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5 Tips for Pulling Off a Newsjack with Everyday PR Tools

Orchestrating a successful newsjack (a term coined by David Meerman Scott to describe the practice of responding quickly to a developing situation and inserting your brand’s voice into the ensuing media coverage) can seem daunting, but in reality, all it takes is one person who is paying attention and is willing to get creative with the PR tools they have at hand. lil tweet bird

Anthony Hardman (@ahardman) is a PR specialist with SecureState, a global management consulting firm focused on information security.  Using common PR tools, he orchestrated a spectacular newsjack around the recent security breach at Target. Leveraging the media data base within the Agility platform, along with a raft of finely tuned pitches, creative press releases, his brand’s owned media channels and his telephone, Hardman was able to earn fantastic news coverage through his efforts.

Standing Out

“The first key to earning media attention is determining what you can add to the

SecureState’s Anthony Hardman. The sole PR practitioner at his company, Hardman pulled off an enviable newsjack using common PR tools.

story that no one else is talking about,” noted Hardman, a former television producer who pays particular attention to news value.  “In this case, it was the fact that SecureState could comment on what takes place during a data breach investigation. For other retailers, for example, it could be an example of how they’ve gone above and beyond to ensure their customers’ security.”

Start With Existing Relationships

Newsjacking requires one to work fast, so Hardman started with the journalists he already knew.

“Once I found the news peg and crafted my pitch, I quickly pulled up all my media contacts who I thought would be interested in the story, and started making phone calls,” he told us. “Email is the best way to establish contact initially, but when you have an existing relationship with a reporter, it’s okay to call.”

He called all the producers and reporters he knew, locally and nationally, and within 30 minutes had scheduled two on-site interviews and live in-studio time for a 7 p.m. broadcast that night.

Mine Your Media Database

Things were off to a great start. However, Hardman believed the story would appeal to a broader media audience beyond the core journalists he had already contacted. To develop a broader contact list, he turned to his Agility media database to identify relevant security-industry and national news contacts to whom he could send the pitch.

An email pitch Hardman sent via Agility lead to this interview on PBS NewsHour featuring SecureState's CEO.

An email pitch Hardman sent via Agility lead to this interview on PBS NewsHour featuring SecureState’s CEO.

To save time, Hardman first exported relevant journalist contacts from lists he had created for previous media campaigns.  Then, he decided to cast his net wider, and performed a targeted search for consumer advocate reporters, and added selected contacts from that search to his growing media list. 

“Generally speaking, I prefer to avoid sending out a mass email, in favor of more targeted and personal messages,” Hardman noted. “However, in cases where time is limited, such as a newsjack or when you need to communicate broadly in the event of a crisis, a mass email is appropriate – as long as you are selective about the recipients.”  

To hone in on the right people, Hardman used the Google News search function embedded in Agility. 

“I love the Agility Google search function,” he told us.  “I start by targeting topics within the database, and then whittle the contacts down.  Then I do a quick Google search and look at their latest stories to help decide whether or not they’re a good fit for my pitch.”

“The Google search function is a great way to expand your media research beyond what we provide in the Agility profiles,” explained Torrey Mirabito, PR Newswire’s director of customer engagement, and one of our Agility experts. “If you want to get a real sense for how the journalist is writing and what they’re covering, you have the option to hit the “Search Google” button in Agility, which will pull up the Google News file for that person, enabling you to see their recent work at a glance. “

Hardman's secret weapon - the Agility platform.

Hardman’s secret weapon – the Agility platform.  He used Agility to build targeted media lists, research journalists’ recent writing and distribute his email pitches.

Once he had refined his media lists, Hardman turned his attention to the messages, creating different emails for each outlet type.  For broadcast outlets, Hardman offered experts for on-camera interviews, and included a recent blog post so news producers could get a feel for the point of view the company was offering.  Print outlets received a pitch with a different news peg which highlighted the fact that SecureState is one of 11 companies authorized to investigate card holder data breaches.

Hardman sent out his pitches and kept an eye on the analytics.  Over the course of the following two hours, he secured multiple interviews with a variety of media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and numerous trade publications.  A follow up email distribution garnered more coverage, including an appearance two days ago on PBS NewsHour for SecureState’s CEO.

Respond to Journalist Queries

There are a variety of services journalists use to post queries and find experts, and Hardman didn’t rest on his laurels. He scanned PR Newswire’s ProfNet and Help a Reporter Out (HARO) during the news cycle around the data breach, and responded to several requests for experts with his unique pitch. 

This ProfNet query from an AP reporter lead to coverage in the Boston Globe, Yahoo! Finance and NPR (and dozens of other outlets across the US.)

This ProfNet query from an AP reporter lead to coverage in the Boston Globe, Yahoo! Finance and NPR (and dozens of other outlets across the US.)

Hardman says he knew he struck gold when Associated Press reporter Bree Fowler – who had issued a query on ProfNet  and was on a tight deadline – instantly responded to his pitch with an interview request.   The resulting story (Tips for Consumers Worried about the Target Breach) hit the AP national wire, and was picked up in media outlets from coast to coast.

Leverage Branded Media

Despite the fact that he was generating extraordinary media coverage, Hardman also capitalized on the opportunity to develop traction for SecureState’s owned media channels. Two internal experts were assigned blog posts to provide additional insight and perspective into the data breach.

“I edited and published the posts, and promoted them through every channel I could, which included social media and a news release promoting the articles,” Hardman told us.

The press releases SecureState has issued to  promote company content are now the second-largest source of web site traffic for the company, behind search engines.

The press releases SecureState has issued to promote company content are now the second-largest source of web site traffic for the company, behind search engines.

“People are reading news releases, and Google is indexing them. Our second leading source of referral traffic for our web site is from PR Newswire press releases,” Hardman noted. “We’re using them to promote our content. We’re targeting readers.”

Press releases, blog posts and media databases are PR industry tools that can deliver spectacular results when wielded with creativity, timeliness and precision, as the results of Hardman’s efforts prove.

“When you’re one person, you have to be agile and you have to use what you have,” Hardman concluded.

Want more inspiration?  Join us for a free webinar titled “Newsworthiness: New Context & Opportunities for PR,” on January 23.  The very definition of “news” is changing, and this evolution creates the opportunity for PR pros to create timely content that earns credibility, earns media and generates ongoing (and relevant) visibility for the brand. Taking pages from the journalistic and content marketing playbooks, this webinar will include a discussion on the evolution of news, how to map the resources within your own organization and ways to identify different opportunities a responsive PR department can capitalize upon.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the recently-published ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.