Newsjacking 101: A beginner’s guide to reactive PR

In the fast-paced world of PR and comms, building your brand, staying relevant and engaging with your audience requires getting your messaging out there consistently and prominently.

There are tons of great tactics to get your brand in the media like commissioning your own research, submitting thought leadership articles, and sharing your own company announcements (when it is genuinely newsworthy!). But these activities all take time to execute and see the rewards.

For quick, high-profile, and impactful coverage, one tactic reigns supreme. Enter reactive PR, often referred to as ‘newsjacking’, a strategic approach to media relations that leverages current affairs and breaking news to amplify your brand’s messaging.

What is newsjacking?

Newsjacking in PR is the practice of issuing comments on breaking news stories.

It can be a great way to secure coverage for your business. For one, journalists are already writing about these events, and often looking for experts to offer their insights into what their stories mean for a particular audience. It is also an ideal way of aligning your brand with particular issues, whether that is the state of the economy, government policy or environmental crises.

However, while it’s undoubtedly effective, getting strong results with reactive PR is no cakewalk. Competition is tough, and only the most insightful, timely comments make the cut when journalists write up their articles.

For beginners just dipping their toes into the waters of reactive commentary, here are a few tips to improve your chances of success…

  1. Select the right opportunities

Firstly, not every news story will be the right fit for newsjacking. Forcing connections between your brand and major news stories can feel disingenuous, and hammering a square peg into a round hole is something both journalists and your audience will see right through.

So, it’s important to choose events that are relevant and authentic to your brand or message and where your commentary can genuinely add value. Looking for stories that are well aligned with your brand’s values and expertise, therefore, is a must.

With that in mind, be aware of the sensitivity of certain topics when considering whether to weigh into the conversation. After all, showing integrity is as important to brand reputation as it is to our personal values, and that means respecting the gravity of sensitive events and avoiding exploiting them for promotional purposes.

  • Language is power

Giving a creative flair to your comments is key, as your brand’s voice and tone will need to be distinct and powerful to get a journalist’s attention. As noted, journalists will receive dozens – hundreds, perhaps – of comments from brands offering their two pence when a major story breaks; a bland quote from your CEO will quickly be discarded in favour of a competitor who has a clear point to make and makes it well.

Punchy, impactful language goes a long way in crafting a memorable comment that drives home your brand’s message – so long as the overall tone remains consistent with the position of your brand. As an example, when data comes out showing that food prices are still rising, rather than saying “this is bad news for consumers”, consider something like “this is yet another gut punch for shoppers everywhere”.

  • Say something important

If you say what everyone else is saying – or worse, speak for the sake of speaking – few will listen.

Think about what you have to say that offers a unique perspective or insight into the situation and strive to add real value to your audience through your commentary. This can mean offering expert analysis into the issue, practical advice, or innovative solutions related to the news event.

To ensure a brand has a clear angle to approach a news story from, it’s important that a comms team (or agency) has a strategy in place. You must know ahead of time where you – as an organisation and the people within it – stand on important issues. That way, when a major story breaks, you already know what message you want to push out; you just need to craft it to the specifics of that particular event.

  • Timing is key

The best-crafted, most insightful comment ever written will still fail to produce results if the timing isn’t right.

Following a major news event, journalists will scramble to cover the story, and your commentary needs to be on hand to make the cut.

So, while you want to ensure you’ve got all the facts straight before weighing in ensure your brand’s insight is thoughtful and well-supported, being quick off the mark is crucial.

At CRC, we will often write reactive PR comments ahead of time – for instance, when we know the Bank of England is meeting to vote on interest rates but it is unclear what the outcome will be, we will create one comment for each outcome (rise, fall, hold), ensuring we can distribute our clients’ comments the minute the Bank announces its decision.

It might be called reactive PR, but proactivity and timing is everything.

  • Monitor and adapt

With that, keeping your finger on the pulse at all times is a must if you want to seize the best reactive opportunities.

Continuously monitoring news trends in your industry and keeping an eye on important upcoming events will help you build a strong long-term newsjacking strategy and establish your brand as a go-to authority in your sector. Top tip: create a calendar of upcoming events (government announcements, awareness days, data and report publications) so you are ready to jump on the stories that are likely to dominate any given day or week.

It’s time to get started

Ultimately, great newsjacking and reactive commentary comes down to this: say something punchy, insightful, and valuable, and say it quick – so, keep your eyes peeled for that next big opportunity.

Happy newsjacking!

Georgina McBride

Communications Executive

About the author

Georgina joined the agency as a Communications Executive in September 2022, with clients spanning property, fintech and technology. Prior to this, she graduated with a degree in French at the University of Edinburgh, where she developed an interest in technology and communications while interning at a Parisian startup during her year abroad.


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The value of reactive, responsive PR… and how to do it

There are many ways to get your business in the press, some more effective than others.

Yes, I know, that’s some razor-sharp insight, honed by many years working in PR. But keep reading — there are lessons here for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

At one end of the spectrum sits the mass distribution of an adjective-laden press release shouting about how great your business is. This is the bad end of the spectrum — it’s an approach that will, in my experience, be met with silence, indifference or a polite response of “piss off”.

At the other end sits the more effective PR: a business offering genuine opinion, advice or insight regarding pertinent topics or breaking news stories.

Why is it effective?

For two main reasons.

Firstly, those topics or events are already going to be written about by journalists, so you have the opportunity to align your business with the existing news agenda.

Put another way, it makes ‘the pitch’ a lot easier. You do not have to convince a journalist that you have a newsworthy story — the story is already there, you are just reacting to it.

Secondly, those topics or stories are actually of interest to the readers, hence journalists are writing about them. So, as a business you are discussing subjects that will resonate with a particular audience, be it consumers or businesspeople, rather than simply talking about yourself.

How to plan reactive PR

The easiest way to be successful through a reactive, responsive PR strategy is to plan as much as you can in advance, even if that sounds contradictory. Some may say “PR must be proactive, not reactive”… nonsense, it has to be both.

There is a huge number of events, announcements, anniversaries and awareness days that we know are going to dominate the news agenda well before they actually take place. Take some obvious examples in March:

  • 3 March, the Chancellor’s Spring Budget
  • 8 March, International Women’s Day
  • 23 March, one-year anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown

There are more niche ones, too. Did you know, the 15 to 22 March is Compost Week UK? Slap bang in the middle of it, today in fact (19 March), is National Poultry Day. Two big hitters competing for column inches.

The point being that with a little research, using free online calendars or more sophisticated media planning tools, businesses can create a week-by-week diary of key events that will be of relevance to their customers. That’s step one; then comes the harder part.

Getting in the media

So, you know a major event is around the corner and that it is something your customers will be thinking about, talking about, reading about. But what can you do as a business to use that as a platform to get your name — or that of your CEO, for instance — in the media?

There are several options. You could conduct research into a specific topic relating to the event, using an anniversary or announcement as a news hook so journalists are more likely to write about your research. Could you, perhaps, conduct a survey delving into major issues brought about by the pandemic, using the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown as a timely moment to share the findings with the media?

Alternatively, in the build-up to or aftermath of the event, you could pitch to relevant publications — national newspapers, trade magazines and websites, local press — offering a guest article (op-ed) delving further into its importance or consequences.

For example, following the Spring Budget at the start of March, we had a client (a mortgage lender) featured in Bloomberg discussing the implications of the Chancellor’s decision to extend the stamp duty holiday and freeze various tax rates.

Another option: on the specific day of an event or announcement, or if there is a breaking news story, your business could share a quote reacting to the latest developments. This need only be a few sentences long — journalists are often hungry for business leaders’ reactions, particularly if they offer a clear-cut opinion on whether it is good or bad news.

Again, take the Spring Budget: on the day of the Chancellor’s announcement, we had three clients featured in the Daily Mail (along with many industry trade publications), while another had quotes included in articles from The TimesDaily Express and The Sun.

The trick was for us to work with the clients to create quotes the day before, given much of Rishi Sunak’s speech was known in advance, and then get those quotes to journalists likely to be covering the Budget as the announcement began. The speed and punchiness of the comments were the critical factors.

Build your brand and your journalist relationships

There are many ways to use the existing media agenda — and specific events you can plan around — to get your business in the press. The important thing is to engage with what journalists are actually writing about (or going to be writing about); offering useful opinion and insight around those topics is more likely to be of value than a generic press release about yourself.

Getting your brand in the media commenting on the day’s news might not be an overt promotion of your business — it will not be a direct sales pitch for your product or service. But it’s a great strategy for getting your name seen, developing a reputation as a respected voice within a particular market, and building strong relationships with journalists who will be responsive to your emails in the future.

Dominic Pollard

Communications Director

About the author

With a history degree, journalism Master’s, and several years’ experience writing about business and technology for both the national and trade press, Dominic moved into the world of content marketing and comms in 2014. He joined City Road Comms in 2016, becoming the agency’s director of comms two years later. Dominic now oversees clients’ strategies and the overall operations of the agency.


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