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Timeliness has long been a key component of any PR professional’s media relations toolbox. In fact, to a journalist, timeliness is one of the main qualifications in determining whether a pitch is newsworthy. But all too often we find that companies miss the mark in understanding the appropriate way to introduce their brand into the conversation, and the message either gets lost or sounds disingenuous.

In 2011, marketing-industry guru David Meerman Scott pioneered the idea of “newsjacking,” or the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. His concept was fairly simple – when news breaks, journalists have a small window of time to search for relevant, credible sources to give them the who/what/where/when/why behind a story. According to Scott, the who/what/where/when are the easy questions, but the why is what reporters are really looking for. The meat of the story – why is this important to the reader? It’s the why that makes a story resonate.

Newsjacking is a great tool for brands – it helps establish thought leadership, credibility and let’s your audiences know that you’re at the forefront of emerging trends. But how do you know what types of stories are the right fit for your brand?

To help you navigate the wide world of newsjacking, here are a few tips to keep you ahead of the game:

Understand who you’re talking to

What’s the first rule in developing any marketing strategy, you say? Know your audience … exactly. Newsjacking is all about finding and reaching the right people, with the right message at the right time, but if you don’t know exactly who it is you’re trying to reach, it’s difficult to know what sort of stories or mediums you should be targeting. Before launching any media relations effort, take time to research your audience to better understand what types of content they’re looking for. Where do they go for information? What topics are they searching for?

Pay attention

It sounds so simple, but when you have a thousand deadlines and projects to work through on a daily basis, finding time to leisurely read the newspaper sounds more like a punishment than proactivity. Luckily, we live in a wonderful world where news can be accessed in an instant. Send push alerts to your phone, have the news on in the background while you work, check Twitter every 20-30 minutes – find a method that works for you and stick to it.

Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em

Did you know there was a total eclipse last week? You didn’t? That’s weird because it was covered by approximately 9 trillion different news outlets. Major events like this dominate the news cycle for weeks, creating a huge newsjacking opportunity for companies – but should you go for it? Sometimes, the most important rule in newsjacking is knowing when you should stay out of the spotlight.

Take for example, Spaghettios. On the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the social media team handling the Spaghettios Twitter account tried to capitalize on the occasion by posting a memorial Tweet that read: “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.” Under the message was the company’s mascot, smiling and holding the American Flag … yeah, I know. This is a prime example of newsjacking gone horribly wrong, and teaches us that just because something is timely, doesn’t mean you need to be part of the conversation.

Newsjacking doesn’t always involve traditional mediums

Just as the internet has changed the way we receive our news, it’s also provided brands with a host of new platforms to help tell their story. When a story breaks, and you’re determining the best approach to capitalize on the news, consider how you think your audience might want to consume that news from you. Go back to the why we talked about earlier. If your pitch falls flat with a journalist, consider blogging about the topic instead. If you don’t feel you’re qualified to speak with authority on a certain topic, try devising a unique social media post that will resonate with your core audiences (avoiding Spaghettio-level fails, of course). Remember, the goal is to establish yourself as a thought leader, but that doesn’t always involve traditional media outlets. Use what you’ve got and share away!