THE BLOG
01/22/2016 03:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Five Questions about Newsjacking with David Meerman Scott

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A few weeks back, I interviewed David Meerman Scott about his book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, and one area I promised to revisit is known as newsjacking. Scott describes it as the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story to generate media coverage, get sales leads, and grow one's business.

Following are five key questions and answers about the subject.

John P. David (JPD): Has your definition of newsjacking changed since you first coined/started using the term?

David Meerman Scott (DMS): Yes, the definition has changed. When I first invented newsjacking, I focused on the idea of getting your ideas into news stories. My main consideration was to teach the technique of getting you quoted in the stories being written by mainstream media reporters at newspapers, magazines, and in broadcast stories on radio and television.

But as I've spoken with hundreds of people who have successfully implemented my ideas, I've realized that many of them were generating sales leads, adding new customers, selling products and services, and growing their business -- all from newsjacking!


JPD: What is the first step in newsjacking, and what are key factors to success?

DMS: The first step, and the most important one, is to develop a real-time mindset.

But real-time communication is antithetical to the mega-corporate paradigm in which any message should reflect the consensus emerging from an extensive process. That might have worked back when public discourse was essentially a corporate monologue. It surely does not work in the age of social media, round-the-clock news, and newsjacking.

I recommend drawing up a formal mandate--signed off by senior management, the PR department, and the legal department--that sets out rules of engagement in the same way that military commanders are empowered.

This mandate should give select frontline staff the freedom and flexibility to write a blog post or send a media alert when the time is right. That might be late at night or on a weekend or in the middle of a holiday.

To successfully newsjack--or fend off a newsjack--you can't wait for approval. You just have to do it.

JPD: Are there any downsides to newsjacking?

DMS: Newsjacking is particularly dangerous with any story that has a negative connotation. Whenever you see an opportunity to newsjack a story, give some deep thought about how you have a legitimate tie to it, especially if the story involves death or destruction.

For example, on September 11, 2013, AT&T tweeted an image of a smartphone taking a photo of the site of the World Trade Center in an attempt to generate interest in the AT&T brand. The image, sent from the @ATT Twitter ID, said, "Never Forget." The negative reaction on Twitter was swift.

For example, @ryanbroderic, with nearly 10,000 followers, replied, "@ATT your cool Photoshop makes the memories of watching my parents cry in front of the television a lot easier to deal with today." AT&T responded quickly, but the damage was done.

Its tweet, "We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy," wasn't enough to prevent more than 50 mainstream media outlets, including ABC News, USA Today, the Washington Post, and Huffington Post from writing about the error in judgment. If a story like the anniversary of the events of 9/11 has negative connotations, it is best to stay away from commenting in public.

JPD: At what point do you involve your spokesperson if he or she is a top executive? Sometimes we get a media relations nibble, and our spokesperson "hears" that it is a full-blown opportunity. How does this fit into managing expectations?

DMS: There are many ways to inject your ideas into a story in real-time. You can blog, do a video, shoot a Periscope live stream, tweet, or create an infographic. When you evaluate an opportunity, the best way to get out there might be a quote from the CEO or other high-ranking executive or even a comment from the podium. In that case, go for it.

When I give this message to corporate audiences, I often see skeptical expressions on the faces of senior executives in the front row. Many are not comfortable with this. So I look straight at them and ask, "How can you afford not to react to news in real time?"

This is not simply a question of missed opportunities. If you cannot react in real time, you risk being torpedoed by a competitor, an unhappy customer, or the people you don't even know.

JPD: In some instances, newsjacking enables you to jump a credibility gap by being quick. The quid pro quo is that if you bring a story to a journalist or bring your source first, then the journalist will use your source. But what if the news outlet ends up using their usual source and cuts you out? Can you hedge against this?

DMS: I think you need to get your own take into the market with a blog post or tweet or something similar. You probably shouldn't call out a journalist who skunks you, but at least you can "prove" you had the story first. Next time, go to another reporter.

If you want to learn more about newsjacking, you can visit Scott's website and even enroll in his master class: http://master.newsjacking.com/courses/newsjacking

And for more information on marketing and PR, check out Scott's book.