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Why Policy Newsjacking Doesn’t Have to be Scary

Posted by Matt Donovan on Jul 17, 2020 9:00:00 AM

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David Meerman Scott coined the PR phrase “newsjacking” back in 2011, and while the term has always seemed a bit aggressive to me, the concept has strategic value. Scott defines newsjacking as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” Reporters are always looking for subject matter experts to help them contextualize emerging stories, and newsjacking or “rapid response” can be a cheat code for driving significant thought leadership and visibility if organizations are agile enough to pull it off. 

In the cyber world, a high-profile attack can present an opportunity for security experts to weigh in on why it happened, how and any lasting implications. In government, new policy presents a similar opportunity. You may be thinking, that’s insane, the last thing I want to do is wade into policy waters, say something polarizing and alienate half of Washington, D.C. But there are avenues—especially in the technology market— to enter public policy discussions in a way that offers little risk and plenty of rewards.

Educate As Policy Takes Shape  

Whether it’s the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT Act), the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF), or even the creation of a new agency leadership position like the Chief Data Officer, policymakers want industry feedback and perspective as they build technology policy. This comes directly in the form of calls for industry comments around standards - for example NIST’s upcoming digital identity guidelines - but also applies to broader discussions around policy that is in development. 

Once the intention to create a new policy is announced, media outlets have a vested interest in covering its development and implications. This is an opportunity for you to quickly develop a point of view on the risks, challenges and benefits that policymakers should consider, and land those messages across influential media channels in the form of article quotes, videos, podcasts or contributed bylines. 

The goal is to provide useful and accessible information for lawmakers to consider. The stakes are too high to push self-serving narratives around a specific product or solution. Technology legislation impacts enormous societal challenges from national security to public health. External messaging has to respect these stakes to avoid appearing tone deaf, which requires connecting technology insight to the big picture, human outcomes that the legislation is designed to address. If brands can present a vision that connects these dots, not only does policy newsjacking drive thought leadership and brand awareness, it helps to shape better legislation.  

Use New Policy as a Launch Pad for Thought Leadership 

When finalized policy is unveiled, the media needs industry experts for reaction stories, or what you may think of as a more traditional rapid response press outreach. The administration’s Cyber Executive Order is a perfect example. On the day it was released, outlets across the cybersecurity, technology and government trades were looking for industry commentary. 

To maximize agility and stand out from the pack when policy news breaks, you should consider:

  • Prior to the announcement, highlight the credentials of your experts with reporters by detailing the breadth and depth of what they can lend perspective on.
  • Newsjacking is as much about being fast as it is having the most quote-worthy insight. Draft sample commentary ahead of the policy release and quickly revise based on final language so you can be first in reporter inboxes when speed is of the essence.
  • Proactively send commentary via email to relevant reporters writing day-of stories. Don’t forget to also package up your thoughts in blog posts that reporters  can link back to, or engage in discussions on social media where reporters may also be watching for poignant commentary.

But again, shaping the right message is critical. Once policy is baked it’s less about weighing in on what’s good or bad about the law or standard - it’s more about helping organizations comply and execute. What are the steps in the process of aligning to the vision? How can agencies and/or businesses get started? What are the KPIs? What are the barriers and keys to success? 

Engaging in policy rapid response also positions your experts as ongoing resources for reporters as they cover milestones, checkpoints, scorecards and updates over time. As long as the message respects how high the stakes are and stays focused on how to execute the vision, policy discussion is a great way to drive increased awareness and thought leadership in the market.

Reach out to me directly at donovan@merrittgrp.com to chat in more detail.

Topics: government, public relations

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