If you want to get media coverage for your business or brand, there are three main ways to go about it:
- Pitch your own ideas directly to journalists (I explain how to do this here)
- Respond to journalists’ requests via the #journorequest hashtag or tools like Response Source
- ‘Piggyback’ on topical news stories (commonly known as newsjacking)
Now I have to say, I’m not mad on the term ‘newsjacking’ - it smacks of everything I don’t like about the PR industry (macho, pushy, ‘selly’) but -with the right approach - it can be a very effective strategy.
Let’s say you specialise in developing software to manage nuisance calls. You wake up one morning to find the topic is all over the news, due to an announcement that the government is planning to introduce harsher penalties for companies who cold call households. Not only could you contact the producers of various radio and TV shows to offer expert comment on the topic…you could also pitch an opinion article to an industry title or national newspaper (this really happened, by the way).
Or maybe you run a popular over 40s fashion blog. It’s Oscars night and everyone is talking about a big movie star’s fashion faux pas. Knowing it will be a hot topic on the all the big TV/radio breakfast shows, you give them all a call and offer expert comment and fashion tips for over 40s. You also pitch an opinion article to a national newspaper on the topic.
Or maybe you run an accountancy firm, used to be a professional footballer and you’re female. There’s a big international football tournament coming up, so you could pitch an article to the Huffington Post on the difference in male and female footballers’ salaries.
These are all examples of 'newsjacking' - which can work a treat.
Newsjacking is the process of taking a topical news story and providing fresh angles or ideas that will help you get media coverage. The term, which was (I think) first coined by David Meerman-Scott who has created some great content on the topic, is commonly used to describe how big brands use the media stories of the day to draw attention to their own content, including social media. In this instance, however, I’m looking specifically at how you can use topical news stories to get traditional media coverage i.e. magazines, newspapers, radio & TV for your business or brand.
But before I get into the nitty gritty of how to newsjack, I need to say this: timing is everything. In a 24/7 news culture, where social media is driving the news agenda at breakneck speed, you need to act fast.
So if you wake up in the morning to a breaking news story that relates to your area of expertise, you can’t afford to wait until you’ve had your breakfast, dropped your kids off at school or written your weekly blog post. You need start emailing or calling journalists straight away or you’ll miss the opportunity.
The other important thing to say is this: while newsjacking might seem like spontaneous activity, there's actually quite a lot you can do to plan and prepare for newsjacking opportunities, which I’ll explain here.
When journalists are planning content, they often refer to stories as ‘on’ and ‘off’ diary - and the more you can think like a journalist, the better chance you'll have of getting media coverage.
‘On diary’ refers to events you can predict - from obvious things like Christmas, Mother’s Day or the summer holiday season to the publication of annual reports or surveys.
These are marked on journalists’ diaries months - or even years - in advance. Not only does this ensure they don’t miss important stories, it also gives them plenty of time to carry out research and find experts and case studies to talk to.
‘Off diary’ refers to events you can’t necessarily predict - from a celebrity speaking out of turn to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
If you want to get more media coverage for your business or brand, you need to be pitching both ‘on’ and ‘off diary’ stories - and the good news is newsjacking works for both (hooray!).
If you want more ‘on diary’ coverage, you need a calendar - ideally one that gives you a month-per-view - where you can mark up any key dates/events, across the year, that will provide ‘hooks’ for media stories. Personally I think a wall calendar - which you post up somewhere you can see it all the time in your office - can work better than an online tool (and it just so happens I created one for you here), but obviously this is up to you.
You’ll need to set aside at least a couple of hours to mark up your media calendar (I recommend planning up to 12 months ahead) but I promise you the upfront investment will be worth it.
Here are the kinds of things you should include:
Obvious stuff like Christmas, New Year, Easter, summer, Halloween and so on...this may sound obvious, but when you’re busy with other things it’s easy to get sidetracked. Let’s say you’re a fitness specialist and you have some great story ideas around getting the perfect beach body. Leave it until March to pitch it to a journalist and you could find you’ve left it too late.
Political stuff like budget days, government spending reviews, elections, party conferences, parliamentary debates, select committee meetings and so on. Whether you run a wedding planning business or a think tank, you'll be affected by political issues from taxation to business law to changes in government policy (and that’s just a few examples) so, even if you don't consider yourself to be a political person, this is definitely worth thinking about.
Awareness days e.g. Cancer awareness day, National Orgasm Week (yes, really!) or Mental Health Awareness Day. Here’s a word of caution about awareness days though.
Other key dates in your area of expertise like the publication of annual reports, surveys, conferences etc. As an education correspondent, for example, I diarised things like exam results days, dates school places were allocated and big annual international education studies like OECD and PISA.
Court cases: if relevant to your sector/industry, you might also want to add details of key court cases and key dates related to this (e.g. when cases are due to start/end or when the judge is likely to deliver a verdict).
Once you’ve marked up your media calendar, not only can you develop story ideas to coincide with those dates (e.g. a first person article about your relationship with your mother to run around Mother’s Day or how to love Valentine’s Day when you don’t have anyone to love, you can also plan ahead for events you know are coming up but have an uncertain outcome e.g. budget days or court cases ( planning along the lines of ‘If the outcome is x, I can pitch an article on y.’)
Having a media calendar - and checking in with it daily - will not only reduce the risk of you missing out on stories, it will also help you incorporate lead times (i.e. the time between a journalist saying ‘yes’ and the story being published/broadcast) in your planning.
Monthly magazines can work 3- 6 months ahead, weeklies 5-6 weeks ahead and some radio/TV programmes are made as much as a year ahead, so - if in doubt - always pitch earlier than you think you need to. It’s far better to have a journalist come back and say ‘this is interesting, but can you try me again in a couple of weeks?’ than miss out completely.
Although you can’t plan ’off diary’ stories (events you can’t predict), there are some practical steps you can take to increase your chances of getting coverage when they do arise.
Setting up Google alerts using keywords in/around your area of expertise - and checking them first thing every morning - is one simple step you can take that can have a big impact on your PR.
Let’s say you work for a walking and pedestrian charity and see a news story about a school that’s charging parents to drop children off in the playground. You could contact the a national TV news show and offer comment on the topic, pitch an opinion article to an industry title or national newspaper or even a ‘how to’ article to an online publication about how to get more children walking to school.
Maybe you're an author. You spot a story about the a self-published author who's outselling traditionally published - and hugely successful - authors like Stephen King. You're an Indie author too, so you contact journalists and radio/TV producers to offer expert comment on the story.
Or perhaps you find yourself near or at the scene of a big breaking news story. You call journalists and radio/TV producers to offer your unique insight as someone who lives or works in the area.
While it’s a good idea to actively pursue newsjacking opportunities, inevitably you will miss things, so the more you can do to help journalists find you, the better. Journalists are always looking for experts to comment on stories they’re covering. And the first thing they do when a story breaks - particularly if it’s subject they’re not familiar with - is ‘Google’ it. So if you’ve got a blog and/or up-to-date social media profiles - which include your contact details - they’ll be far more likely to get in touch. Many journalists now used LinkedIn to find people to talk to, so make sure your profile is up-to-date and includes examples of your media work (if you have them). Many also use social media sites like Twitter as a search engine, so if you’ve been tweeting about your specialist topics, they’ll find you there.