In today’s era of instant online communication and real-time news updates, sending out press releases is no longer a favorable marketing tool. Instead, brands can use the art of newsjacking to quickly create relevant content that ‘hijacks’ a news story or event as it begins to trend.
If newsjacking is done right, your brand’s message can be appreciated and shared by broad audiences, resulting in free media coverage, social media engagement, and backlinks.
However, if done wrong, it can be perceived as forced, awkward, and, at times, offensive, as one of the top tactics of newsjacking is humor and poking fun at others.
Here, we look at six brands that perfected the art of newsjacking in 2023 and five best practices to help your brand ‘hijack’ the next breaking news story.
Top Brands Who Perfected Newsjacking in 2023
Breast Cancer Now
Hundreds of brands used the 2023 Women’s World Cup to create content, but I am most impressed with Breast Cancer Now’s campaign ahead of England’s match against Spain.
The UK-based charity gained attention with the infographic, which made the center spot of a football pitch resemble a nipple, writing: “We can beat more than just Spain today” before adding: “If everyone regularly checks for a change in the color, texture or feel of their breasts, and gets to know their normal, we could help beat breast cancer too.”
In September 2023, CBS News jumped on the news of Taylor Swift’s new relationship with American football player Travis Kelce with a tweet - accompanied by a picture - that read: “A “relatively rare” sighting was discovered this week: A massive stingray nearly the length of Travis Kelce, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end and Taylor Swift’s rumored beau.”
American Cancer Society
In October 2023, the American Cancer Society also jumped on the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Kelce hype by auctioning off the tight end’s signed shirt to raise money for their charity.
They even used Taylor Swift lyrics and a bidding price relevant to her ‘1989’ album in the tweet, which read: “You’ll never go out of style while helping to end cancer as we know it! Can we get the bid for @tkelce jersey to $19,890 before @taylorswift13’s version comes out?!”
Scottish bakery Mortons Rolls used their Twitter platform to humorously support Scotland as they faced England in a football friendly in September 2023.
Posting a picture of two filled rolls: a seemingly delicious Mortons’ one and a plain-looking one. The Tweet read: “Surely there is no doubt who the winner is here? Good luck to Scotland tonight #SCOENG”
Nandos, famed worldwide for grilled chicken, used their South African Instagram account to thank local television presenter Derek Watts for being “the only other person who grilled better than us.” This Tweet came a day after the Carte Blanche anchor died on August 22, 2023.
Meanwhile, the Nandos UK & Ireland Instagram used the heatwave to promote their frozen cocktails, available at selected stores.
Newsjacking is excellent for brand awareness, but it can also be used for a good cause. When the wildfires broke out in Maui, Hawaii, in August 2023, many top brands rushed to help.
Uber announced on their Instagram that they will provide financial support for active drivers in Lahaina and explore opportunities to help Uber drivers and couriers as Maui moves towards recovery.
In addition, Uber donated $500,000 to the Hawai’i Community Foundation and launched an in-app button to allow US customers to make donations.
How Your Brand Can Perfect Newsjacking
Keep on top of breaking news
Most importantly, you must keep up with breaking news and headlines as trending stories shoot up and die down quickly.
However, you can’t always be watching the news, so this is where alerts come in. Go to Google Alerts, enter a topic, adjust settings (such as how often you want notifications, sources, and language), and click ‘Create Alert.’
In addition to alerts, you can view trending topics on Google Trends and keep track of trending threads on Twitter and Facebook.
After attempting newsjacking, the last thing you want is to have your brand publicly scolded for being insensitive or hostile. So, avoid creating content on anything that could backfire, like natural disasters, conflicts, and controversial or political events.
Alternatively, like Uber in the example above, you can still use an adverse event to create content but, instead of promoting your brand, offer your condolences to the people affected and show ways your brand is willing to help.
If you’re doubting the negativity of your content, don’t publish it. Passing on a marketing opportunity is better than risking a colossal backfire.
Timing is everything with newsjacking, as you have to beat your competitors and get the content out whilst the news story is still trending.
Despite needing to research the topic to get everything right and avoid offending any audience, you can’t afford to waste time obtaining your boss’s approval. As a marketer, it’s worth creating a plan of action for potential newsjacking content and getting pre-approvals.
If the story becomes ‘old news’ and the audience is no longer interested, it’s best not to publish anything.
Don’t try to be too clever
Be innovative with your content, but don’t be too clever. If people don’t get the joke or the news story has surpassed them, you’ll miss the mark and your chance to go viral.
As mentioned, successful newsjacking is about timing, but you need to know what you’re talking about if you want your content to be viewed and understood by hundreds or thousands of people. So, research before attempting to ‘hijack’ a topic you’re unfamiliar with.
Use social media
Use social media to host and share your newsjacking content. The likes of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook generate vast shares, giving your content a chance to go viral and reach new audiences, subsequently raising brand awareness.
In addition to this, use social media to track audience engagement, such as comments, shares, and retweets. Knowing the effectiveness of your content will allow you to improve your newsjacking efforts in the future.
Alternatively, you can use Twitter Analytics to measure the impact of your tweet through engagement and follower growth.
Understandably, newsjacking is not for the faint-hearted or risk-averse, so hiring digital PR services might be worthwhile to find the right news story and create valuable content with good outcomes for your brand: immediate brand awareness, traffic, engagement, and conversions.
However, many marketers can ‘hijack’ the next breaking news story by combining the best practices and real-life examples above with a blend of wit, authenticity, and topic awareness.
Author bio: Neve Wilkinson is a content writer at Solvid Digital and a marketer with a passion for writing long-form content. I'm proud to have work published in The Sun, Yorkshire Evening Post, Edinburgh News, Future of Commerce, and more. Feel free to check out my Gravatar and Twitter!