run out of. In the age of social media, it’s easier than ever to find news and react to it. As a result, an old tactic is making a comeback: ‘newsjacking’.

While it may sound like slang for mugging a journalist in a dark alley, it’s actually a surprisingly effective way to generate brand awareness.

Let’s look at a definition of newsjacking and some successful newsjacking examples, plus advice for making sure your own newsjacking campaign gets off to a good start.

So first, what is newsjacking?

Front cover of Newsjacking book with black text on a yellow background

Put simply, newsjacking is when brands piggyback on big news stories to draw attention to their own content. So with newsjacking, rather than making the news, you’re reacting to and capitalising on it.

A more formal newsjacking definition comes from a 2011 book by PR expert David Meerman Scott, who originally popularised the term. According to Meerman Scott,

newsjacking is when you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.

Done well, newsjacking can be amusing, poignant and effective. Done badly, however, it can be forced, awkward and offensive.

Why is newsjacking important for PR?

As Meerman Scott puts it, ‘the rules have changed’ when it comes to traditional PR. The rise of the internet, 24/7 news and the daily discourse treadmill means that what worked for a PR campaign ten years ago — prewritten scripts and strict timelines — doesn’t fly in the modern day.

More than ever, PR needs to be quick and flexible. It’s pointless spending five months perfecting a campaign if a big news story drops the day you go public and steals all the attention away from you.

Newsjacking can be an effective way to generate fast and agile PR.

Okay, but how can newsjacking benefit brands?

Any brand can do newsjacking. But it’s a tactic that favours the bold. Brands that are quick to react have the most to gain.

Here are three reasons why:

1. It shows you’re up to date and ‘with it’

This is the simplest reason, but also the most powerful.

Pitching a campaign at the perfect moment in the news cycle — right after it’s broken, when journalists are scouring the web for more information — almost guarantees you media coverage.

More generally, newsjacking demonstrates to your audience that you aren’t just trying to sell something. It demonstrates a wider interest in current affairs, people’s lives and the world around you.

2. It works brilliantly for SEO

SEO is one of the most powerful tools available to digital PR bods. It can get you publicity for free and build your reputation as an authority on a given topic.

Want more details? Read: How PR and SEO Work Together to Build Your Brand

One of the challenges with SEO is the time and effort it takes to build up your site’s relevance so it hits page one of Google. Newsjacking changes that. By definition, you’re talking about something at the top of the search engines. It’s like getting a backlink from reputable news sites for free, with all the added SEO prestige it brings.

3. It’s good for boosting engagement

Getting people to actively discuss or share your content is hard. Roughly only 1% of people who look at stuff online actually participate.

But news, by definition, is about stuff that affect people’s lives.

Someone might not care about your product. But if you can demonstrate how it’s tied to something they find interesting or important, it’s far easier to get them talking. And once people actively engage with your brand, they’re more likely to share it with friends or family, helping to generate publicity through trusted word-of-mouth promotion.

Four examples of newsjacking done right

Newsjacking is a big deal. Now, let’s look at some examples of newsjacking to see what it looks like in practice.

1. Kit Kat doesn’t bend

Kit Kat finger breaking in half

Do you remember when the iPhone 6 Plus came out and people across the globe were accidentally bending them by putting them in their back pockets? ‘Bendgate’, as some called it, was a massive PR snafu for Apple.

Kit Kat was quick to respond with this not-so-subtle dig at Apple. Funny without being offensive, the tweet was an excellent example of tying one of their brand’s core phrases (‘have a break, have a Kit Kat’) into a topical news story.

The tweet garnered over 26k retweets and 13k likes, proving their response was on the ball.

Kit Kat shows that you can easily profit from the PR mistakes of others. If one of your competitors puts their foot in it, newsjacking the story with a snarky call-out is a good way to look ahead of the game.

2. Refuge raises awareness for domestic violence with The Archers

An abusive relationship between a fictional couple doesn’t sound like a leading news story, but the nation was gripped by the 2016 domestic violence storyline in BBC Radio’s The Archers.

The shocking portrayal of violence between Rob and Helen Titchener made headlines. To make it more realistic, The Archers consulted Refuge, a charity that works to prevent domestic violence, to assist with the story.

Refuge took its involvement a step further by newsjacking at every opportunity.

By sharing information and links on social media while the Archers was live, Refuge saw a 17% increase in calls. One fan even started The Helen Titchener Rescue Fund, which raised over £170,000 for the charity.

This goes to show that anything that’s making waves in pop culture can be a great target for newsjacking, be it a hot new show, movie, or song. Don’t be afraid to cast your net wide when it comes to finding the seeds for your next PR campaign.

3. BBC’s Bodyguard and a Police PR campaign

In 2018, the BBC launched a new political thriller series, Bodyguard, about a specialist protection officer working for the Metropolitan Police Service. The first episode attracted 10 million viewers, making it the biggest new British drama in more than a decade.

The show depicted the work carried out by the UK’s Police Service, and the communications team at Counter Terrorism Policing was quick to take advantage of the increased exposure.

They began a newsjacking campaign as each episode of Bodyguard aired on Twitter and Instagram. Tweets reminded people of the work done by counter-terrorism police, highlighted policing as a career option, and provided explanations of the acronyms used in the show.

The campaign was meant to ‘attract a younger, more tech-savvy audience, whose skills will ensure we’re ready to face the evolving threat as it moves ever-closer to a virtual online space.’ And it worked. Dean Haydon, senior national co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, said that the tweets attracted more than 4,500 click-throughs to their careers page.

Newsjacking examples like this show that it isn’t all about increasing your publicity. You can also use it to build bridges to audiences you’d otherwise have difficulty reaching. Not many people knew what counter-terrorism policing was like until Bodyguard showed it, but once it did, they knew it was for them.

If your brand needs to attract new talent, a newsjacking campaign might be just what you need.

4. Norwegian Airlines pokes fun at Brangelina’s split

When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie split up in 2016, the world wept.

Hollywood’s power couple featured heavily in the news, which offered a huge opportunity to brands with a flair for newsjacking. Norwegian Airlines were quick to cheekily advertise flights to Pitt’s home city with the tagline ‘Brad is single’.

A spokesperson commented that ‘we’ve used a playful advert to highlight our flights to Los Angeles, and to mirror the conversations that people throughout the UK are having about a high-profile media story.’

Luckily for Norwegian Air, their customers saw the funny side. As one Twitter user wrote, ‘love the #reactivity. Kuddo [sic] to @Fly_Norwegian’ .

Norwegian’s example shows us that big personalities, like famous actors or TV stars, are just as worthy of newsjacking as events and/or brand screw ups.

3.  Calm relaxes us during anxious times


Let’s be blunt: the past year has been stressful.

Public relations is all about creating positive feelings and associations in people’s minds, but that’s hard when emotionally-draining news stories are all anyone can think about.

That’s why one of PR Superstar’s favourite examples of newsjacking was when meditation app Calm sponsored CNN’s coverage of the 2020 US election and tweeted meditation tips throughout the night.

Everybody wishes the world was more peaceful, and all the more during a contentious US election. Publicising themselves as an alternative to getting scared or angry in front of the TV was genius.

Of course, it helped that the contrast was funny. ‘Brought to you by the CALM app?!?!?’ wrote one Twitter user. ‘I actually lol’d.

According to Katie Shill, a marketing director at Calm, the campaign was highly successful. ‘We showed up at the right time with the right message, and it paid off.’ Calm also reached the top spot in the app marketplace’s Health & Fitness category immediately after the campaign.

Your own newsjacking campaigns: some vital tips

Now that you’ve seen some real-world examples of newsjacking, how can you put it into practice?

Keep these points in mind to set yourself up for success.

1. Monitor news intelligently

Obviously, you need to stay on top of the news. But you can’t stay glued to social media round the clock.

Instead, use the trending topics on Facebook and Twitter and use services like Google Alerts to keep in touch with the public sentiment and relevant industry keywords.

A bonus tip here is, once you’ve found a good story, do your research. You don’t want to be like the American member of Congress who thought that satire site The Onion was real. Make sure whatever sources you’re newsjacking are reliable. If it turns out to be fake news, you’ll look gullible and lose credibility.

2. Be relevant

Only work with stories that are appropriate for your brand.

Considering the potential return, it’s easy to think your brand has to jump on the next newsjacking wagon. But don’t do it without a good reason. Make sure there’s a legitimate connection between the event and your brand message. What is newsjacking for, after all, if you’re not injecting your personal angle into the news cycle? If the connection seems like a stretch to you, your audience will think the same.

Similarly, it’s not enough to just mention your brand name alongside some breaking news. The newsjacking examples above all put a quirky or humorous spin on their stories.

As with any PR campaign, it pays to be original.

3. Act quickly

If your spin on a story lands on someone’s timeline before they even knew there was a story, you’ve just added serious value to your content.

Digital PR enables you to react in seconds, so make sure you’re prepared to strike while the iron is hot. If you’re commenting on a news story, try to get it out within an hour.

There’s a lot more that goes into digital PR, of course. Find out more here: What is Digital PR?

Unfortunately, the real world makes it difficult. By the time you go through the proper channels and get the boss’s signature, your newsjacking attempt might already be stale. Which is why you need some leeway for newsjacking to work. If you don’t need a stamp of approval for every last bit of messaging, you can work quickly and get your response out while everybody’s still paying attention.

Want to join the PR revolution? Call me now on +44 (0)77604 70309

I get you into the places that matter

The Times
Financial Times
Evening Standard