September 10, 2013
Newsjacking can be a great tactic for PR pros and journalists. It’s a smart and effective way to generate coverage, by quickly responding to a breaking news story. The expert provides an opinion that sheds a new or different light on the subject and – hopefully – gets quoted. Journalists are more likely to listen to your side of the story if they are already covering that story.
However, when it becomes an addiction, or if you do it purely for the sake of getting your name in the paper, newsjacking goes bad.
Greg Packer (he even has his own Wikipedia entry) recently generated his 1001st piece of media coverage in the New Yorker. In a video interview, he explained how he managed to get quoted almost a thousand times over 18 years.
After he retired as a highway maintenance worker, he specialized in becoming the Forrest Gump of the 21st century. “It’s always been a case of the right place, at the right time, knowing where reporters are going to do their jobs. My strategy would be to be in the front row, show how happy I am to be in the front row, that usually attracts the attention of not only the crowd around me, but especially reporters themselves.”
One of the events that he is best known for was camping outside the Apple store on 59th street for a week, just to be the first one to get a new iPhone. “I wanted to see what the phone was like, because it was a new product at the time. And I was attracted to the media attention that went with it as well.” Three years later, it even got him quoted in Business Insider as ‘The Same Stupid Guy Who’s First In Line For Everything Is The First Guy In Line For The iPad‘. Packer got away with his hobby for many years, until the Associated Press sent a memo to all their reporters, telling them not to quote him in any of their publications:
‘Mr. Packer is clearly eager to be quoted. Let’s be eager, too – to find other people to quote.’
Although Packer does consider the memo to be ‘an accomplishment in my career’, it’s quite staggering that he wasn’t busted before. The same memo also says: ‘A Nexis search turned up 100 mentions in various publications.’ Apparently, reporters didn’t perform a search on his name before quoting him.
Personally, Packer doesn’t think he has done anything wrong: “I think it’s terrible that reporters are getting in trouble because they’re quoting me. But if I’m their source for an interview, I don’t see where the problem is at all. I’m not only helping reporters to get an interview, but it’s also helping me to tell my family and friends where I’ve been. I don’t think that what I do is odd, but I find it hard to believe that some people do.” Greg Packer is always first in line and that’s his secret. He may have been quoted a few times about topics that he doesn’t really know anything about, but overall it’s safe to say that his intentions were good.
You can’t say the same thing about Ryan Holiday, who calls himself ‘media manipulator’. He managed to get quoted in media articles about barefoot running, investing, vinyl records and insomnia.
Why? Just to see if he could pull it off. Having been involved in media relations for some years, he was curious to find out how far he could push his luck.
The tool that he (ab)used the most, is Help A Reporter Out (HARO), responding to every query that he saw. He even hired an assistant to do his dirty work.
The question raised by Forbes contributor Dave Thier is a very valid one: how on earth could he pull this off? Why didn’t the journalists that quoted him perform a search on his name? A quick Google search would have raised red flags for anyone using him as a source. For one thing, he wrote a book called Trust Me, I’m Lying. His Huffington Post profile has the word ‘notorious’ in the first line. He’s repeatedly described himself as a ‘media manipulator.’
The phrase ‘newsjacking’ is not without debate. Some people believe that it is too negative – as if responding to news is the same as hijacking an article altogether and not leaving a reporter any freedom in what he or she wants to write.
Personally, I think so-called experts that abuse the phenomenon give newsjacking a bad name. And journalists that are so eager to quote an expert and therefore forget to check their credentials are not without any blame either.
Newsjacking is like baking a cake; you have to include the right ingredients, like knowing who is going to write what and when, and getting to the right reporters first.
But without the most important ingredient – actually having the expertise to be quoted on a certain topic – the cake will taste very, very bad.