Carving a Jack-O-Lantern this October? How About Carving Out a New Story Angle?

As PR professionals, it is our job to help our clients earn coverage, but even the most talented communicator may find herself in need of a creative boost. Fortunately, this boost of inspiration can come from anywhere; you just have to keep an open mind. Current news stories can provide an excellent basis for nurturing your creative genius. Even though these stories are known, they can almost always be reworked with a new viewpoint or into a different direction. This is known as newsjacking.

Although newsjacking is a relatively new term, there are many companies who view the tactic as an integral part of the communications strategy. Newsjacking is the act of hijacking a popular news story and making it your own, and this often results in significant media coverage. A hijacked news story is worth a fortune in ad equivalency that might otherwise have been impossible to attain. Reporters are always looking for a unique angle on a breaking news story, and newsjacking provides that. While the name may make the practice sound criminal, when a PR professional ethically and responsibly builds off of a public news story, both the journalist and the subject will benefit from the creative angle.

For example, remember when Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island resort went up in flames and Kate Winslet rescued Branson’s mother? Shortly after the catastrophe, the London Fire Brigade offered Winslet the chance to train with their firemen, creating the opportunity for high-profile media coverage that piqued public interest and portrayed both the London Fire Brigade and Winslet positively.

Understandably, not all newsjacking opportunities will be so titanic in nature, and an irresponsible connection can cause more harm to a brand than good – as was the case when fashion house Kenneth Cole attempted to newsjack the Egyptian riots in early 2011 via Twitter. If it isn’t possible to incorporate a strong and relevant news hook into your pitch, the better solution may be a trend hook that aligns your story with the current season or pop culture. In other words: trendjack.

Halloween is not news, but you have to admit that certain paranormal fads have become a major trend in the media and pop culture. Here in Atlanta, we have been recognized in the media for our creepy culture, especially after our city was deemed the zombie capital of the world. Three supernatural television shows – The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf – are filmed in the metro Atlanta area, and the movies Zombieland and Halloween II were filmed nearby. With this in mind, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created an action plan for a zombie apocalypse. No really, they did.

More recently, one of our clients, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s Ready Georgia campaign, highlighted the creepy and supernatural in a blog post last month titled “Top Five Least Likely Disasters (That It Won’t Hurt You to Prepare For Anyway).” What was number one on that list? A zombie apocalypse, of course. It should be no surprise that this particular blog post was one of the most popular of the year, viewed and shared by hundreds of readers due in part to the trendiness of the subject matter.

Are there any examples of successful newsjacking or trendjacking you would add? Tell us about them in the comments.

10 Responses to “Carving a Jack-O-Lantern this October? How About Carving Out a New Story Angle?”

  1. Carly, I’m so glad you addressed the ethical portion of newsjacking. There has been so much controversy over the practice, and I think you are dead on about if used with a true newsworthy hook, the practice can be a great tactic in providing exposure for a client. I once pitched a local newspaper about a military voter assistance program close to a local election and received a positive and informational piece from it.

    • Monica, I appreciate the feedback and I’m glad you enjoyed my post. You are not alone in your ethical questioning of newsjacking. But, as long as you don’t infringe on the original story, it is a great way to create a news angle- as you saw with your voter assistance program piece!

  2. What changed recently allowing newsjacking is that Google now indexes in real-time. That allows a timely blog post to be seen by journalists as they search for more information on a topic. Real-time is the key here. Yet nearly all PR people are in campaign mode rather than real-time mode, so those like us who understand newsjacking have an advantage.

    • David, thank you for taking the time to read my post and for the feedback – it’s so great to hear from the man who literally wrote the book on it! I agree, timeliness is everything, and newsjacking is hugely beneficial for SEO in times of breaking news. You also make another good point in that many PR professionals often times are so focused on meeting campaign goals that they forget to pay attention as other opportunities become available – like newsjacking.

  3. Thanks for this Carly. I didn’t know this trick of the trade had such a name as “newsjacking”. And thanks for the real world examples. It has me thinking of potential ideas for some of my less “sexy” clients.

    • Thanks for your comment Randi! Thinking of compelling story ideas for less “sexy” clients can be difficult for anyone, but with a challenge comes fuel for creativity through less traditional routes like newsjacking. I’m glad my post has you thinking about new story angles.

  4. Great article & thanks for the share!

  5. CDC’s zombies campaign was brilliant and amazingly daring for a government agency. Having worked a lot with CDC folks, I know them to be a very smart, passionate bunch, and it’s not a total shock to see something so innovative come from them.

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