Newsjack City: How Preparation Can Garner Earned Media Stories

5 min read


Any time I use the word newsjack—which is a relatively frequent occurrence given my role as the director of public relations—I have to stop myself from thinking of the 1991 crime movie New Jack City or the similarly titled R&B subgenre new jack swing. Neither will teach you a great deal about public relations or how to turn industry expertise into media coverage. Or will they? 

Both New Jack City (starring Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, and Judd Nelson) and new jack swing (like the groundbreaking work of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) are about taking something that doesn’t belong to you and making it your own. In the film, those things are guns, drugs, and territory. In music, R&B singers took the production styles of the burgeoning hip-hop scene and used them to freshen up an aging style of music. 

In the PR profession, newsjacking is a way of taking something—media coverage—that doesn’t belong to you and making it your own. You can newsjack a competitor or even a community partner. This isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game, either. There are ways that this strategy can create more earned media opportunities for your organization and for others in the industry.

Here’s how to find your new jack swing in reactive PR:

Competitorz II Friends

The simplest way to know what kind of earned media is potentially available to you and your organization is to think of where your peers and competitors show up in the news. Who is your nemesis? Are they in the headlines? What about your community partners, vendors, or customers?

Conduct a competitor analysis using a tool like Meltwater or Cision, or simply break out the Google machine and look for articles featuring similar organizations. If your spokespeople speak on the same topics, recent media coverage of a competitor is a good indication that journalists have an appetite for the subject matter.

News Edition

The news cycle has never been faster. While newsrooms are dealing with ever-dwindling resources, a transition to remote work and the sense that sources might be available via Zoom on a moment’s notice has sped up an already fast process.

If there’s a big news story in your industry or in your market that you want to newsjack, you’ve got to act fast. Set up Google Alerts for key terms and watch for trending topics on Twitter. There are incredibly funky ways to pursue newsjacking through creative work—like when Kit-Kat sent their product to space on the same day as Red Bull’s branded space jump by Felix Baumgartner—but on a day-to-day basis it’s worth looking closer to home.

When government agencies or commissions put out reports, they generate news. The Governor’s Public Health Commission in Indiana recently published a report calling for more than $250 million in new government investment toward public health in the state. If your organization does work in Indiana and has a public health mission, this is an opportunity. The report doesn’t speak for itself, and editors across the state will look to experts to help contextualize the findings. 

In the days after the report was published, there were a flurry of newsroom editorials and letters to the editor, but few organizations stepped forward to claim the story for their own purposes in a major way. Perhaps someone will, but time is of the essence and the salience of a news story decreases with each passing day. That’s why it’s best to work ahead and anticipate the news.

Quoty! Quoti! Quoté!

Annual predictions season for 2023 is just around the corner, and there is no better time to newsjack than during predictions season. Each year, national business reporters and trade publications write dozens of forward-thinking articles that highlight the thoughts of industry leaders. It’s difficult to prepare answers to every conceivable question a reporter might have about your industry, but fortunately the vast majority of stories on a particular subject will share a general point of view. 

Take these two 2022 predictions articles in the healthcare technology space—one from FierceHealthcare and another from HealthIT Answers. They were published a matter of days apart and each featured a dozen health executives offering their predictions for the coming year. It doesn’t take long to notice the trends. Editors were looking for opinions on telehealth as the COVID-19 pandemic entered its third year; they sought opinions on healthcare payment systems and electronic health records. 

Knowing that editors are looking for comments on these specific topics, executives should huddle with their PR teams weeks if not months in advance to conduct a story-mining call. Your PR consultants can play the role of the reporter and clean up any trenchant quotes into a pre-approved statement on the subject. That way, no matter how quickly a reporter wants a comment on a newsy subject, you’ve already got one on hand. Approved quotes also provide fodder for proactive thought leadership.

Bring it on Back

Newsjacking requires a high degree of awareness and preparedness, but reacting to stories and turning them into earned media opportunities is also an incredibly efficient use of time for you and your PR team. With a garden-variety Google Alert and a prefab quote, it’s possible to generate a news hit very quickly.

As with all of the approaches in the marketing tool bag, newsjacking isn’t a strategy unto itself. It is a fun and effective tactic, though, and if you say the word newsjacking enough you’ll get a little Boyz II Men playing in the back of your head. At least I do.