News jacking is out. News Hacking is in.

November 18, 2015
pray for paris graphic

A couple of months ago, my colleague Mike Lizun announced the end of one of the most overused concepts in all of PR, news jacking. For the outsider, news jacking is nothing more than a PR person who does their job, follows the news, and then injects a client into trending stories by working their contacts and knowledge of beat reporting. Mike believes it also belittles public relations, our professionals and processes by suggesting that all you need to do is ride the coattails of a breaking news story.

Mike believes the industry has moved well beyond that to a more skilled take on the complexities of media and our work within it. He terms these advances news hacking, or the reverse engineering of news cycles to uncover optimal opportunities to position clients while simultaneously eliminating reputational risk.

We loved the concept so much that we named our newest blog after it. takes the concept of reverse engineering news cycles to a whole “nother” level. It looks behind the simple PR platitudes to apply a more scientific and granular point on PR. It also sets forth a manifesto of sorts, which identifies the key steps to news hacking…such as:

  1. Identify potential trending topics before they emerge in the media. The tools now exist to find emerging stories before they reach media. The process demands that you tap off-the-radar influencer networks (both internal and external to a client) where original thought germinates and use it to open media dialogue.
  2. Monitor for what’s not being said. The problem with news monitoring is that once it’s in the news, the story is over, locking out your client. To find what’s not in the mainstream, PR people have to monitor for what’s not being said. Say again? In other words, what’s absent from news is now news, not what’s leading the 24-hour news cycle.
  3. Advance media alignment. The fragmentation of media requires the fine alignment of micro-topics to small, finite audiences of media. Broad shot gun, Cision fueled emails no longer work when news is trending, and only opens clients to criticism that can be exposed and amplified on social networks.
  4. Rapid response blogging. This one tactic is the most powerful and effective means of transforming a PR program from crass news jacking to the elegance of news hacking. It’s hard, requiring PR firms and clients to think like publishers and align themselves seamlessly so content can be created on-the-fly and used to point media to a client as a legitimate source rather than just a carpet bagger.
  5. “Source on” communications. The media loves nothing more than to read an email that says, “I have a source on precisely what you are reporting right now.” In the world of news hacking, the actual outreach can be short, sweet, and directed to client content that impacts and enhances the media’s reporting.
  6. Enhancing, not risking, reputation. News hacking is the ultimate means of limiting the inherent reputational risk of news jacking, which is increasingly being seen as nothing more than capitalizing on someone else’s misfortune or communicating your own ignorance.

For instance, in the aftermath of the Paris shooting, we’re reminded of the real reputational risk in responding prematurely and the subsequent damage it can do in a socialized world. What began as a simple and compassionate response, #PrayforParis, was quickly rejected as a thoughtless injection of religion into a complex situation.

Even more telling is what Mike Isaac at The Times tweeted, forewarning news jackers not to try to capitalize on the Paris attack, “If your first instinct right now is to look for a tech angle you need to delete your account.”

News jacking brings with it an entire set of assumptions that lean heavily on the tactical, diminishing how far PR has evolved along with the new media landscape. We now deserve better, a way to smartly dissect the process of news, and creatively uncover those opportunities that optimize our client’s position while minimizing the risk associated with the blind hijacking of it.


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