News hijacking – it’s a terminology that usually raises a few eyebrows and prompts the odd side eye during a pitch, ‘what is she suggesting we do?!’ It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds, what I’m referring to is possibly the most satisfying and usually, a pretty easy PR tactic to implement for any client – in a nutshell, it’s how to get media coverage without a story.
Earlier this month we saw PR gold as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex celebrated the birth of their first child. Nothing quite brings people together like a gorgeous new baby, sprinkle a bit of royalty on top and you’re onto a winner. Ending weeks of media speculation, where will Meghan give birth, when will they announce the birth, what will they call the seventh in line to the throne? The birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was celebrated with further reams of coverage.
Without a definite due date for the newest royal, journalists, PRs and news commentators were left on ‘baby watch’ throughout April, poised and ready to pounce on the story. Just a few of my favourite examples of brands jumping on the baby train this time around (move over, Prince George) was Madame Tussauds’ waxwork Queen turning up to St Mary’s Hospital in a taxi and Yeovil Town confirming the signing of Swansea City defender Alan Tate by posting a message on an easel outside Huish Park in their own version of the royal baby announcement.
In 2015, Pizza Hut celebrated Princess Charlotte’s arrival by offering free meals to women with the same name. The timely stunt generated multiple pieces of national coverage and the pizza chain reported that thousands of hungry Charlottes were dining on pizza across the country. Stunts such as Oreo’s ‘you can still dunk in the dark’ tweet in response to the Superbowl blackout highlights how effective a timely and innovative response on social media can prove to be extremely effective.
These types of ‘date pegs’, as we lovingly refer to them in the PR world, or similarly anniversaries or national awareness days are priceless for editorial opportunities in press, and where possible I would urge all my clients to join in the conversation and take advantage of the perfect news hijack opportunity.
So, let’s talk ‘unhappy meals’…
Taking a more serious approach, in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month during May in the USA, Burger King announced the launch of limited edition ‘unhappy meals’ or Real Meals, because ‘no one is happy all the time’.
It’s worth noting this was a huge dig at their biggest competitor McDonalds and engages the brand in the friendly banter they’ve been swapping for some years, but it also showcases Burger King leveraging a very important subject matter which commands its own awareness month and has the capability to produce masses of positive publicity.
By matching press outreach with prominent date pegs, tapping into social media hypes and actively engaging with the online world, coverage of products or brands can be greatly amplified through PR. When executed correctly, at the perfect time and with the expected level of wit where required, it provides a unique platform which doesn’t present itself every day. It’s an opportunity small brands in particular can participate in, if you’re getting involved with the celebrating a day through your marketing, you’re likely to be picked up by national media and featured.
My top tips to news hijacking?
Don’t comment on topics you don’t know enough about and keep the story brief, there isn’t the space to publish masses on brands being a bit cheeky but there is definitely some room. Go too far and you might get your fingers burnt…
Burger King was initially applauded for shining a light on wellbeing, however the tables did turn ever so slightly when morality was questioned about using depression as a marketing tool. There’s a very fine line when it comes to this type of PR activity, particularly with this example.
On the face of it, this was a digital campaign that ticked multiple CSR boxes, it hinged on an awareness month, however BK did play on the McDonald’s ‘Happy Meals’ and ultimately, the stunt was called out for a tool to drive sales of a limited edition meal deal. And boy, did the keyboard warriors go for it, resulting in the story quietly disappearing after a few days of promotion.
In short, the stunt was concluded as a dark day for society and capitalism; the USA’s most well-known anti-depression charity teams up with one the world’s largest fast food chains to market depression-themed hamburger meals that contribute to depression in order to raise awareness about depression.
Timing is key – have that story ready and monitor the press. As soon as it’s time – get on the phone and get your story out there. A minute too late and your non-story is going nowhere.
And finally, it sounds simple but don’t comment on matters outside your comfort zone, take guidance from a PR professional, don’t be unduly inappropriate and use the correct tone. If not, this beautiful opportunity could just bite you on the bum.