Taking advantage of the news of the day has been in the marketing playbook for decades, but in recent years it's been taking on a whole new level. Get up to speed on the practice of "news-jacking," whether you're a writer or a marketer.
The word “news-jack” is a term you hear every so often when it comes to content marketing, but not everyone’s clear on its true definition and purpose. It’s a strategy based on taking advantage of the current popularity of a specific news story (essentially, one that’s hot) to optimize your marketing success. The newer and more relevant the news story, the more successful your strategy will be.
The advent of the Internet and the ubiquity of breaking news at your fingertips on mobile devices has made news-jacking a viable strategy for freelancers looking to deliver their latest, successful writing pitch to their editors, as well as agency creatives who are looking to pitch successful ideas to their clients. In short, news-jacking can have impressive results when you strike just at the right time.
There’s a science to this approach, which we’ll get into right now.
News-jacking and freelance writing pitches
One of the most common challenges that freelance writers encounter is coming up with stellar pitches to deliver to their editors. Editors are constantly hungry for great content for marketing purposes, and a freelancer’s responsibility is to be able to constantly deliver solid pitches.
Unfortunately — and this happens to the best freelancers, too — the well sometimes just runs dry. Ideas are sometimes not forthcoming, especially if you write about the same topics day in and day out as part of your writing niche. In such a situation, understanding how to news-jack can be your saving grace (and your editor’s, too).
What you’re doing is writing content around a hot, breaking news story to accomplish the following objectives:
1) Never have a shortage of ideas.
2) Generate more inbound links for your editor’s site.
3) Increase organic search rankings for specific keywords.
4) Increase site visitors.
5) Improve the number of social shares.
6) Increase your editor’s site’s credibility.
7) Drive more conversions.
Writing content surrounding a hot story increases the attention you receive because people are already paying attention to it, which increases all the aforementioned metrics.
The process is as easy as keeping tabs on breaking news.
Working breaking news into your writing
The news today is omnipotent on the Internet. You have access to it 24/7. This translates to many news-jacking opportunities, yet you should differentiate between a story that’s relevant to your editor’s publication and one that’s just clickbait. Pitching stories for sensationalistic purposes is likely to lead to many rejections, so be judicious when pitching.
Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say you’re perusing your favorite news site’s home page, and you see a breaking news item come up. Let’s use last year’s fad of Pokemon Go as the example. The story talks about how Pokemon Go is, as a side effect of playing in the app, encouraging more people to actually get up, move and essentially exercise, which is a positive benefit. Pokemon Go is an augmented-reality app that places Pokemon characters in real-life locations, with which players have to interact.
If your editor is at a tech publication, he may be interested in a news-jacked piece that puts a spin on this story. For instance, with the Pokemon Go effect on players’ physical activity in mind, a story pitch could be talking to doctors to determine how many hours of playing Pokemon Go in a week actually translates to real exercise in the form of walking and being mobile — and whether this is better than being sedentary much of the week.
Content marketing and news-jacking
In the same way that understanding how to news-jack helps freelancers with their pitches, so it helps agencies with content marketing. Creatives at agencies need to pitch to their clients to keep their content-marketing ideas topped up. Taking advantage of hot news stories as they happen is a great method to keep content ideas fresh and consistently coming.
As an example, let’s look at an agency that has a company that makes baseball bats as its client. Breaking news-wise, let’s say that it’s the height of summer as the All-Star Break takes place in July. A huge part of this yearly event is the home-run derby — this year, the Yankees’ Aaron Judge made headlines by winning the derby in grand fashion by smashing four homers past the 500-foot mark.
In this case, an agency could creatively news-jack this hot story by writing content for its client that explains what type of food is best for smashing home runs an incredibly long distance. Such content could then be rapidly shared on social media and blasted out to email subscribers to prolong the effects of this news story.
For extra oomph, such content could also be tied in to a contest the company would run at the same time as the Judge story: The company would take a lucky winner behind the scenes of its operation to explain step-by-step how a high-performance baseball bat is made.
What news-jacking should never be
Now that you know the basics of how to news-jack a current event, we also need to cover what things are off-limits for this strategy. Not everything makes for a good opportunity, especially if that opportunity is a bad fit for your situation.
Avoid news-jacking in the following instances:
- If the news story or the goal of the reference is sensationalistic
- If the new story is developing too quickly and facts are uncertain
- If the news story is based on speculation and not vetted facts
- If the brand for which you’re writing has a sensitivity to a particular topic (that’s why you should never assume a brand’s position on any story; make sure your client agrees that the topic is consistent with their brand before you news-jack)
- If the story you’re using is a stretch for the brand with which you’re working (in other words, ensure that you know the brand or client well enough that you won’t use a story that’s not a natural fit)
Overall, be sincere in your use of news stories and stick to topics that are consistent with what your brand or client are all about.
Using Good Judgment
When you news-jack, be sure that you’re doing it with respect to your brand’s or client’s integrity. Otherwise, it’ll feel contrived and out of place; readers can sense this immediately, and the results won’t be as successful as they should and could be.
While it is tempting to use news stories for clickbait, it should be avoided so that the content you’re marketing retains sincerity and legitimacy, both key in the eyes of your readers, prospects and buyers.