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INTERVIEW: David Meerman Scott Discusses the Art of Newsjacking

DMS header

Last week, we offered ’5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Newsjacking.‘ While many PR folks appreciated the knowledge, we heard from others who were new to the term itself. And so, I issued a tweet to one David Meerman Scott, the guy who coined the word in the first place.

To my delectation, he responded in about two minutes (I may have squealed a little).

In his book Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas Into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media CoverageScott touches upon this growing social media strategy with keen insight. He humored me with some great responses to a few questions about the growth of newsjacking, its benefits and drawbacks, and the magic of real-time decision making in the process.

Get your notebooks ready. His Q&A with yours truly is after the jump…

SPW: The traditional PR model is no longer traditional. It is dynamic because of real-time engagement. What made you consider newsjacking in that model?

DMS: My first job, back in the 1980s, was on a Wall Street bond trading desk. I learned how the typical Wall Street bond trader has worked in a high-pressure atmosphere ready to make split-second decisions based on information scanned from real-time data and news feeds. Data from futures markets and stock exchanges update the instant a trade is made. Fortunes are made in seconds; reputations are lost in a minute.

And then in the 1990s, I worked at real-time news wire service Knight-Ridder Financial (KRF) as Asia Marketing Director. The KRF feeds were used in the financial markets and journalists knew that even a several-second advantage on breaking news meant our clients made money (and our services were paid for).

Now, the same real-time news and data that financial firms used to pay tens of thousands of dollars for each month are available to everyone for free on the web! All of us now have a new currency of success: the ability to gather, interpret, and react to new information in fractions of a second—in real time.

I saw the areas I had worked in—bond trading and real-time information—converge into the PR world with this idea of Newsjacking, so I wrote about it in my book Newsjacking: How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage and have been evangelizing the idea since.

Newsjacking-cover-SPW: Some people in the media assume newsjacking is bad form because it “takes advantage” of the news. How do you correct that misappropriated thinking?

DMS: I used the word “Newsjacking” for my idea and the book title because it is very memorable and descriptive of the practice. However, because it has connotations of being bad due to terms like “carjacking” and “hijacking,” people who didn’t bother to read my book and learn about the practice jumped to the conclusion that the strategies and tactics of newsjacking are somehow bad.

As journalists scramble to cover breaking news, the basic facts—who/what/when/where—are often fairly easy to find, either on a corporate website or in competitors’ copy. That’s what goes in the first paragraph of any news story.

The challenge for reporters is to get the “why” and the implications of the event. Why is the company closing its plant? The corporate website may offer some bogus excuse like “because it wants to spend more time with its family.” Competitors may quote some expert’s speculation on the real reason, but you can’t cite that without adding something self-demeaning like “according to an expert quoted in The New York Times.” You need original content, and fast.

And that’s why newsjacking works. It’s the art and science of getting your take out there (typically via a blog post) when you have particular expertise on a breaking news story so reporters find it and use your ideas in the second and subsequent paragraphs. That’s why I always suggest it is the newsjacker’s goal to own the second paragraph.

SPW: One aspect of newsjacking is the David V. Goliath factor: finally, the smaller shops could serve their clients in a very big way. But now, the larger shops are attempting it. Is there still an advantage?

DMS: Absolutely there is an advantage because the vast majority of agencies cannot operate fast enough. Most still rely on the traditional approach and therefore can never get something done fast enough.

SPW: Understanding current events has been the underlying truth in PR, and that has seemed to take a backseat in recent years. Does the art of newsjacking create a renewed emphasis on that?

DMS: What has changed recently is that Google now indexes in real-time. That allows a timely blog post to be seen by journalists as they search for more information on a topic. Prior to that change, there was no way to inject your take into the marketplace of ideas in real-time. And of course we have Twitter and using a hashtag that a journalist is searching generates real-time interest too.

Real-time is the key here. Real-time current events are definitely showing PR people a new way to work. Yet, nearly all PR people are in campaign mode rather than real-time mode, so those like us who understand newsjacking have an advantage.

life of a newsjacking story

SPW: What is the most important best practice for newsjacking?

DMS: Newsjacking success requires a new way of thinking. With such a real-time strategy, you need to develop an agile mind-set, and an attitude that recognizes the importance of speed. It’s an approach to business—and to life—that emphasizes moving quickly when the time is right.

To implement this, your organization must support real-time engagement with the technological infrastructure to monitor and react quickly. And since news breaks 24×7, you have to be prepared to act on weekends, at 3:00 a.m., during holidays, and when the boss is on vacation. You need to give people permission to be creative and to act.

SPW: Newsjacking is not something that is planned, rather “happens.” How can PR practitioners prepare and become better equipped for something that doesn’t require careful thought and whiteboard moments?

DMS: Since the famous Oreo Cookie tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl, many people believe that newsjacking involves watching events that are planned to occur at a particular time (the big game, an awards ceremony, the State of the Union) and then doing something to get noticed.

While that is certainly one way to approach newsjacking, it means there are hundreds (or thousands) of others trying to do the same as was the case in the 2014 Super Bowl.

Far more interesting to me is the surprise moments, those news serendipitous breaking stories that have a tie to your brand (or a clients’). That’s when speed works wonders because nobody else is ready so if you’re quick you can be first (just like a bond trader).

For more information about David Meerman Scott, check out his website at www.DavidMeermanScott.com. There, you will be able to check out his fine work via the blog, connect with him, or even order a book (the one in question is a necessary addition to any flacky library).

PRNewsers, give him a shout out at @DMScott for stopping by.

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