photo of vintage black flashbulb camera

Newsjacking lets brands leverage news by inserting themselves into the story. Image by Steve Harwood via Flickr.

As journalists scramble to cover breaking news, the basic facts of a story – 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 business 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 a reporter can’t cite that without adding something self-demeaning like “according to an expert quoted in the New York Times.”

All this is what goes in the second paragraph and subsequent paragraphs. That’s why the newsjacker’s goal is to own the second paragraph.

Kate Winslet comes to the rescue

If you are clever enough to react to breaking news very quickly, providing credible second-paragraph content in a blog post, tweet, or media alert that features the keyword of the moment, you may be rewarded with a bonanza of media attention.

If there is one organization we all count on for a quick reaction, it’s the fire department. So it is encouraging to find that the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is able to newsjack at lightning speed.

Photo of Kate Winslet at 2009 Academy Awards

Kate Winslet. Image by Chrisa Hickey via Wikipedia.

Sir Richard Branson was hosting actress Kate Winslet and 20 other guests at his private Necker Island retreat in the British Virgin Islands on August 22, 2011, when lightning struck the wooden building and set it ablaze. Winslet helped rescue Branson’s 90-year-old mother from the inferno.

News of the rescue, along with photos of the dramatic fire, quickly became the lead story in media worldwide. But the story was thin, few outlets had an original angle on it, and no one had reporters in the British Virgin Islands.

For editors in the ferociously competitive U.K. media, situations like this are hideously stressful. So imagine their collective relief when the local fire brigade came to the rescue.

Within hours of the initial reports on the fire and Winslet’s role in the rescue, the LFB offered Winslet the chance to train with firefighters at its training centre. The offer was made in a story written by the LFB and posted on its website.

This clever newsjack got the LFB huge attention, as the offer to Winslet was featured by news outlets worldwide.

What the LFB did – quickly posting the Winslet offer on their site and alerting reporters – took no more than a few hours and probably cost nothing. But the resulting media exposure was worth millions. It was a gambit that succeeded because the timing and the message were perfect.

You can newsjack, too. But you need to be careful.

Consider how things can go awry. During the Arab Spring designer label Kenneth Cole tried to insert its brand into conversations about the uproar in Egypt by posting the following tweet:

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo – KC

Through this tweet, the brand tried to hijack the #Cairo hashtag in an attempt to promote its spring collection. But the insensitive message was received with strong public disapproval and media criticism.

Lesson: Don’t attempt to piggyback on news when it conveys extremely negative information, such as people’s deaths.

Unfortunately, online retailer CelebBoutique didn’t get the memo, landing itself in hot water with a similarly callous tweet in the wake of the recent Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shootings.

Twitter is an instant communication channel that allows you to jump into a discussion in real time. But you should do it with tact and responsibility.

photo of wynn hotel in las vegas

Image by Håkan Dahlström via Flickr.

Paris Hilton vs. Wynn Resorts

Understanding how the news cycle works is the key to getting your brand some media attention.

Paris Hilton was arrested with her boyfriend in Las Vegas in August 2010, he on misdemeanour DUI charges, she on felony drug-possession charges.

In a tweet to fans shortly after, Hilton said:

These rumours going around are so ridiculous, untrue and cruel. I’m not going to even pay attention to them, because I know the truth.

Personally, I couldn’t care less about the perils of being Paris, but I absolutely love what happened soon after the story broke.

Wynn Resorts spokeswoman Jennifer Dunne told the Associated Press that Hilton was to be barred from Wynn Resorts properties Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.

Now the media had another news hook: Not only has the party girl been arrested, but she is banned from Wynn properties! This melodramatic punishment quickly becomes an element of nearly every story about Hilton’s arrest. It’s huge news. Hey, isn’t Paris Hilton a hotel heiress?

A quick Google news search of that period for “Paris Hilton Wynn” brings up a remarkable 5,286 stories from news outlets around the globe. The story may be about Paris Hilton, but Wynn Resorts crops up in more than 5,000 news stories.

Anyone familiar with how corporate PR spending effectiveness is measured by frequency of mentions in the media will grasp the implications. In one day with one call, I’d guess Dunne likely snagged more media mentions than Wynn’s entire PR budget managed to achieve in the preceding year.

And apart from the cost of Dunne’s salary, it didn’t cost a dime. Newsjacking. You can do it too.