Newsjacking Is Not As Easy As It Looks

Leveraging news to sell products or raise your profile with the news media and other audiences through search is generally called newsjacking. The name implies a possibility to actually take over or steal the news. But the process is actually more like hopping a freight train; a simple way for brands, individuals, organizations and causes to hang on for the ride as a news story cycles through to its end.

Strategist and author David Meerman Scott (probably best known as the author of Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead) wrote a book about how it works and said, “It creates a level playing field—literally anyone can newsjack—but, that new level favors players who are observant, quick to react, and skilled at communicating.”

It’s important to be all three. Your communications skills don’t matter if your timing is wrong, and seeing the opportunity is useless if you don’t have the skills. It’s even worse if you even occasionally act clueless.

Take the recent (Sept. 2) occurrence of National Beheading Day. It’s an actual day according to less than definitive sources here and here. In a media release reported on media critic Jim Romenesko’s blog, a PR firm pitching a FOX-TV show called “Sleepy Hollow” provided artwork and the hashtag #HeadlessDay to generate interest for its client.

This year’s seemingly inescapable context is the tragic murders of US journalists by Islamic State gangsters. An epic fail at newsjacking was followed by a half-assed apology, wherein the PR geniuses blamed coincidence rather than lack of attention or skill.

Don’t be Stupid is always good advice, but newsjacking doesn’t need to be stupid to be questionable. In recent days three airliners were diverted from their original destinations because passengers fought over seat space. The incidents reminded everyone how cramped seating is and the result was a flurry of stories and graphics showing just how bad the situation is for air travelers. The worst of the worst in terms of legroom seems to be Spirit Airlines.

In the middle of all this, in less time than it takes to get an Air-Travel Related Deep Vein Thrombosis (note this is not newsjacking, just simple jackleg), Spirit began hopping on the train. But it wasn’t to deal with their skimpy legroom rating. It was about naked pictures on the web, the private photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities apparently stolen from the cloud.

Said Spirit in its email marketing: “Our Selfie Was Leaked Too…Our Bare Fare (is) all over the internet for you to take advantage of as you see fit.” The blurb included a line drawing of a nude woman covering her chest with her arm.

It was quick and skillfully executed as these things go. But observant? The celebrity photo hack comes in the middle of a wave of revelations in recent days of computer hacks, including data from JP Morgan Chase and perhaps more than 100 million records from Home Depot.

Even if some of your target demographic finds humor in the Bare Fares / Bare Starlet / Privacy Invasion gag, there are plenty of others in the Selfie generation who think theft from phones is no laughing matter. It’s a good bet more than a few potential Spirit customers are heading into September looking at the brand as more cramped and creepy than cool.

 

(This post originally appeared on the website of Integrated Media.) 

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