Ever since Oreo’s famous tweet seizing on a blackout during the Super Bowl, managers of major brands have sought to piggyback their message on breaking news.
Newsjacking, however, needn’t wait for moments when the eyes of a nation are glued to a single television event. Opportunities crop up all the time—for those who have a nimble newsroom whence they can launch their message, tethering it to a suddenly hot topic.
David Meerman Scott, who is credited with coining the term, defines newsjacking as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story to generate tons of media coverage, get sales leads, and grow business… But you’ve got to be quick and you’ve got to be on pitch.”
Here are a half-dozen recent instances of newsjacking generated from or heavily supported by newsrooms:
1. Cleveland school marks Valentine’s Day with its ‘Wall of love.’
Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Campus International K-8 School drew numerous stories recently when it sponsored a Wall of Love event by collecting warm hats, gloves and other winter gear, then hanging them in plastic bags on a fence across the street. A sign invites the needy to help themselves to whatever items they lack.
What drew news coverage, however, was not just the charitable act, but its occurrence on Valentine’s Day. The district shot and uploaded a video to its newsroom, catching the attention of journalists and the public.
2. Pittsburgh airport writes an open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
When Amazon announced a yearlong search for a second headquarters, hundreds of cities nationwide lobbied to be considered. Amazon picked sites in northern Virginia and New York City—though it has since backed away from the Big Apple.
After the decision was announced, a disappointed Pittsburgh International Airport wrote an open letter to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, touting all kinds of hidden treasures of the city. Among these were football, robotics research, pierogi races and, er, the mayor’s new beard. (Glad you like it.)
“And while we don’t agree with your decision, we’re not crying in our Penn Pilsner,” the airport newsroom reported. “We’re Pittsburgh, after all.”
The airport noted that the attempt to lure Amazon wasn’t a waste of time and effort. The bid sparked an unprecedented collaboration of people and organizations, from the mayor to local businesses, universities and foundations.
3. Aldi celebrates Pancake Day, also known as Mardi Gras.
Pancake Day? Well, there’s room on the calendar to commemorate just about everything, so why not those flat, floury discs we love to slather in syrup.
As it happens, Pancake Day—also known as Pancake Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras—is the last feast before Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. The week of March 5, the grocery Aldi chain posted a page full of recipes and promotions hyping hotcakes.
Aldi received a wealth of publicity from its campaign, among them stories in the Daily Star, Hello! magazine (“Stop the press! Aldi launches an emoji frying pan for Pancake Day,” and InTouch Rugby, which screamed, “ALDI RECOMMENDS PANCAKE DAY RECIPES WITH A BOOZY TWIST!”
4. PETA protests an Alaska dogsled race.
Every year in March across the frozen north, harnessed dogs bark excitedly, mushers shout commands, and news outlets pump out stories about the annual Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska.
As the 1,000-mile, multi-pawed trek from Anchorage to Nome got underway, one organization sought to newsjack the event. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posted a story headlined, “23 Quotes From Experts Show Why Making Dogs Pull Sleds Is F*cked Up.” It “reveals how dogs are run to death for this annual event,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.
“It’s kind of like somebody running a Marathon,” the PETA newsroom quotes one dog musher as saying, “and tomorrow, we’re gonna go run another marathon. And now somebody asks you to run 10 in a row. That’s what these guys are doing.”
Though the organization staged protests and other more traditional attention-grabbers, the newsroom clearly piggybacked PETA’s broader organizational message of animal welfare.
In response to PETA, an executive from the Iditarod Trail Committee told the Anchorage Daily News that the sled dogs are well treated, adding that the race welcomes people and groups that criticize it.
“In a way, I’m hopeful that they’ll walk away from here and rethink their stand on what’s humane,” he said. “These dogs love what they do.”
5. During a frigid snap, a hospital promotes a doctor as an expert source.
Amid a bout of bitter cold in the Midwest as March began, Advocate Aurora Health posted an article by a physician/expert urging people to take precautions against frostbite and hypothermia.
“If you like to ski, snowshoe or snowmobile, you should keep in mind that wind chills can be a problem for exposed skin even in weather that isn’t frigid,” writes Dr. James Vito Pavlich.
Noting the signs of frostbite, the doctor also warns: “Frostbite can cause permanent damage and can result in amputation in the worst cases. The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are the most vulnerable.”
Such articles are a quick way for newsrooms to promote their experts.
6. OhioHealth warns about seasonal affective disorder.
“If you live in central Ohio, this time of the year can be tough,” OhioHealth, a hospital network, reported.
“Quite often the weather is gray, rainy, snowy, and cold. One thing we don’t see in great abundance is sunshine. That can be pretty depressing, but there is something that goes even further than just longing for a nice sunny day. Some people can have real issues with something called SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.”
The story positioned the hospital’s expertise in a timely issue that was in the news that month.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental illness that is noticeable by a clinician, and has very real consequences for those who live with it every day,” an OhioHealth doctor said.
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