When Newsjacking is Not Okay

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Public Relations in Times of Disaster

Help in times of crisis

If you are still making money from the sales you get, please don’t try to ‘newsjack’ and get publicity for it. That crosses a line.  And it comes across as sleazy.

From a reporter’s point-of-view, it’s nothing more than a promotion. And it’s not their job to give you free advertising.

I’m not at all saying that by only offering a portion of your proceeds that YOU are being sleazy. I love that you are helping to raise money, actually. And I might even buy your product.  I’m just saying that it’s not the right time or way to try and get publicity.

Don’t newsjack on a disaster for your own gain, is all I’m saying.

But, there are times when it can be helpful to reach out to your press, or your audience, during a disaster.  The questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is it beneficial for the audience?
  • Are you providing some sort of value for others?
  • And are you coming from a place of service?


Here's an example from Anheuser-Busch that answers a strong yes to all three. (see video below). Not only are they providing much-needed drinking water, but it's a feel-good, human-interest story, and people want to see people and companies doing good things.  A side benefit of this type of story is that it might even encourage people or other companies to donate time or resources.

Another example is if you are someone who has researched charities, and have information to share about which ones are legitimate, like the nonprofit, Charity Navigator.  They  are a watchdog organization that evaluates charities based on IRS filings. you can read some recent coverage here

It is totally appropriate, and from an audience perspective, necessary and appreciated, that they would provide their insight into which charities to donate to.  I know that personally, I look to those types of expert sources when evaluating which charities to donate to. I want to know that my money will actually be used to help, and isn’t a scam organization, or my money won’t just go to the administrators.

Another example is if you are in a place to provide information on, say, how a disaster might make a public impact, like Bill Gentry, a professor of public health and former EMS official, in this article “Hurricane Harvey’s Public-Health Nightmare.” 

Other examples where expert commentary could be helpful and beneficial to people is medical advice or psychological advice for people, or advice for starting cleanup of your home, in the case of Hurricane Harvey.  

Or if you are in the area of the disaster, and you’re able to offer shelter, food, or other services or items to people who need them, like this gentleman, Jim McIngvale, aka “Mattress Mack.” He turned his two furniture stores into temporary shelters for people who needed a safe place to stay.  I’m even getting a little teary as I’m writing this, but he posted a video online inviting people to come and stay in his stores -- it’s filled with mattresses, after all. He even gave out his personal phone number.  His mission was purely to help those in need, and he did not make any money from turning his store into a temporary shelter. This is newsworthy, because it’s important for the people in the area to know they could seek shelter there.

Mattress Mack Hurricane Help

So, if you’re providing a service -- free food, shelter, support services -- to those in need, yes, you can contact the media. You’re legitimately providing a service, and it’s beneficial for readers/listeners/viewers to know about it. We want word to get around.  It all comes down to putting sales, and your brand, aside, and genuinely helping others. If your goal is anything but this, it’s not the right time to reach out to the media.  

Have you seen great examples of how brands are helping others in times of crisis? Post a link in the comments below and share their good work!

About the Author Melanie Downey

I'm Melanie Downey, small business brand innovator and public relations expert. I like to teach and write about what I've learned in 20 years working in brand development, PR, and marketing. And when I'm not doing that, I cook, drive my kids around, hang out with my hairless dog, Penny, and practice playing my ukulele.

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