Anatomy of a Newsjack

by Matt Sullivan on January 31, 2013

I love the word “newsjacking“. It doesn’t hurt that the concept is pretty cool as well, as defined by David Meerman Scott:

newsjacking: the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.

So, when I had the opportunity for a newsjacking, I took advantage of it, and documented the process to help others do it in the future.

Anatomy of a Newsjacking

The original news story was that IBM was sending Watson, the Jeopardy! winning supercomputer to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (my alma mater) as a research tool. One of the articles spun it as “Watson is going back to school”, and painting the computer as a student.

I then started to picture Watson doing normal college activities, like eating in the dining hall, going to parties… and pledging a fraternity. As the alumni president of my college fraternity, I immediately wanted Watson, and then the idea to jump on the news cycle was born.

Here’s the timeline:

10:22 AM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I receive an email from a fraternity brother about the Watson grant to RPI referencing an article from the Troy Record.

1:28 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: The idea of the newsjacking has taken form, and I initially propose it to the fraternity’s board of trustees.

1:30 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I get sick of waiting for a response and decided to do it.

1:34 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: Looking to get a little weight behind the newsjacking, I contact Anita Kerlin at the executives offices of Phi Kappa Theta. She has never heard of Watson or really knows what a supercomputer is, but she loved the idea.

3:18 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: Anita & I finalize a press release.

3:27 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I create a free account on PRlog.org, a free press release distribution site. I selected PRlog because it was one of the first results in a search of “free press release sites”. I wanted a press release site so that I could include it as a link as I approached mass media.

3:28 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I hit “publish” on the press release about Phi Kappa Theta inviting Watson to join the fraternity.

3:30 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: It’s time to promote this piece! I immediately hit my social network via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Then I start targeting individuals that will find this entertaining. My list included:

3:45 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I send emails with a link to the PRlog link and a Word copy of the press release to the local news outlets in the greater Albany, NY area.

4:22 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I’ve received RT’s from all three on my list. Between all the RT’s I received, there were over 50,000 impressions of the link. My bit.ly analytics shows over 186 clicks at this point.

5:50 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: The executive offices of Phi Kappa Theta publish a copy of the press release on the fraternity’s site.

6:32 PM  (EST) Jan 30, 2013: I receive a call from the Times Union, a Capital Region newspaper, confirming the story.

9:06 PM (EST) Jan 30, 2013: The fraternity offering Watson a membership bid is the closing paragraph in the Times Union article about the supercomputer going to RPI.

The big take-aways from this newsjacking are:

  1. Find an interesting take on why your organization should be part of the bigger news story. It needs to be appealing to the media in order for you to get a mention.
  2. Identify what you’re trying to get out of the newsjacking. Simply having your name attached to the story isn’t enough. In this case, I was trying to highlight the values & mission of the fraternity. While that didn’t get included in the Times Union article, it was clearly apparent in the press release that originally circulated.
  3. Target the right news channels: an Upstate NY story wouldn’t have made much sense in California, so I focused on the Capital Region.
  4. Act quick! Many times, companies will have bottle necks to moving quickly enough to get into the real-time news cycle. Instead of waiting for feedback from my fellow trustees, I went rogue. Granted, I had the executive authority to do this, but be aware of any career risk you take when circumventing normal approval processes.
  5. Use your network. I would consider both Lisa & Kim to be friends, and I have some level of a connection to David through my connection to HubSpot. Even if I didn’t know them, the idea is to target people that will find your story interesting enough to share. Sometime it’s just for a chuckle, other times it can really hit home.
  6. It really doesn’t take too much time. This timeline shows a progression over 11 hours, but the actual effort was minimal.

Have fun newsjacking!

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