4 min read

Managing the Risks and Rewards of Newsjacking

In the early days of digital media, using national or global news to bring awareness to your brand was seen as a hallmark of a sharp marketing program. Having the awareness to recognize an opportunity, being creative enough to quickly put together a strategy and then being nimble enough to actually execute wasn't as easy as it is today. Our industry has benefited from tools and platforms that centralize much of the talent stack that was once needed to mobilize on short notice. Coverage and keyword monitoring tools, web-based design platforms and a suite of social platforms make it possible to identify and act on current events or trends much faster. And though it's gotten easier, it definitely hasn't gone out of style. With the world and all of its wonders unfolding virtually in real time before our eyes, marketers are presented with countless opportunities to tie their brands to current events. 

Think Fast, But Remember Speed Can Kill 

When it comes to newsjacking, the speed at which an idea can go from hypothetical to a real-world campaign or activity is central to its value. Being timely and relevant and building an expectation among your audience that your brand will have a point of view or even an offering related to certain trends can be extremely useful. But this velocity also places an incredible responsibility on the marketer. Choosing the wrong events or topics, a ham-fisted execution, or approaching a topic without proper consideration can be disastrous. 

When time is of the essence, it helps to have a quick checklist of things to consider when deciding whether or not to newsjack as a guardrail to keep you on-message and on-brand while trying to work quickly. 

Newsjacking

Here are three questions to help steer you away from problematic topics.  

1. Is This Relevant To My Brand?  

In the wake of global news or societal trends, it can be tempting to jump into the fray, particularly for events or social movements that resonate with us personally. First, take a step back and consider whether your offering is relevant. For example, unless fighting inequality is at the core of why your company exists, jumping into the #MeToo anti-harassment movement is probably ill-advised. But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to dismiss the topic. If an issue emerges that company leadership or employees are passionate about, think beyond your products and consider what your people can bring to the conversation. Sometimes a voice can be built around a topic with your brand secondary to your people. Joining a board, starting a scholarship or offering corporate giving are all ways brands can tap into social movements authentically when it 

might be outside of your core offering. 

There are also situations in which you occupy a leadership position in a specific market and commenting on current events seems necessary to you. In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons released a statement strongly condemning the event and calling on elected officials to take action. I think Timmons did a masterful job of connecting with NAM's core purpose by contrasting the situation with the incredible efforts by the manufacturing industry to fight the pandemic. His call to action was timely, relevant and authoritative.

Fortunately for marketers, not all news comes out of the blue. Cultural touchstones like the Oscars or the Super Bowl happen every year, as do industry trade shows (2020 notwithstanding). By planning ahead for relevant events, you can be ready to redirect some of this attention without scrambling for an angle. 

2. Did Someone Get Hurt?

There are very few scenarios involving a tragedy that would be an appropriate time to use newsjacking to remind potential customers about your value proposition. The Covid-19 pandemic is a notable exception. Its impact on humanity means all of us are learning lessons from the past year that our colleagues, customers and prospects may benefit from. 

3. Am I Reading The Room Correctly?

Humor can be one of the most effective elements of newsjacking, especially in social content where you can be short, sharp and then gone. Making someone laugh is often the shortest route to brand recall, and finding the humor in current events is an absolute art form. It's also very difficult because timing is everything. Jumping on something too soon might mean not everyone is in on the joke yet, but acting too late can fall flat or make it seem like your brand is out of touch. Consumer brands often have a distinct advantage over their B2B counterparts here because their target is much broader. We all get hungry or thirsty or want the latest gadgets. But if your target persona is trying to build radio frequency devices for satellites, that's a much smaller needle to thread.

If humor is part of your brand identity, finding a laugh that fits your personality is important. The trick here is to know your audience and find the humor that relates to them without being condescending. With technical audiences, for example, there's a certain cachet that comes with being part of geek culture, but only if they're in on the joke — not the butt of it. 

Answering these questions can give you some guidance on whether newsjacking is right for your brand and when to consider pumping the brakes.

This article was originally published by Forbes, which you can find through this link.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2021.