The ultimate guide to newsjacking

It’s like Seth Godin says:

“The job is no longer to recite facts, to read the bio out loud, to explain something better found or watched online…

“No, the job is to personally and passionately make us care enough to look up the facts for ourselves.”

Newsjacking is a prevalent technique in ‘boring’ industries such as finance, but businesses are expecting to achieve results just from regurgitating the news, and maybe adding a quote from someone at the company on the end. Newsjacking should be an attempt to get talked about by anyone who is discussing that story, whether that’s on social media, in the press or at the water cooler.

Take sports as an example. Punditry is newsjacking. The pundit isn’t involved in the game, but people talk about what they said about it – live on Twitter or the next day at work. The differences between you and Alan Hanson can absolutely be addressed:

  1. They’ve earned the right. Maybe they did play the game, but it’s more likely that they just have consistently good opinions. Or consistently controversial opinions. When Paddy Power do anything it’s worth talking about because they’ve got the reputation (they were looking for) as the controversial ones. The majority of viewers recognise that the pundit knows what they are talking about.
  2. They’ve got the platform. Pundits share their opinions on their owned media channels – Twitter, blogs etc. – but the only way they can drive people there is to use other, more established channels. Match of the Day is bigger than Alan Hanson, but if you watch Match of the Day you might follow Alan Hanson on Twitter.

It’s not a case of earning 10 blog posts for every 1 time you feature on the FT – there’s no golden ratio – but you can’t expect people to come back to your blog time and again unless you are a) doing something original, which most businesses either don’t or can’t, or b) reminding people that you exist on an almost constant basis.

As you begin to earn a reputation – once you’ve earned the right, in other words – journalists will often come directly to you first. If you consistently offer valid opinions; data that adds to a story; or creative that engages people who are talking about the story in a different way; you’ll begin to build relationships with influencers and journalists and become a trusted source. You need to do this if you want a trusted source of links.

What can you do?

As I mentioned above, you need one (or more) of the following:

  1. Creative
  2. Data
  3. Expertise


Creative is the easiest of the three because you often don’t need to establish yourself in the same way beforehand – you just need the skills to make something awesome.

The downside is that creative is usually the most expensive. It takes time and investment to make things. It requires forward thinking, because you need to allow yourself time before the conversation around the event kicks off in order to create something. And it still takes time to reach out to journalists and influencers. ‘Build it and they will come’ is not a strategy, unless the thing you’re building is a relationship.

Here’s an example:


National Soap Awards – Soap Claims

There are 3 reasons why this piece was successful:

  1. We knew that people would be talking about a certain topic on a certain date so we had time to prepare – we planned and developed our creative with plenty of time to spare, and we spoke to journalists and got their feedback before it went live so we were sure it would get covered.
  2. It’s relevant to First4Lawyers’ target audience. First4Lawyers customers have little interest in reforming the NHS, so thought leadership in the conventional sense would just be posturing to other lawyers and the press. Nobody who needed to see it would see it. This is why First4Lawyers doesn’t buy its media during Tonight or the Channel 4 News, instead opting for the Jeremy Kyle show and other daytime mainstays, and occasionally soaps. What we wanted to do was to speak with the same audience online as First4Lawyers’ media agency was speaking with through broadcast.
  3. It establishes First4Lawyers as experts. It is a fun piece, but there’s a message behind it, and that message is the same message that the company is trying to convey through its other media.

If we’re taking Google’s Winning the Zero Moment of Truth as gospel (which we’re not, because the average number of ‘resources’ consumers engage with before making a purchase doubled between 2010 and 2011, when the whitepaper was published) then the TV ad would act as a stimulus, with 50% of the people who respond to that stimulus immediately heading online. Continuity between broadcast and digital channels builds trust and hammers home the message, increasing the chances that the brand in question will eventually get that conversion.

Plus, y’know. Links.


Data is needed to substantiate claims in the media (again, unless you write for the Daily Mail). Companies that are data-rich and operate in industries that are frequently talked about generally find newsjacking very easy.

One common mistake marketers make when adopting newsjacking as a strategy is to try and jump on the biggest trends, whatever they might be. Most brands do not have a valid opinion on everything that gets talked about online. They certainly don’t have data. So they have to settle for creative – sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. As noted above, it’s usually expensive, which means a lot of wasted marketing budget.

Real-time marketing is not a strategy in itself. It still needs some thought behind it.

Businesses that are not data-rich can acquire data using things like surveys. They can also combine with creative to create tools with elements of data capture. BuzzFeed isn’t just creating quizzes with the express intention of going viral (they are doing that) – they’re compiling a massive database and selling advertising. As a consequence BuzzFeed is every bit as much of a platform as Match of the Day if you’re using it to express opinions that the audience finds valid or creative that resonates with the audience.

Anyone working in PR or SEO should be banging on the door and asking what data they have available to them because it’s one of the best ways of earning links or coverage. Even if you’re not proactively using your data, it’s massively helpful to know what is in your CRM.


Expertise is the hardest of the three to prove and the cheapest of the three once you’ve done that.

The individual doesn’t have to have demonstrated that they are an expert if the business they work for has already done that. A representative of a high street bank is qualified to comment on financial issues, whether or not they’ve written a column for the Guardian.

If your business is unknown (or more appropriately, if you’re not a player in your market) – and you don’t have anyone famous working for you – then you haven’t earned the right to leverage your expertise to get links, so stop trying. There are foundations to build first, and you need to demonstrate the quality of your content on your own site and through guest posting on well-read publications (finding the platform) before you can expect journalists to come to you.

From an SEO’s perspective, Google’s leaked quality guidelines document shows that they’re looking for ‘expertise, authority, trust’. You demonstrate expertise by being mentioned around the web in the context of what you do. Get to a stage where, whenever a journalist needs an expert they come to you, then whenever a user needs your product Google will show your business.

Easier said then done? Well yes, but it’s hardly impossible.

One of the great things about newsjacking is that it gets easier. If you get featured on the FT, for example, you can leverage that fact to get featured elsewhere. It’s social proof.

In the same way, if you get your opinion (or your creative) featured on one big publication, a number of others will usually follow. MailOnline’s content strategy is to make sure they write about what everyone else is writing about with the aim of becoming the one stop shop for news. As a result, we recently got 3 pieces of coverage from the Daily Mail for the same client in the same month – because we hit the Telegraph, the Sun and the Daily Star first.

Get lucky

Newsjacking can be employed successfully without earning the right or using the platform. We call this ‘getting lucky’. You might have done this once and got some pick-up. Has it worked since?

I’m not suggesting that without expertise, data or creative you can’t do PR – just that every piece of coverage will always be an uphill battle – and that without earning your place at the table you don’t get talked about over dinner.

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