Coined by marketing and PR strategist David Meerman Scott, newsjacking is the practice of inserting one’s brand, ideas or perspective into breaking news. At its simplest, it’s about making emerging news relevant to a reporter by providing a local angle or a unique element that involves your client’s product or business.
As a philosophy, much of it makes sense. The ever-urgent, hypercompetitive world of journalism demands exclusive angles and content that’s relevant and meaningful to the audience. Outlets that aren’t relevant will not survive. If there is an opportunity for a PR professional to make that connection, then everyone benefits—the reporter, the consumer and the client.
But as a term, newsjacking is the worst choice imaginable.
Let’s start with connotation. The word is ugly and dark, reeking of wrongdoing or, at the very least, moral grayness. Rather than helping the media generate coverage that’s relevant to their audience, newsjacking sounds as if it wants to co-opt the news by nefarious means.
And, sadly, there is a touch of darkness when it is unethically or incompetently applied. As Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast last October, the online dating site HowAboutWe posted “18 of Our Favorite Hurricane Sandy Dating Ideas.” Incredibly, a web designer’s blog called this insensitive post “a light-hearted piece that also represents the identity of its target audience.”
I’m sure the 285 people who were killed by the storm would beg to differ. If they could.
Putting aside the misuse (or just plain stupid use) of the tactic, the word itself is one that the serious PR professional should rebuff. Our industry struggles with reputational issues; does it make sense to embrace a term that sounds “trendy” yet hints at ethical ambiguity?
Many of my colleagues in PR opt for newsjacking’s synonym, real-time media relations. True, it’s not as macho, but I’ll argue it’s more accurate—assuming the practice is about relevancy, not co-option.
So, with all due respect to Mr. Scott, an accomplished author and consultant, I hereby banish newsjacking to the same abyss to which I sent spin years ago. Words having meaning, and these do a disservice to our craft.