Newsjacking COVID-19: What HealthIT Marketers Can Learn From Cybersecurity PR

It’s been one month since COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus, upended normal life. For the past four weeks, us “non-essential workers” have been confined to our homes, attempting to work remotely amid distraction and fear, and a hope to return to our regularly scheduled routines. In the meantime, we watch closely each day in disbelief and sadness as infection and death rates rise, while the numerous stories of heroic doctors and nurses, police and paramedics and even supermarket associates fill us with hope, pride and appreciation. It is truly a unique time to be alive.

As if stories of personal tragedy weren’t enough to stomach, last week we learned that nearly 17 million Americans have filed unemployment claims since the pandemic began. While disturbing, the general consensus is that the economic worst has yet to come. But for those fortunate enough to be employed in the technology sector, work goes on. In fact, the Financial Times reported that tech companies are even still hiring as virtually every other industry contracts.  

HealthIT marketers challenged to pivot quickly amidst global pandemic

To no surprise, healthIT is the primary tech sector sustaining through COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, many health tech companies, such as those focused on telehealth and lab diagnostic testing, had already spearheaded innovations that would unknowingly prove invaluable to today’s pandemic mitigation efforts. Other healthcare technology companies have found unique ways to pivot and assist. Alloy is lucky to partner with several healthIT companies that fall into both such categories.

For healthIT marketers, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an unexpected change of course. After all, it was just eight weeks ago that many MedTech marketing leaders were in the early stages of implementing their strategic 2020 campaigns.

Now, for an undetermined amount of time, marketing strategies have been mostly reprioritized to showcase the brand’s value to the COVID-19 response ecosystem. The underlying challenge, however, is to do so in ways that are genuine, compassionate and relevant while also effective in delivering key messaging and competitive differentiation.

Looking to cybersecurity public relations for strategy & tactics

While the current marketing dynamics represent an extraordinary time for healthIT marketers, such pace and uncertainty actually reflects the status quo in cybersecurity comms. On any given day, the discovery of a new hack, threat or vulnerability can consume and even upend the industry and infosec marketers.

COVID-19 is a perfect example. Since the beginning of March, when coronavirus formally entered into the mainstream, cybersecurity researchers have seen a 600% spike in malicious email phishing attacks, as adversaries attempt to incite fear, uncertainty and doubt amongst vulnerable populations. As such, mitigating coronavirus-driven cyber risk has become paramount for many cybersecurity vendors, and their marketing teams have adjusted accordingly.

In cybersecurity, the primary tactic used to accelerate impromptu marketing priorities is newsjacking, a rapid response media relations technique in which brands attempt to insert their key messages into the narratives that are consuming the news cycle. The method is so commonly deployed in cyber that a recent Ragan’s PR Daily article on cybersecurity newsjacking argued that, “[cyber] PR pros should be well versed in how the threat landscape can affect many different business sectors at once and at any given time…That way they’ll be prepared for newsjacking opportunities…”

When successful, newsjacking can bestow brands with invaluable third-party validation and heightened perception during times when people are focused on an issue of relevance to them. And according to Sprout Social, newsjacking also “boosts SEO by giving you more keywords and phrases to rank for.”

HealthIT marketers, newsjack coronavirus with caution

Much like their peers in cybersecurity, healthIT marketers are increasingly turning to newsjacking to quickly penetrate the COVID-19 news cycle. Certainly, there are some healthcare technology companies that have undertaken newsjacking initiatives before, but for quite a few companies, coronavirus represents the first time to reactively engage the press.

For the past 8 years, Alloy has helped advise our cybersecurity clients on when and how to newsjack, and we’ve learned some lessons along the way. Here are three key takeaways for healthIT marketers to know.

  • Avoid subjectivity – Newjacking is not the time for hypotheticals, feelings and unproven jargon. What makes newsjacking effective is data, research, independent third-party validation and corroborated information that isn’t already known and hasn’t yet been reported on. For healthIT marketers contemplating a rapid response strategy amidst COVID-19, remember to put your objective journalist hat on first and scrutinize if what you have to offer actually adds real and unbiased value to the conversation. If not, it might be best to withhold your pitch for another time.
  • Nothing is more important than the email subject line On a normal day, tech journalists receive roughly 50 pitches. This number is multiplied by two or three, if not more, during times of crisis. So standing out among 150 other messages in an inbox is not an easy task. But before you worry about the contents of your pitch, you have to figure out a way to get a journalist to actually open it. Research suggests that 69% of email recipients report email as spam just by subject lines alone. Thus, for healthIT marketers, simply putting “COVID-19 resource” in the headline or “COVID-19 and XYG” solution is not only insufficient to stand out, but it will likely get the email thrown out. One strategy that the Alloy cybersecurity team deploys is to test 3-4 different subject lines for the same pitch. When it’s clear which one or two subject lines are performing best, we update the remaining pitches accordingly.
  • Be a Futurist Fast Company and Politico reporter E.B. Boyd recently said it best: “If you’re pitching a coronavirus-related story, your pitch needs to be super-focused, and needs to be forward-looking. General pitches, esp ones re how to manage/cope/etc…are too far behind the times.” All too often, newsjacking gets caught up in the moment and marketers forget that the crisis will blow over. And because of this reality, journalists are often thinking about their “Day 2” stories as much as they are in need of sources for their current deadlines. For healthIT marketers, this means that your odds of coverage will increase should your newsjacking pitch allude to how what you’re promoting can extend beyond the current COVID-19 news narratives.

Hopefully, the COVID-19 news cycle begins to flatten very soon along with the infection curve. In the meantime, healthcare tech companies can continue to newsjack, but they should do so strategically and with caution and constraint.Click here to learn how Alloy helped a leader in secure messaging challenge and industry giant via newsjacking and visit for more information about our approach to newsjacking.

Anna Ruth Williams
Anna Ruth founded Alloy (then known as ARPR) in 2012 and wore many hats for the following 10 years. As chief strategy officer, today she focuses on growth, global expansion and senior-level client strategy. Ask her about her Career Barbie collection.
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