In All Posts, Content Marketing

The newsjacking of Hurricane Sandy by American Apparel a few years ago caused widespread criticism.

Newsjacking. The word strikes fear into the bravest corporate hearts, because some marketers have tried it and been criticized heavily for doing so. Coined originally by David Meerman Scott, the concept can work really well for you as long as you get it right. So what exactly does the term mean, and how can you (and should you) use this to your advantage?

What It Is

For the uninitiated, newsjacking is a new name for the old journalistic practice of hanging your article on a hook of current affairs. The difference is that in its present form it’s mostly used by brands as a part of their inbound marketing, rather than just to report news.

Essentially, it works like this:

  1. You hear breaking news that sparks an idea for your brand, such as:
    • Real estate sales are down (so home renovations are in as an alternative to moving)
    • Real estate sales are up (so home renovations are in to improve your resale value ahead of selling)
  2. You generate and publish content that relates to the news, such as a blog post, social media updates, a press release or even an opinion piece.
  3. The press scrambles for more information on the issue and in doing so, they run across your content.
  4. Excitement peaks as the media covers the issue, hopefully including commentary from you.
  5. The issue becomes old news as something new takes its place.

In other words, you effectively “hi-jack” a current news issue and use it as a draw card for users to consume your content.

Why You Should Use It

So what exactly is the point of newsjacking, you ask, and what reasons would you have for using it? Well, there are several, including:

Reason #1: Content Marketing

We all know how difficult it is to find topic ideas for content marketing. Whether you’re producing text, images, video or audio material, knowing what to cover is challenging. Newsjacking provides inspiration, supporting evidence and conjecture, and generates public interest in your material.

Reason #2: Publicity Value

One of the primary guiding principles of newsworthiness is to link a story to a related issue, so as long as you can identify (or create) the relationship you’re good to go. One example of newsjacking that generated great publicity was the story of Kate Winslet’s purported rescue of Richard Branson’s mother from a burning house. Even though the claim was eventually debunked by his mother herself, the London Fire Brigade cottoned on quickly. They posted an invitation for Winslet to train with their firefighters, and notified local reporters to get the word out. I doubt Winslet ever took up the offer, but the free publicity the fire brigade received reached far and wide across the world.

Reason #3: Credibility

Creating relationships with current affairs builds your credibility in various ways.

  • First, it shows your company is up-to-date on what’s happening, not only in your industry but in life in general.
  • Second, it increases your visibility because the publicity value increases consumption. The more people who know about you, the more your reputation spreads—as long as you don’t screw it up, of course.
  • Third, it shows you have an opinion, which is a fairly essential requirement for developing thought leadership in your field.

Reason #4: SEO

Long after your content has become old news, you’ll still reap the SEO benefits of the newsjacking piece. Google loves fresh content, and this gives you an update that’s relevant in real time. As long as your content contains the keywords you want to highlight, users searching for information on the issue will turn up your content long after the fact. And that’s not only valuable for search, but also for driving traffic via tools such as hashtags.

Does that give you enough reason to convince you to start viewing the news with a fresh mindset? I hope so.

Steps to Follow to Newsjack Effectively

It’s one thing to identify news that you can relate to your business, but it’s a bit more difficult to know how to use it and make it work. Here are some steps to help you:

  • Keep track of what’s happening: Set up notifications to help you keep track of breaking news. You can do this with Google alerts or RSS feeds, or create some saved searches on media like Twitter.
  • Look for keywords: This works well in some instances, less so in others. The fire brigade story is a good example of how keywords relating to fire identified the London brigade’s potential link with the story.
  • Choose hot news: When a topic is very popular, it’s always good newsjacking material. Take the soccer world cup, for instance. Everybody knows about it, whether they are soccer fans or not, so hosting your own event to watch a game or offering a special World Cup promotion is a good way to latch on to the subject.
  • Get creative: When something newsworthy happens, your best way of identifying whether it’s good promotional material is to evaluate your knee-jerk reaction. Start by looking for synergies between the two subjects. Here’s a typical three-step method of lateral thinking to create a synergistic relationship:
    • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has returned to work and protestors are shirtless outside his office.
    • Being shirtless could mean they really don’t have great clothes to wear.
    • Before your customer ends up in the same position, perhaps he should pop into your store and take a look at your new lines of men’s shirts.

Ok, it’s not a fabulous example but you get the idea.

  • Choose your media: Some news topics lend themselves to blogging, others to an op-ed or commentary, while still others create the option to do some event marketing. Don’t try to do it all, or you’ll over-expose the news topic and effectively flog the horse to death.

Timing is Everything

Whatever information you decide to use, timing is critical for it to be effective. You have a small window of opportunity in which to use breaking news before it becomes stale, and don’t overdo it or you’ll just look stupid. Oh, and avoid taking advantage of anything tragic – American Apparel’s newsjack of Hurricane Sandy got it slammed in a big way for exploitation after tweeting a special offer for customers who were “bored” during the hurricane!

Yes, newsjacking can work, but please – Handle With Care.

*This post was originally published in 2014 on, which has now closed down. 


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