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Story hijacking: valuable PR tool or media nuisance?

Story hijacking has been part of the PR arsenal for awhile, but brands need to provide relevant, valuable and interesting commentary to make it newsworthy

Story hijacking has been part of the PR arsenal for awhile, but brands need to provide relevant, valuable and interesting commentary to make it newsworthy

Story hijacking has been part of the PR arsenal for many years.

Hijacking breaking news such as product launches, high profile anniversaries or new legislation, for example, with comments from credible industry experts has become a valuable tool to drive media coverage.

But companies need to have something relevant, valuable and interesting to say to make highjacking the news worthwhile.

This was highlighted in a recent heated debate about story hijacking on Facebook when a writer from The Register commented in group for U.K. technology journalists and communications experts.

“Why do irrelevant people think I have an interest in what they think about what a company has announced?” he wrote on UK TJPR Facebook page. “When there is a big announcement — usually an Apple one — there is a rash of people who have products in an adjacent market who mail me their opinions, saying how it’s good for them. Sorry, no one cares.”

The post ignited a 51-comment debate among group members about the value of story hijacking, with varying views being presented.


Is hijacking the news worthwhile for all involved?


Some journalists defended story hijacking, arguing that industry commentary is essential to a good story.

Surprisingly, one PR consultant even blamed certain agencies for using story hijacking as a way of padding activity reports with no value to clients.

The prevailing point, however, was that spokespeople should have something “valuable” to say to make hijacking the news worthwhile for all involved, be it journalists, agencies or clients.

Valuable is a somewhat ambiguous term, so how do you define it? As with all good storytelling, whether it’s for marketing, social or hijacking the news, it’s all about connecting with the target audience to make them care.

That means picking the right stories, for the right media titles, and mapping what you’re saying to their specific audience.

“We assess every article and target the points our readers want to know,” said John McCann, Phones and Tablets Deputy Editor at Future Tech. “If our knowledge can’t provide all the details we feel are relevant for an article, we will speak to specialists in the particular areas so our readers get the full story. For us, comments on hardware itself are less useful as we are experts in our fields, but deeper explanations surrounding issues such as security can add a lot of value to our coverage.”


Use caution when hijacking breaking news


A perfect example of this came in June, when security software firm Sophos appeared in a story on The Guardian about the Samsung keyboard bug.

The comment explained to Android users precisely when and where they would be vulnerable to hacks, which was exactly what readers needed to know.

Security software firm Darktrace provided another great example when they commented on the hack of extramarital site Ashley Madison.

The comment focused on the harsh reality of the situation, telling companies it was time to “get real” about insider threats and do more to prevent them.

The comment was included in stories across a number of sites read by IT professionals, including TechWeekEurope.

Even though these examples show that hijacking breaking news can drive coverage and put brands at the center of important debates, it needs to be done right to create value and ROI.

Key to this is having the credibility to talk about stories you want to highlight and can provide insights that journalist can’t.

Simply championing new products or saying new legislation is great for your product portfolio won’t tap into what audiences care about and could ultimately backfire if it angers journalists.


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