Knowing when to pitch press — and when not to — is an essential skill
A lengthy, glowing feature about your brand or product is every publicists’ goal. Who doesn’t want a glossy magazine cover, or a stellar front-page feature in the business section?
As any good marketer knows, opportunities like these don’t happen every day. But, it’s still possible to get your brand in the news on a regular basis — it’s called newsjacking, and when done right, it can result in a steady flow of positive coverage.
Newsjacking, despite its jolting name, is a common practice. It entails monitoring the news for topics relevant to your brand. And, when a story is developing, offering your brand as an expert source. Just one example: If news breaks about a new tariff on steel, the CEO of your construction company could speak with reporters about how local builders are affected.
When newsjacking is done right, everybody wins: You get quotes in a major story, a reporter gets to interview an expert source, and readers get to hear from an authority on the topic. But done wrong, newsjacking will do more harm than good — like damage valuable relationships with journalists, or even result in negative coverage.
Here’s a handy guide to newsjacking do’s and don’ts:
What to do. First, pay close attention to the publications covering your industry. If you’re a software developer, read TechCrunch and WIRED regularly. If you’re an investment firm, subscribe to Bloomberg Businessweek and the Wall Street Journal. You should also set up Google Alerts to get specialized emails whenever your brand’s niche — say, “New York healthcare” or “vegan chocolate” — is mentioned in a news story or blog post.
Next, get familiar with the reporters at these outlets who are covering your beat. Who at TechCrunch is reporting on the type of software you create? Who at the Wall Street Journal is writing about personal finance? Then, identify who at your company is best suited to speak with these reporters. You’ll want someone with deep knowledge of the topic, who can add real value to the story. You also want someone who’s articulate and confident.
Now, watch for breaking news. Did Apple just release a new iPhone? Did the markets just take a hit? It’s time to pitch those reporters with your unique take. Keep your pitch short and sweet: Let them know you have an expert source who is eager to jump on the phone. And make sure to clear your spokesperson’s calendar: You need to work around the reporter’s schedule, not the other way around.
What not to do. Don’t overreach — make sure you’re pitching a spokesperson who truly is an expert on the topic. If reporters get someone on the phone who can’t answer their questions or add value to their coverage, they probably won’t answer your next email or phone call.
Empathy is key, too. If you’re trying to capitalize on a tragic event, reporters will see that — and may call you out in a tweet or even a story. For example: Say there’s a flash flood in your area. It’s not the best time to start calling reporters about how excellent your life vests are, and how more people should have bought them.
Remember: Newsjacking is a skill you develop — it’s not innate. Over time, you’ll hone your eye for opportunities; you’ll build up a rolodex of friendly reporters; and you’ll expand your roster of colleagues who are willing and able to chat with press.