By Mark Sherbin published January 9, 2013

Newsjacking: 6 Tips to Help Your Branded Content Use the News

use the news with branded contentContent marketers fight the daily battle of staying timely and ultra-relevant. Newsjacking is the process of injecting your brand into the day’s news, creating a twist that grabs eyes when they’re open widest. The term recently found notoriety from David Meerman Scott’s book of the same name.

To be fair, the concept of newsjacking isn’t news — public relations professionals have done it for years. However, content marketers now have their own opportunity to turn the news to their advantage — and many of you are already doing so.

Why should you newsjack? Benefits include:

You walk a fine line when you newsjack. So, what’s the right way to do it?

Brands doing it right

A Mashable community manager once explained to me how newsjacking fits into their website’s editorial process. “We’re finding digital angles to every major news event,” she explained. “Take Regis Philbin retiring, for example. It’s not a tech story — but people reacting to the news on Twitter is. You find that digital angle and run with it.”

For content marketers, newsjacking is about aligning breaking news with your brand and the content you create for it. Take a look at a few examples of brands that have done it the right way.

1. Spirit Airlines’ newsworthy email promos

Say what you will about Spirit Airlines, but the marketing team is working overtime on drawing in return customers through email promotions. Over the last year or so, the discount airline has made headlines for its edgy, sometimes irreverent, subject lines and branded email content.

The airline newsjacks some of its most eye-catching promotions. A recent Spirit email subject riffs on Congress’ “fiscal cliff” debacle, for example. (“So, about that cliff everyone’s talking about…” reads the subject line.)

branded content, Spirit Airlines fiscal cliff

In the past, Spirit newsjacked other notable events like the General Petraeus scandal, the presidential debates and election, the NFL replacement refs, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s trial and conviction.

2. The NFL watches the throne

Even the National Football League maintains an active content marketing program through blogging and other channels. Granted, the NFL has no shortage of content to share with its audience —but it goes above and beyond anyway.

branded content, NFL blogging

The NFL’s Sidelines blog does its job covering your typical football-related stories. Recently, the NFL.com staff sidetracked its usual coverage to newsjack a hot topic — the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s new baby. The blog post showcased the NFL’s most royal baby names.

3. Save the Children reaches out after Sandy Hook

The recent Sandy Hook tragedy left many parents shocked and confused. Save the Children, a nonprofit focused on helping children in the U.S. and beyond, took the opportunity to provide valuable, relevant help in the wake of the shootings. As a result, the organization sent out “10 Tips for Helping Children Cope.”

branded content, Save the Children content

You walk a fine line dealing with negative news stories (especially tragedies). Save the Children offered help through its branded content in a graceful way. But many brands have stumbled, trading thoughtful decisions for ultra-relevance. You can learn from their mistakes.

Tips for your own newsjacking strategy

Ready to jump in? Hold on a second. There are things you need to know before you start newsjacking. Mistakes have been made, and best practices have been defined. Here are a few tips to get your program started on the right foot.

  • Stay tuned: You have to know what’s going on in the world if you want to newsjack. It’s crucial to plug in.
Choose a handful of news outlets to watch. One should be a trusted industry-focused site. Another may be relevant to your audience. (For instance, if your audience is heavily rooted in pop culture, you may focus on a celebrity news site.) Finally, monitor local and national news sites. Before you newsjack a story, make sure you double-check its veracity with other outlets.
  • Be very discerning: A military coup, the death of a celebrity, a natural disaster — these are not events of which you should take advantage. Newsjacking requires enhanced sensitivity — a characteristic that some major brands have demonstrated they don’t have.
Look no further than Hurricane Sandy for examples of newsjacking gone wrong. Clothing brands like American Apparel, Gap, and Urban Outfitters all jumped at the opportunity to pull some positive marketing out of the disaster. Each brand took to marketing channels with hurricane-related promotions. (American Apparel helpfully crowed “In case you’re bored during the storm.”) Each was quickly met with accusations of exploitation. (Check out the HubSpot conversation on newsjacking the hurricane.)
  • Act fast: To get the most traction, hop on news as soon as you can. You aren’t the only content marketer out there looking to find a news angle.
Just how many people might you be competing with? Do a quick BusinessWire search on “Hurricane Sandy.” Up pop 46 pages of press releases — and new releases are still appearing every day.
  • Make a natural connection: You wouldn’t typically cover a topic outside of your audience’s interest. Why would you force a news story to fit your brand?
Make sure the news story has some kind of relevance to your content. Reaching for tough connections will make writing harder and the content tougher for readers to swallow.
  • Take a constructive angle: Especially in the case of a disaster or tragedy, newsjacking requires a positive spin.
Who can forget Kenneth Cole’s infamous mind-numbing reaction to 2011’s conflict in Cairo? The brand tweeted: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…—KC.” That’s an example of short-form newsjacking gone seriously wrong.
  • Include keywords: One of the primary goals of newsjacking is ramping up visibility for your content. Make sure to include relevant keywords to improve search rankings. These keywords may relate to the news story itself if it’s a smaller trending item, perhaps relevant to your industry only. As you do with other branded content, it’s also smart to focus on the keywords you’re trying to dominate for general search ranking.

Weigh In

When performed properly, newsjacking becomes a subtle yet eye-catching tool in your content marketing arsenal. But the practice has caused quite a bit of controversy. Do you think there’s room for the practice in your content marketing? Share your thoughts with us in the replies.

Looking for more info on the latest trends in content marketing? Read the CMI Book, “Managing Content Marketing” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi. 

Image via Shutterstock.com

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

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  • David Meerman Scott

    Mark, Thanks for mentioning my “Newsjacking” book. Actually, newsjacking as I define it is new because Google only has been indexing in real time since recently. While PR people have been tying their pitches to news for years, what’s changed is now with a timely blog post or other type of content creation (which is indexed by Google in seconds), you can now get found by the media at the exact moment they are looking.

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      Thanks for weighing in, David, and thanks for the clarification!

  • http://twitter.com/adamlundquist Adam Lundquist

    I am glad you mentioned the people who do it poorly as well. i have seen it on a local level and it is not pretty

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      It sure isn’t. Definitely helps to look at the mistakes of other brands and (hopefully) learn a lesson or two.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.vanpeursem Ron VanPeursem

    Very helpful article, Mark. Thanks for pulling in excellent examples of “best practices” and undeniably terrible examples to make the contrast crystal clear!

  • Oleksandra Zinevych

    Newsjacking is difficult to pick up making it relevant for your customers and not exceeding some limits of common sense. Moreover, it’s difficult to make news actually new and fresh to read, especially when the information is already famous. That’s why, in my view, special criteria of new selection should be developed. What do you think?

  • http://www.jeffmachado.net/ Jeff Machado

    Mark,

    Thanks for this post. I’ll admit newsjacking isn’t something I’ve used much in all the time I’ve been blogging, but I’m starting to see opportunities in my local community to be on top of what’s happening.

    I already have an idea in mind of how I’m going to use this soon. Much appreciated.