How to hijack the news

How to hijack the news

A client recently commented to me that the real value of a PR professional is his or her ability to generate results in lieu of hard news, and I couldn’t agree more. Particularly if you are working with an agency on a monthly retainer, they need to demonstrate their worth each month through a variety of activities – and be accountable to how they support the company’s business and marketing objectives.

One commonly used tactic by PR professionals is “news hijacking” or “rapid response” activities. In laymen speak, this means identifying a breaking news story and providing expert commentary on the news as the story continues to unfold and follow up articles are published. The security industry is an obvious example of where news hijacking is utilized. Think about the spate of data breaches, cyberattacks and other security threats that happen. There’s the news that is published when security has been compromised, and then follow up stories about how the incident occurred, and the repercussions from a financial, reputational and governance perspective.

News hijacking is important because it drives brand visibility for your client, positions the executive as a thought leader and expert on the topic, and can position the company as a resource for media for future stories.

For an effective news hijacking approach to work, it requires the following elements.

  1. Constant news monitoring. Stellar PR pros will be consuming the news first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and anticipate upcoming major news events. They need to anticipate breaking news and analyze trends that are relevant for the client to provide commentary on. 
  2. Executive insights. Once an opportunity has been flagged, what is the company’s perspective on the news? What bold assertions can the executive provide on the story – what happened, why is it important, what are the implications, etc? Having a compelling perspective is important to differentiate the company from a potential spate of other organizations wanting to inject themselves into the news cycle.
  3. Ready-to-go responses. Timeliness during a breaking news situation is critical for companies, and companies have a better chance of success by providing a few sentences from an executive immediately. Media are becoming more and more time-poor, and in many cases, are looking to insert expert commentary so that they can file the article and move on to their next story. PR teams should have a repository for these responses – adapted from new commentary and existing client content - to revisit for similar future opportunities.
  4. Availability to comment. If a reporter is interested in speaking to the company’s executive for further commentary, make sure that the executive is readily available to talk as soon as possible. The standard phone interview these days is no more than 10 to 15 minutes long, and in rapid response cases, is probably even shorter. Don’t waste time with back-and-forth scheduling – you’ll only lose the opportunity entirely. 
  5. Evaluation and evolution. News hijacking is a continual initiative, and it can take time to build a well-oiled program. Make sure that rapid response commentary is shared beyond traditional media outlets (e.g. social media channels), and that the success of the initiative continues to be assessed and refined.

An effective news hijacking approach is built upon reading the news constantly and being on the front foot to provide thoughtful commentary. For the PR agency, it’s about identifying the story, reaching out to the reporter, and briefing the client on the opportunity. For the client, it’s about sourcing expert commentary, and securing executive buy-in and availability. Overall, it embodies a strong partnership between both in-house and agency teams.