Thais Freitas

Communications Strategy & Storytelling

Newsjacking example: A local coffee shop used current events to get news coverage and engagement

Harken Coffee Window in Vancouver

Vancouver is Awesome recently posted an article about a coffee shop in Vancouver, BC, that declared itself a safe space for womxn who find themselves in a dangerous situation. It was one among many other similar articles published by local media the past few days, with fantastic repercussions for Harken Coffee. The initiative was a perfect newsjacking example, so I wanted to talk about that and how other small businesses can get similar results.

What Harken Coffee did

After recent news of womxn being followed by strange men around the city, Harken Coffee posted on Instagram how they can help, which includes creating a discreet way womxn can signal they’re in danger, offering a place where they can wait until it’s safe to go or help arrives, and having staff notify the police or a women’s shelter.

As a woman who’s had to duck into places after being followed and fearing for my safety many times, I’m grateful for Harken Coffee’s initiative and the excellent example they’ve set for other businesses. It’s awful to need that in the first place, but since we do, it’s reassuring to know that there are safe places we can go to for help. I hadn’t heard of them before, but now I’ll definitely buy my latte at Harken’s next time I’m downtown–as I’m sure the hundreds of womxn who praised them on their post will do too.

And as a marketer who believes that marketing and kindness go together and good businesses can promote themselves in ways that neither go against their values nor breaks the bank, I’ve become a fan of Harken Coffee’s public relations. I mean, I believe the founders did that out of a true desire to help and don’t know whether they follow a PR strategy. Still, their initiative was a fantastic example of self-promotion through kindness that every entrepreneur should pay attention to and apply to their own business whenever possible.

Why their initiative is brilliant PR 

In public relations, newsjacking is when a brand piggybacks on current events or news stories for self-promotion. Kind of what the meditation app Calm did on the US Election Day, for example–when everyone was stressed out, they offered a free sample of their product and tweeted this:

Newsjacking example of the Calm app during the US Election
Newsjacking example: The Calm app’s tweet about the US Election

Last week, a video of a woman being followed by a stranger went viral, and everyone’s been talking about how these scary situations have become increasingly common in Metro Vancouver. People are angry, womxn are more vocal about the harassment they suffer, and the media is posting about new cases daily. So, this was the perfect moment for Harken Coffee’s offer to be a haven for womxn and get wonderful results:

Lots of positive media coverage

Google “Harken Coffee Vancouver” and you’ll see!
Screenshot of Google news page with some of the news articles about Harken Coffee in a clear newsjacking example
A Google search for “Harken Coffee Vancouver” shows all the articles featuring the coffee shop’s outstanding decision

Becoming known

Many people who didn’t know Harken Coffee existed now do, and for a noble reason. In a big city with a coffee shop on every corner, they found a way to stand out and offer potential customers an extra reason to patronize them.
Customer tweet praising Harken Coffee for its initiative to help women
One of the many similar comments on Harken Coffee’s Instagram post: A woman saying she’ll become a customer and calling out other coffee shops to follow Harken’s example

Effective branding

They’re a plant-based, ethical coffee shop, so helping others totally relates to their goal of positively impacting the world.

Making loyal customers even more loyal

They won’t only appreciate the coffee but also feel proud to support such a kind, helpful place.
Loyal Harken Coffee customer tweeted about how they're not surprised by the cafe's initiative
A customer commented on Instagram that they were not surprised by Harken Coffee’s generous initiative, which also showed how aligned with the brand and genuine it was

Getting tons of new followers and social media engagement

Their Instagram post about this initiative, as of today, has received over 3,000 likes and 200 comments, mostly womxn thanking them and tagging others. Their previous posts got an average of roughly 160 likes and less than 10 comments.

Increasing employee satisfaction

Several studies have shown that work satisfaction increases when employees feel they’re doing something meaningful and helping others. In this case, they’ll also be sure that they work for a place that doesn’t only care about profit.

And of course, feel good for doing good!

The founders had the opportunity to act according to their values and beliefs—is there anything better than that?

“Cool, but how can I use newsjacking to promote my small business?”

It’s common for entrepreneurs to think that their small business isn’t interesting enough to draw attention from the media and the audience. They often have a hard time relating their product or service to current events like Harken Coffee did. If that’s your case, I have three tips for you:

  1. Pay attention to what’s going on in your city and your community: Follow local news, engage in social media, chat with your customers. Being up to date with what’s happening around you is the first step to get inspired, identify ways to be helpful, and newsjacking opportunities.

  2. Be creative and open-minded:What does a coffee shop have to do with stalking and female harassment? How does a meditation app relate to presidential elections? These seem like totally unrelated situations and products/services at first, but their founders and marketers were open-minded and creative to understand the current events and how their businesses could take part in solving a problem.

  3. Be genuine:Don’t force it, don’t fake it—only engage in situations that align with your values and if you genuinely want to be helpful. People quickly notice when a business is being opportunistic and pretending to care about something to get media coverage and attention. In those cases, the initiative ends up backlashing. If Harken Coffee were known for being a place that mistreated their customers and forced female servers to use short skirts and heels, for example, their offer to be a haven for womxn would seem fake, they’d get called out on social media, and maybe even “cancelled.”

And a final—and vital—piece of advice: Before you get your newsjacking strategy out in the open, run it by other people you trust, such as staff, partners, friends or anyone else who can give you honest feedback. Sometimes we get so excited with an idea that we fail to ponder what could go wrong, so the more brains evaluating your plan, the higher your likelihood to succeed.

Check out other posts about marketing for local and small businesses:

How to use Facebook groups to create word-of-mouth marketing for local businesses

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