How to hijack the news

By Joanna Elliott, Account Executive

If you are in the world of PR the term “news hijacking” will be very familiar to you. If you aren’t, it simply means recognising a breaking news item that is relevant to your client and being able to provide expert commentary on it as the story unfolds.

Sounds smart, right?

It is certainly useful to have in the tool-kit and for some sectors it forms a fundamental part of PR outreach and, when done well, results in securing high-profile, high quality media coverage. It is an invaluable tool that drives brand visibility for your client, positions executives as thought leaders and experts on the topic, and helps your company become a resource which the media can go to for future stories.

Take the security industry as an example: It is an ideal sector for this type of PR and recently, with the spate of data breaches, cyberattacks and political threats, security is a sector that is perfectly situated to tackle news hijacking opportunities.

Let’s look at the key steps to follow when looking to hijack the news.

Monitor, monitor, monitor

It is normal practice to be in the habit of monitoring the news if you work in PR but this task becomes essential if you are to jump on breaking news stories before they become old news. Set up news alerts with key terms like data breach or cyberattack, set up notifications on news apps on your phone or tablet, use Tweetdeck to monitor relevant hashtags, head to Google when you open your laptop in the morning and search the top key words for each of your clients. Consistently using one, or a combination of these tactics will help you ensure you are always hot on the tail of breaking news and will help you anticipate the news of tomorrow.

Be creative

There are two parts to this. Sometimes the ideal story for your client will break and the comment is clear; all you need is a simple pitch to journalists you have already built up a good relationship with.
Often though, this isn’t the case and you need to get creative!
Look outside the specific details of what your client offers and find the broader messages they can provide. For example, a cybersecurity client whose products focus on protecting against a specific type of attack – would they be willing to speak more widely on the topic of the cyber threat? What bold assertions would they be able to make?
When it comes to writing comments, it is critical to get guidance from the client on what they are comfortable discussing and from here you can elaborate and write compelling comment. The journalists are most likely to include comments that are strongly opinionated and say something new; so, within reason, the bolder the better.

Ready, steady, go

Once you have secured opportunities, keep in touch with the journalist to follow through and ensure you have provided them with everything you can. If it is a phone briefing or TV interview, make sure you provide both your client and the media contact with any relevant details they need. If the interview process (and the interview itself) runs smoothly and the producer is pleased with the result, they are likely to look to you again for future opportunities. Organisation is key.
As the story evolves and the news shifts to how the incident occurred and the repercussions, it’s good practice to follow up and either provide further comment or thought leadership on what could have been done or what businesses can learn looking forward.

Evaluation and evolution

An effective news hijacking approach is a continuous initiative and requires continuous assessment. What went well? Which media outlets were interested? How easy was it to get hold of the appropriate spokesperson? Is media training required? These are all areas that should be reviewed and discussed with the client in anticipation of the next opportunity.

For the PR agency, hijacking the news is about identifying a story, pitching out to the relevant media, and briefing the client on any opportunities that are secured. For the client, it’s a combination of sourcing appropriate spokespeople and assisting in the approval of comment or facilitating briefings.