Why COVID-19 news jacking isn’t as bad as you think

News jacking, when done tastefully, can serve the public in times of crisis.

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Getty Images

Many PR pros use a strategy called "news jacking," which ties their clients' stories to the news of the day, whether that news is good or bad.

Some might see this as a microcosm of a broader critique of our industry, namely that PR people take advantage of adverse situations. But that perception couldn't be further from the truth.

A successful PR firm will do what it takes to secure coverage for its clients, but not at the expense of others. News jacking can play an important role in catching the attention of journalists and when done tastefully, can also serve the broader public, especially in times of crisis.

News jacking isn't tasteless, it's our responsibility

Often, pitches about crucial technologies are lumped together with other pitches that merely pretend to be pandemic-related to catch the media's attention. Journalists don't like this very much, as evidenced by a recent Muck Rack piece documenting complaint tweets from reporters who have been flooded with COVID-19 pitches.

No one can blame a reporter for furrowing their brow at a distasteful news jack. And yes, there is no shortage of amateurs and heartless professionals using the tactic. But those people exist in many industries; they aren't exclusive to PR.

Beyond that, a closer look at these pitches often reveals that the news jack was perhaps more tasteful than the reporter first thought.

Some journalists might struggle to understand how an AI technology that helps detect non-coronavirus sicknesses is relevant. But while hospitals dealt with COVID-19, a backlog of other cases developed that threatened to overload health systems when the pandemic ends. These technologies could help with that problem.

We may be numb to statistics about overcrowded hospitals at this point. But it's important to remember these aren't just numbers. Lives are on the line.

Controversial news jacks are effective

News jack pitches indirectly related to COVID-19 are relevant because the pandemic isn't just about the virus. Restrictions on day-to-day interactions have worsened other problems, such as unemployment, food shortages, mental health issues, and domestic violence.

Last year, a woman named Michal Sela was stabbed to death by her husband in their Jerusalem apartment. Months later, as domestic violence cases in Israel and around the world soared amid mandated national lockdowns, Sela's sister pushed a creative way for women who escaped abusive relationships to defend themselves.

Lily Ben-Ami's idea of providing these women with Belgian Shepherd guard dogs caused a PR storm throughout Israel and some accused her of using her sister's death to promote a half-baked idea.

It's fair to discuss whether providing potentially dangerous canines to abused women is the right approach. But it was not right to question Ben-Ami's motives.

There is no reason why people shouldn't connect their initiatives with the news of the day, especially when those initiatives are more relevant than ever. The story was widely covered by Israeli media and brought the issue of domestic violence to the forefront. Whether Ben-Ami's solution is perfect was beside the point.

New jacking helps people get comfortable with the new normal

During the pandemic, businesses and governments have rolled out numerous initiatives. These organizations were able to reach their target audiences in unprecedented ways largely thanks to agile PR. Effective news jacking plays a role in that agility, when journalists respond to timely pitches related to the news of the day.

PR has an immense power to promote the free flow of information for purposes beyond just promotion. And in times of change, we have a responsibility to use this power.

This crisis has demonstrated the importance of many different professions. I wouldn't compare PR to health care workers or people fighting the virus on the front lines. But PR pros have shown clients, employees, and the general public their true colors, and they are often more attractive than many people previously thought.

Motti Peer is the CEO of ReBlonde, the Tel Aviv-based global PR firm.

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