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Why News Jacking is Like Juggling a Chainsaw

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Woman wearing a yellow construction hat operating a chainsawThere are times when hospital and health system publicity or public relations can leverage current news or events to a positive advantage. Healthcare reform and the many faces (and continuing implementation steps) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) for example, is an ever-timely springboard to being part of the news.

There can be a useful PR upside to being an authoritative resource when journalists want a new angle or local hook that plays into their daily assignment list. The reporter is going to hand-in a story today and you may—or may not—want to hop onboard.

You don’t have to look further than the national news for an obvious, and unattractive, illustration of how this is done. We’ve all witnessed an ambitious politician jumping into a hot-topic spotlight. Often it’s obvious that said-politician is mostly a media gadfly, foisting himself or herself into news coverage that mainly advances their personal agenda or ego.

It’s best that we don’t name names here. But people know the wanna-be-news sound bite of office holders/seekers, issue activists, legal representatives and others where the primary goal is a moment of fame and self-promotion.

That description is a bit severe in order to differentiate the “sameless opportunists” (above) from the far more positive and effective and public relations technique known as “newsjacking.” There’s a world of difference.

Marketing Strategist David Meerman Scott is credited with inventing the term: 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." In fact, he wrote a book (the book) on the subject, but for reference, checkout this graphic.

Newsjacking and the life of a news story infographic

Newsjacking and the life of a news story

Most medical facilities and providers do not have, or want, a daily shot at inside-the-beltway, hard-news spotlight. But even on the local or regional stage, newsjacking opportunities should be approached with caution. The downside can include being drawn into an unpopular discussion or having a tarnished reputation with the public or the press.

Newsjacking can be like juggling a chainsaw. Success is amazing, but there are risks to be considered. Here are a few cautions:

  • Legitimate vs. Contrived. Do you have a truly genuine connection with the subject matter?
  • Interesting vs. Controversial. Polarity of opinion intensifies some “news” topics, but emotion-charged topics can alienate or detract.
  • Original Thinking vs. Echo. Adding depth, dimension and/or perspective requires substance, not a “me too” idea.
  • Are you resource-ready? A key component to newsjacking is being able to run fast enough to keep up with a breaking, “right-now” news story. If your staff, budget and other PR/communications resources are not able to act/react in near real time, this may not be right for you.

Jumping onboard with timely news coverage (chainsaw juggling) requires professional skill, experience and precision timing. And newsjacking is a great tactic when exactly the right opportunity approaches. For a similar tactic with less risk, see our previous post, Publicity Hitchhiking: Offer Your Local Expert Voice for National Healthcare Headlines.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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