In the mix: Using newsjacking to be part of the conversation

In the early days of The Hodges Partnership, we had a small client from Southside Virginia, a healthcare safety net called Project Danville. It served the uninsured in the community, relying mostly on a federal grant. It did noble, heroic work, and it wanted to tell its story to a broader audience in the hopes of attracting more funding. We developed a pitch, researched some prominent reporters covering healthcare and reached out to them. No sooner had we hit “send” on the email than a Wall Street Journal reporter was on the line. Turns out, she was doing a larger story on healthcare safety nets and their place in the big picture, and Project Danville sounded perfect.

The point of the story is that sometimes in the world of media relations, you make your own luck. With the right research and opportune timing – not to mention a willingness to swing for the fences – you can hit some home runs.

More than anything, successful media relations means playing matchmaker, connecting your client with the right reporter at the right time. And very often, that timing is critical. If your client has an expertise that aligns with breaking news – a university professor who understands why the Fed is going to hold the line on interest rates, an attorney who has personal reflections on his clerkship with Antonin Scalia, an NGO worker on the ground in Ethiopia during a historic drought – then by acting quickly and targeting your pitch strategically, you can significantly increase the likelihood that your pitch will be successful.

We call it newsjacking – seizing the critical moment when the right reporters will be most interested in what your client expert has to say. But newsjacking is not always so easy, and doing it well means following these tips:

  • Know your experts. Make sure that you have a thorough knowledge of your clients’ expertise, and press them to explain their points of view to you, especially in a way that most audiences will be able to understand.
  • Conform that expertise to the moment. Remember, it’s the breaking news that the reporter is interested in, and so your client’s insights must be relevant specifically to what is happening.
  • Find the right reporter. We don’t believe in “spray and pray” (i.e. send out pitches wholesale in the hope that you might get lucky that the right reporter gets one). Instead, we painstakingly research the target outlets for the exact reporter or producer.
  • Build relationships. Chances are, your clients’ expertise will be needed again in the future, so start creating relationships with the go-to reporters. You might even suggest setting up a personal meeting at some point, geography permitting.

We’ve had a flurry of newsjacked hits over the past few weeks:

(This post originally appeared in our newsletter, The Press Box. Sign up here to get future editions in your inbox.)

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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