Has the term ‘newsjacking’ damaged the PR industry?

The word, describing the pegging of a campaign to a breaking event, is bothersome. Here’s one take on how the concept has evolved—for better or for worse—with regard to media relations.

In the book “Newsjacked,” marketing pro David Meerman Scott hijacked the public relations profession and its media relations function.

Think his perspective might be askew? Let’s quickly review the definition of hijack as a baseline:

· To stop and steal (a moving vehicle)

· To steal (something) from a moving vehicle that you have stopped

· To take control of (an aircraft) by force

As a public relations executive with more than 20 years of experience and a track record for creatively connecting clients to top-tier media opportunities, I was initially amused by the mashup “newsjacking”—but only for about 30 seconds.

I’ve been horrified that it has stuck around; I avoid its use like the plague.

That’s not even remotely in the spirit of what I do or what, I hope, my colleagues do. Outside of suggesting speed, that’s not quite how it works—nor what I aspire to, much less am inspired by.

It’s certainly not how I want to position or recommend anything to a client. “Hey, let’s newsjack this.” You know, because hijacking skills are part of my highly polished repertoire of professional abilities.

Newsjacking versus hijacking

For me, newsjacking implies you’re doing something you’re not supposed to, perhaps in an unprofessional manner. It sounds more like a sales tactic with all the cachet of the proverbial ethically challenged used car salesman. It sounds like I can steal someone else’s headline, and that I’ll do it via surprise attack and probably under the threat of violence.

Who wants to position themselves as an expert on hijacking news?

Are there any circumstances under which this activity is ever meant as a positive, productive, healthy way to go about achieving one’s goals? Maybe in a dictatorship where the news function actually does get hijacked?

Here’s another issue I have with this mashup: It gives people within and outside the industry the wrong idea about how we view what we do—not to mention what this strategy has always been, long before it got a trendy mashup to go by.

The internet did not create the need for speed in jumping on breaking news headlines. It just gave us more opportunities to do it via email instead of phone and fax.

Newsjacking in real-time

In a recent blog article, an allegedly experienced PR pro discussed the Oreo tweet heard round the world about dunking in the dark during the Super Bowl as an example of “newsjacking.”

It wasn’t. That was real-time (social media) marketing, not “newsjacking.” News is the operative word. We call it earned media today to distinguish it from shared (social) media. This confusion by industry professionals about what even constitutes “newsjacking” seems like a red flag.

On the other hand, let’s say an Oreo marketing executive comments on the strategy of being prepared for real-time marketing opportunities for an article to be published in Bloomberg Businessweek during the days immediately after the Super Bowl.

This is how an expert adds value to the conversation—which, in one of its most straightforward applications, is really what goes on.

WORKSHOP: Become your own media outlet and apply journalistic practices within your organization.

My point is twofold:

1. As public relations professionals, we must choose our words with significant thought and care even when we’re describing our own skills, talents and services.

2. I don’t believe we should be embracing “newsjacking” to describe anything related to our profession. The best filter to use in any situation should be: Does this elevate?

I don’t have any suggestions for creating a new buzzword or mashup to describe this media relations strategy. I’m not sure having one is essential. I remain open.

Tracey Boudine is vice president of Wise Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @Traceyologist.

(Image via by Mike Licht / CC BY 2.0)

Topics: PR


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