Link Building | Newsjacking | Tips
9 Min read

The benefits of newsjacking in digital PR

Written by Lauren Wilden
@laurenwilden

When it comes to the daily tasks of a typical digital PR strategist, there is a never-ending list of plates to spin, and jobs to keep on top of. 

Making sure clients KPI’s are being met, that multiple campaigns are on track, and that high-quality and relevant links are being built are all vitally important, of course. But the truth is, we can sometimes get so caught up with data, design and outreach planning, that we miss some golden opportunities to build instant links with nothing more than some well-timed expert-led commentary and insight.

So, if newsjacking isn’t already a part of that plate-spinning process when it comes to your link-building strategy, then I’m here today to explain to you why it absolutely needs to be.

What is newsjacking?

First of all, let’s determine what exactly constitutes newsjacking, understand how it differs from reactive PR efforts, and look into why it should be a vital component offered to your digital PR clients, no matter what sector they operate within.

A quick Google search will give you the following definition of newsjacking:

“The practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one’s product or brand.” 

Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Simply take the biggest news headlines or trending topics on social media, and find a way for your client to piggyback on the discussion with their own knowledge.

Oh, if only it were as simple as that…

The trouble with newsjacking is that pretty much EVERY PR person with clients in a similar field – regardless of whether they work on the digital or traditional side – will be consuming the same news outlets as you, and waiting to strike as soon as a relevant opportunity arises.

The sheer amount of competition from other PR’s with the same overall goal therefore means that your own efforts need to be as interesting, newsworthy and relevant as possible, in order to cut through the noise and grab the attention of the journalists on your newsjacking media lists. Because trust me, if your subject link and opening sentence doesn’t immediately grab them, those links aren’t coming your way.

 

Importance of newsjacking in the current climate

Whilst newsjacking has always been a vital component of any digital PR strategy, the circumstances of the past year and half surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have only served to emphasise its importance even more.

With the world put on hold, and the majority of us forced to stay indoors during lockdown, a huge number of carefully planned PR campaigns and stunts were thrown into total disarray.

On a more positive note, the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of the media landscape during the height of lockdown also meant that there were daily opportunities for us PR’s to find various ways for our clients to become part of the dialogue, and comment on a range of important matters relating to the pandemic.

Normally, there are very few scenarios where a tragedy resulting in such global devastation would justify a newsjacking opportunity, but COVID has been a notable exception as an ongoing topic that impacts almost every individual, company and industry around the globe.

In recent months, as the travel industry has been preparing to allow passengers to start enjoying international travel once again, there has been no shortage of opportunities for digital PR’s to offer up advice and bring awareness to a client brand.

Below is just a small selection of the links we’ve built for our client money.co.uk in recent weeks reacting instantly to breaking news within the UK travel sector:

How can you use newsjacking to stand out from the crowd?

As briefly touched upon above, the level of competition we face from our digital PR and wider marketing industry peers when it comes to newsjacking content is fierce; and with a number of larger agencies now employing specific individuals and teams with the sole purpose of gaining coverage and links through the tactic, it’s getting increasingly tougher.

That being said, there are a number of different techniques you can implement and improve upon over time to ensure your clients newsjacking efforts generate coverage and links:

1. Know your clients industry inside out 

In order to keep abreast of the trends, breaking stories and topics that your clients that realistically offer newsworthy and insightful commentary on, you need to have a firm grasp on what their experts are qualified to speak with authority on.

Familiarise yourself with any previous newsjacking or reactive material they may have previously outreached in order to understand the correct tone of voice. It’s also worth swotting up on their website and blog content in depth as there is every chance you’ll be able to take inspiration from this when drafting up a comment for sign off, and for knowing if a story is worth them commenting on in the first place.

You can never have too much information on your clients or the industries they operate within. For planned newsjacking opportunities, where you can easily predict what the media will be focusing on (a global sporting or political event for example), give yourself a head start by setting up google alerts relating to the topic you want to newsjack, consume what’s already been written, and try to offer something different or unique to what’s previously gained traction.

2. Update media lists regularly 

It’s all well and good constructing a fantastic comment then having it signed off by a client in record time, but if you’re not sending it to the right contacts at your target publications, then honestly what’s the point in all your hard work and efforts?

Relying on media lists crafted more than a month or two ago is arguably going to have a detrimental effect on the chances of you landing coverage. Not only do online journalists regularly move publications, roles and shifts, but there will also be key contacts that will fail to receive your newsjacking comment if you don’t keep your eye on who is writing about what, where and when.

3. Be smart with your subject line

A well-crafted and enticing subject line is fundamental to ensuring that a busy journalist dealing with literally HUNDREDS of PR emails each day bothers to open your email, so you need to make sure it’s as powerful as possible and that your client can add some real value to an ongoing conversation.

Don’t bother trying to come up with any clever alliteration or puns to try and make a newsjacking email stand-out – the chances are they won’t be appreciated. Instead, simply state exactly what it is you’re sending and by whom, for example:

National rail introduces season tickets for part-time commuters: money.co.uk offers insight on cost-effectiveness for consumers

Or…

“Greece & Spain give green light on foreign travel: money.co.uk tips on securing best exchange rates this Summer”

4. Be tactful

A risk with newsjacking, due to how fast-paced PR’s need to be, is that comments circulated are deemed reckless or off-brand. As PR strategists, it’s our responsibility to only suggest newsjacking opportunities to clients where they can genuinely offer an authoratative and trusted reaction or insight to a news story or trending topic.

All too often PR’s fall into the trap of encouraging their clients to react to everything and anything, even when it barely relates to their industry, sector or product offering. Personally, I believe this is nothing but a waste of time when it comes to building valuable links, time that could be spent wisely elsewhere generating relevant links and increasing brand awareness.

This JBH webinar  featuring Amie Sparrow, Head of Digital PR at Blue Array, covers what journalists are looking to be sent in a post-lockdown climate, and could very well offer you some great tips when it comes to your newsjacking efforts.

 

SEO benefits of newsjacking 

We wouldn’t be doing our job as digital PR’s if we didn’t strive to ensure our newsjacking efforts were geared towards the online publications and blogs most likely to include links back to our clients websites for positive SEO purposes.

In fact, some of the highest DA links to one client’s specific category pages we’ve generated in recent months have been thanks to newsjacking and giving journalists a reason to alert their audience to specific advice or content on a site.

SEO is essentially focused on making a website rank as high as possible in organic search rankings on Google and other search engines. Breaking stories that are dominating the news agenda will give certain keywords importance on Google due to how many people are already searching for it, and discussing it on their social media platforms.

By including these keywords and phrases in your newsjacking outreach and clients onsite content, this will hopefully, over time, help to give their pages the same level of importance and ultimately increase search result rankings.

 

Timing is everything when it comes to newsjacking

Newsjacking is a wonderfully simple and effective theory for a digital PR, and until you begin implementing it as part of your ongoing client strategy, it’s hard to fully comprehend just how tricky it can be to start generating results and links.

One of the the most challenging barriers I’ve personally encountered with newsjacking centres around timing, and being able to outreach comments and insight as quickly as possible after spotting a relevant opportunity.

In a perfect world, a client would be available via email, Slack, or Skype at all times to proof and sign off a newsjacking pitch or comment. Sadly, this is often not the case due to heavy workloads and meetings, and PR’s subsequently lose their small window of opportunity to successfully outreach.

Each breaking news alert is obviously unique depending on what it’s relating to and how many industries and demographics it impacts, but as a rule of thumb it’s wise to try and send out a newsjacking pitch no later than 90 minutes after a story breaks for the biggest chance of coverage.

For those wary of being able to persuade clients to sign off newsjacking comments quick enough to have an impact, here are a few tried and tested ways that could help to speed up the process:

1. Check in with your client immediately 

It can be tempting to begin drafting up a comment on behalf of a client as soon as you see a story break or a google alert come through, but in order to avoid any wasted time, I’d always recommend running your idea past a client first.

Not only does this give them the heads up that you’re working on something they will need to keep an eye on to look over ASAP, there is always a chance the hypothetical topic is something they want to refrain from commenting on, meaning none of your time will be wasted drafting anything up that doesn’t even get circulated.

2. Recycle previous content 

As much as I wish I could sit here and type that every single newsjacking opportunity I’ve worked on during my career so far has resulted in copious amounts of links and worldie coverage for clients past and present, that would, quite frankly, be a huge lie.

Fortunately, one thing I have learnt from the many times a comment I’ve worked on has failed to deliver any coverage, is that there is a very strong chance that the messages, tips or advice at the centre of the insight can be reworked at a later date for my clients benefit.

It may well need some edits or additions further down the line, but the advantage of having a base to start with next time should give you a head start in beating all the other PR’s to journalists inboxes.It’s therefore ALWAYS worth keeping any and all newsjacking pitches for future reference.

Similarly, if a newsjack that you work on performs particularly well, be sure to try and understand what it was about your pitch that helped it to land, and try to replicate in your future opportunities.

3. Assign newsjacking sign-off elsewhere 

When working on digital PR for a client on the smaller side, regular communication is often only with one or two individuals from the business. If these contacts hold senior or managerial positions, it can be somewhat of a struggle to get hold of them for a quick newsjacking sign off.

Being able to liaise with a more junior employee that has the authority to ok an idea and then push a comment for sign off is therefore an effective way to speed up the sign off process between agency and client.

4. Set up a separate comms chat 

Here at JBH, we’ve noticed the huge benefit of setting up dedicated slack chats that are used exclusively for newsjacking purposes and separate to any of the wider campaigns we’re concurrently working on.

Whilst certain conversations may contain messages that aren’t as urgent or pressing, clients have come to realise how advantageous a fast response on the chat is for link-building efforts.

For more advice on account management, be sure to check out this recent blog from JBH co-founder Jane Hunt. 

 

Best newsjacking sources

As much as we all need a well-deserved break now and again, the unfortunate truth is that news never sleeps, and therefore opportunities to newsjack can (and often do) occur at the most unlikely and unsociable of times.

Unsurprisingly, the best way to ensure you’re among the first to see breaking news relating to your client’s industry is to religiously follow the news on a regional, national and global level. The nature of the 24 hour news cycle means that the lifespan of a story is limited, so waiting until the next day or Monday morning in order to react to a perfect opportunity is a risky move, especially when there is a greater chance of your email being seen by journalists working during the evenings and weekends.

Here are some of the ways we monitor the news here to make sure we can react as quickly as possible when it comes to newsjacking opportunities:

BBC websiteThe holy grail as far as breaking news you can trust upon is concerned. The business live blog on the website is great to bookmark and check regularly throughout the day for any commentary opportunities that could relate to your clients sector.

24 hour news channelsWith so many of us digital PR’s continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, having a news channel or radio station such as BBC News, Sky News or Times Radio on in the background can help to keep you up to date with any breaking stories throughout the day.

Google Alerts and Talkwalker AlertsNot just useful for tracking existing client coverage and brand mentions, setting up keywords or terms that relate to existing campaigns that you want to newsjack can be a fantastic way to make sure you’re one of the first to jump on an opportunity when it arises.

Newsletter subscriptions  Signing yourself up to receive weekly newsletters is a great tactic for spotting who is writing about what topics when it comes to the big ticket publications you want to land client links on.

There are a huge amount of sector specific newsletters depending on the industries your clients are operating in, but some of our favourite and most insightful national examples include Metro Lifestyle | Huffington Post UK | Reuters Morning Digest | The Daily News In Brief (Sheerluxe) | Stylist | The Telegraph Breaking News and lots more!

#journorequest on Twitter a personal favourite of mine when it comes to spotting reactive PR opportunities to newsjack is to keep on top of the hashtag #journorequest over on Twitter.

Here, you will find an array of UK and international journalists seeking specific comments, experts or data that you may be able to match your own client or campaigns with. As well as being a great way to build up a relationship with journalists, this is also a really fast way to build up some extra links to a campaign that hasn’t right reached KPI, and the journalists who use this method are normally on fairly quick deadlines, so you can often see successfully pitched content translate into links and coverage within a matter of hours!

Key takeaways:

  • Always be aware of the current climate and ask yourself if a newsjacking opportunity is really going to add value to your client before getting carried away
  • Timing is of the essence with a good newsjack, those other jobs can wait!
  • Don’t just rely on one source of media for hearing breaking news to react to, get to know your clients inside out and keep on top of the outlets most likely to be reporting on the topics affecting their industries

If you’d like to know more about newsjacking using your existing digital PR campaigns, click here.

Post published on Wednesday July 14, 2021