The sweet rewards of newsjacking

The internet is a crazy place. You never know what’s going to go viral. Let’s be honest, nobody saw Harambe, Alex from Target or Left Shark coming. But when the entire country seems to be focused on one aspect of the news or pop culture, you’ve got to take advantage of it. The Hershey Company found an opportunity to insert themselves into a viral story and it resulted in millions-of-dollars-worth of free earned media.

This type of story insertion has been termed as “newsjacking” by PR professionals, and Hershey’s successful attempt to hijack the news can be used as an illustration and a guide in helping PR professionals find the same success. If done correctly, the entire nation could be conversing about your company’s triumph.

What happened?

 On Oct. 30, Kansas State University student Hunter Jobbins walked to his car and found a note in his cup holder. Here’s what it said:

“Saw Kit-Kat in your cup holder. I love Kit-Kats, so I checked your door and it was unlocked. Did not take anything other than the Kit-Kat. I am sorry and hungry.”

Kit Kat and the people at The Hershey Company turn one viral tweet into an entire viral story. (Kit Kat Twitter)

Kit Kat and the people at The Hershey Company turn one viral tweet into an entire viral story. (Kit Kat Twitter)

It turns out the #kitkatthief told the truth. The only thing missing from Jobbins car was indeed a Kit-Kat.

“At first I was a little upset that my Kit Kat was gone, you know, it’s a Kit Kat and I was looking forward to eating it,” said Jobbins. “Then I read it again and I thought, ‘You know this is really funny.’”

Like most millennials with a clever observation and Twitter account, Jobbins decided to share the note on social media. Pretty soon, his post was shared hundreds of thousands of times.

The Hershey Company saw an opportunity and pounced. Recognizing the increasing awareness of Jobbins and his kidnapped Kit Kat bar, Hershey came to the rescue by showing up at Kansas State University with 6,500 Kit Kats for Jobbins and his classmates. The company made sure to share their its visit on Twitter.

What was the response?

The Hershey Company is one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in North America, with over 30 chocolate brands under its name. Its public relations tactics help maintain its brands’ images. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Hershey Company is one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in North America, with over 30 chocolate brands under its name. Its public relations tactics help maintain its brands’ images. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kit Kat’s tweet gained over 23,000 likes and 6,500 retweets. Jobbin’s tweet had over 490,000 likes and 190,000 shares! The story of Kit Kat’s kindness and the picture of Jobbin’s car filled to the brim with the chocolate wafers was featured by The Huffington Post, USA Today, Buzzfeed, Time, NPR and many more outlets. Its act of kindness resulted in over 1,000 earned media placements, and over 400 million media impressions.

“In moments like these, where agility is at the heart of the issue, collaboration is key. Agile marketing requires quick-thinking, great creativity and excellent execution ­­– but it comes down to the team and the people,” said Kit Kat and Payday director Ian Norton. “At Hershey ­­­– we have the necessary ingredients: creativity, speed, and a great team, to enable a one-of-a-kind brand response.”

Responses from the public toward the event were positive and supportive. Responses from Hershey’s internal organization were even more enthusiastic.

“The results of our brand response have been tremendous, more than I would have ever imagined and the Kit Kat team couldn’t be happier,” Norton said. “But it was the excitement and support from across the Hershey organization that struck a chord with me and reminded me how much I love my job.”

Here are some of the comments Norton received from his colleagues:

“I LOVE LOVE LOVE what you guys did with the ‘Kit Kat thief.’ There was an opportunity and you pounced on it in such a fun way. It has been awesome watching all the great work your team has done. Look at all those happy faces taking a Kit Kat Break.” – Ryan Riess, Sr. Manager, Reese’s Brand

“Unbelievable! What an awesome story and so proud to be a part of it.” – Sharen Miller, Sales Logistics Fulfillment Planner

“Well done for the rapid efforts, culminating in major impact from the now famous KSU stolen Kit Kat tweet.” – Mike Wege, Chief Administrative Officer

Why did it work?

Obviously, employees at Hershey Corporate right now are beyond psyched. It’s not very often that a candy bar gains national attention. But how exactly did it happen? It all started from some basic observation of a social media post.

“First the team and I chuckled but immediately knew we had to do something to ‘replace’ Hunter’s Kit Kat,” Norton said. “Hunter needed a break and he needed another Kit Kat bar.  We sent him a box of 36 Kit Kat bars, but that was only the beginning.”

A partial reason to provide Jobbins with a box of Kit Kat bars might have been kindness, but the people at Kit Kat were well aware of the implications a larger “contribution” could have.

“Through some immediate and energy-filled conversations, we knew the Kit Kat brand could do more. We knew we could give Hunter and some of his friends a much-needed and well-deserved break,” Norton said.

Kit Kat’s decision to publicly acknowledge one student’s minor misfortune resulted in an insane amount of free advertising for The Hershey Company. This is Public Relations 101.

Forbes contributor Robert Wynne explained what sets PR apart from other industries.

 “Yes, we try to promote our clients, our products or ourselves,” Wynne said. “But unlike advertisers, we persuade our external or internal audiences via unpaid or earned methods.  Whether it’s the traditional media, social media or speaking engagements, we communicate with our audiences through trusted, not paid, sources.”

Kit Kat got their message out on Twitter, and it was spread through followers and trusted news sources.

“PR is the Persuasion Business. You are trying to convince an audience, inside your building or town, and outside your usual sphere of influence, to promote your idea, purchase your product, support your position, or recognize your accomplishments,” Wynne said.

The method Kit Kat used to reach its audience is called newsjacking.

What is newsjacking?

“Newsjacking refers to the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success,” said blogger Corey Wainwright. “Basically, news is breaking every second in this crazy world of ours, and there’s a point at which marketers have a unique opportunity to ride the popularity wave of a breaking story to benefit their business in some way.”

David Meerman Scott popularized the term newsjacking in his book “Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.” Scott’s explanation of newsjacking is to provide the “why” in breaking news.

“As journalists scramble to cover breaking news, the basic facts–who/what/when/where–are often fairly easy to find, either on a corporate website or in competitors’ copy,” Scott said. “That’s what goes in the first paragraph of any news story.”

Newsjacking focuses on the second paragraph. It’s the “why”. Journalists are always looking to provide more information about the implications of any certain event. It’s up to newsjackers to own the second paragraph. If an organization can time it correctly, it will make its move right after a story breaks, while interest is still growing and information is sparse.

In Kit Kat’s case, it didn’t have to think hard about how to insert itself into the second paragraph of the story. It kind of just landed in its lap. But, the company still had to get creative.

The use of Twitter can aid any newsjacker in discovering stories and sharing his or her message. (Pixabay)

The use of Twitter can aid any newsjacker in discovering stories and sharing his or her message. (Pixabay)

Instead of a story about a thief that left a note confessing his crimes in a cup holder, Kit Kat found the unique angle in the story. It created the implications. Because Jobbins lost his Kit Kat to a well-meaning thief, he ended up with a car full of 6,500 Kit Kat bars.

But none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Twitter. Interestingly enough, Kit Kat only signed up for a Twitter account in June 2016.

“For serious newsjackers, there is no tool more essential than Twitter. It is both a primary source of newsjacking feedstock and a powerful channel to get your message out to the media in real time,” said Scott. “When new breaks, we know that many news outlets immediately turn to Twitter in search of eyewitness reports or direct comments from protagonists. There’s always a chance to get lucky.”

What steps can you personally take to newsjack?

Unfortunately, stories may not just fall into your lap the same way Kit Kat’s did. But Scott believes that it is possible to “effectively open yourself up to serendipity.” Here are a few things he suggests to build happy accidents.

  • Scan the headlines on Google News a few times daily.
  • Read the daily newspaper and weekly news magazine with a critical eye. Doing this will help you understand what editors deem important.
  • Explore an unfamiliar city. Talk to a taxi or Uber driver about business. Investigate a store or restaurant that seems interesting from the street.
  • Sit down next to someone you do not know at the next event you attend. Ask open-ended questions about their profession.

Newsjackers are incredibly aware and have to act quickly. There is only a short period of time to inject your ideas into the media narrative. If you want to build awareness and change opinions about your brand or company without the expenses of advertising or huge time commitments, newsjacking is your best friend.

Kit Kat never planned that one student’s post on Twitter would result in its greatest PR move of the year, possibly the decade. But it did happen. And it only happened because PR professionals at Hershey were ready and recognized the opportunity when it came.

Always be on the lookout for breaking news and viral trends. Think creatively, because the next headline could be your company’s greatest PR victory.

James Collard is a public relations student from Kaysville, Utah. He recently finished an internship with the Public Affairs Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is currently working as writer on BYU’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences marketing team.  James is the type of person that enjoys travelling and exploring new places; unfortunately, time and finances don’t always allow him to do those things. In those cases, James turns to Netflix to bring him happiness.
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