In full candor, when a well-known or hot company has big news to announce, tech PR can be relatively straightforward. Sizable funding rounds, meaningful product launches, quarterly earnings, and big name partnerships are good bets to generate news – especially here in the US, where we feed a robust ecosystem of tech, VC, and finance media. But only a few companies have more than a handful of these newsworthy events throughout the year.
In between tentpole announcements, a responsible marketing partner is always looking for opportunities to build client brands, with thoughtful coverage that contributes to their narrative momentum. Often, we can insert clients’ commentary into the news of the day. This process is commonly called “newsjacking,” or sometimes “trendjacking,” but we prefer “trendsurfing.” Here’s why:
First of all, let’s talk about what a lazy action “newsjacking” can be, when companies jump upon any news with a vague connection to their offering in order to get a brand mention. The turn of phrase itself follows a trite, morning drive radio host pattern of reducing a perfectly good article of conversation to a quippy buzzword. All the better to drop during moments of patter in between prank calls and traffic reports. “Hijacking” first entered the lexicon to describe masked robbers that boarded trains, held up the conductor, and stole their payload. Hijackers later took their act to commercial airlines, leading to the grimmest headlines imaginable. Why would a responsible marketer want a slide in their capabilities deck touting how great their team is at newsjacking?
Beyond the semantics, simple newsjacking done with little thought can result in coverage that feels thoughtless and inconsequential to the larger brand strategy. Sure, an executive at a self-driving automotive AI company can offer educated conjecture on why an autonomous vehicle, operating on rival software, crashed. But seizing bad news as an opportunity to shame the competition could be reputationally damaging. Ethical marketers must first consider what value their client would add to the discussion.
“Newsjacking” betrays the mutually beneficial nature of very closely following the news, down to the outlets, reporters, beats and trends, and seeing opportunities where our clients’ expertise can contribute to informing the public. And if you think I’ve just described the fundamentals of good, attentive media relations, you’re right.
The relationship between responsible PR practitioners and the press must be collaborative for it to be sustainable. We are not here to hold reporters up at gunpoint and run off with their story. Our job is not to use the reporter for their column inches, and just get our client’s name out there by any means necessary. The ethical media pitch adds value for the journalist, the client, and most importantly, the readership.
Perhaps we can get insightful, proprietary data from our client that can help a journalist visually prove the point they’ve spent all day trying to articulate, in 900 words or less (which their editor is now insisting must lose 200 words). Often, we will offer an executive whose perspective on a dense, highly technical area can very quickly bring a journalist up to speed on a topic of great importance, or help them see the needs of an underrepresented constituency in a wider corporate story. For instance, our client with 40 years’ experience in cybersecurity negotiation could be a tremendous asset for the finance beat reporter who just got assigned a story about a major bank being hacked for ransom.
Our collaborative, give-and-take philosophy to reactive news is not built around a high volume of generic pitches. Instead, our team closely follows the news and reads weeks or even months of a reporter’s work before reaching out. It keeps us attuned to new trends, so we can best position our clients in the middle of them. We speak to members of the press all the time, especially when we don’t have something to pitch, listening to what rising trends are piquing their interest. This discipline of patience, focus, and nimble reaction to changing market conditions has a lot in common with surfing:
We watch the horizon for waves coming in – maybe a cluster of stories around supply chain woes for microchips signaling a future delay for automakers, or we see a week on the earnings calendar where three publicly traded, large cap retailers will all have their quarterly calls. We paddle out — preparing executive quotes, commentary offers, or data sets. And then we catch the right waves, getting in touch with reporters as they’re pulling together sources, finding those stories in development that will contribute positively to our client’s brand. It all comes together in a process we call “trendsurfing.”