Lessons from Milani Cosmetics: to newsjack or not to newsjack?

Lessons from Milani Cosmetics: to newsjack or not to newsjack?

Newsjacking and reactive PR are often hailed for putting brands at the centre of a trending conversation, requiring speed and creativity to get ahead of the curve. They undeniably offer brave and disruptive brands big opportunities, primarily because of the risk/reward factor they need to navigate when deciding whether it’s worth weighing in. 

Case in point being Milani Cosmetics and their intervention in the Depp vs Heard case; whilst their TikTok refuting Heard’s use of their colour corrector to cover bruises will likely stick with young audiences that are avidly following the trial, the longstanding impact of this will become evident over the next months. Milani has been both applauded and decimated in the court of public opinion, receiving backlash for the way they’ve contributed to the ‘memeification’ of the case. 

But, what are the key lessons that brands and PR executives can take from the Milani Cosmetics fiasco when it comes to newsjacking? 

Lesson 1: assess risk/reward and ask several people’s views 

When it comes to the Depp vs Heard case, pretty much every brand with some concept of risk adversity has steered clear, yet Milani took the gamble. The current discourse on social media is heated, the audience is hyper engaged and the potential to be cancelled for commenting is sky-high. Milani leveraged the anti-Heard narrative that can be seen across socials and ran with it. While this may seem like a clever ploy to newsjack and take advantage of current conversations, the trial is very much still live with no one truly knowing the outcome. 

Before jumping on a newsjacking opportunity, brands and PR executives should ask: 

  • Will this opportunity align with our brand values and audience? 
  • Does the reward outweigh the potential risk or are we prioritising instant gratification eg. going viral on social media, sales etc? 
  • How is this coverage likely to affect our brand sentiment? 

Lesson 2: consider how you weigh in

What you say is important, but how is perhaps even more so, leveraging the correct channels and using the most appropriate tone of voice has the potential to make or break your newsjacking opportunity. Milani presented their case through TikTok, taking advantage of the Depp vs Heard audience already there, but falling into the trap of seeing the trial as entertainment. 

The fact that we’re watching a couple dig up the darkest aspects of their relationship seems to be irrelevant with the endless TikToks and memes that have been created, and Milani have been critiqued for playing into that.The TikTok in question used the trending song ‘International Super Spy’ by The Backyardigans with the caption ‘You asked us… let the record show that our Correcting Kit launched in 2017’, and shows clips of hands pointing at catalogues and slide decks. Many accused Milani of contributing to the memeification of the case. 

Choose the right channel: 

  • Assess how posting about this topic from this channel will be received, is it the most appropriate one or are there others that should be explored? 
  • Is the tone of voice and language used reflective of your brand values and how you want to be perceived by the audience? 

Lesson 3: don’t backtrack and ensure messaging is consistent 

Milani’s attempt to weigh in on the trial quickly became their most watched TikTok at 5 million views, whereas their previous hadn’t broke 500,000 views. They achieved the viral engagement they sought when contributing to the narrative, however a Milani spokesperson has since told Buzzfeed News, “our video was to verify the claim that our eagle-eyed and loyal fan base made about the product named in the trial. Milani Cosmetics is not taking a formal stance on the trial, evidence or future outcome of the case.” Yet, their TikTok account has been replying to Depp’s fans and liking comments, showing their unofficial stance on the case. 

This dissonance between official brand PR statement and actual engagement on social media should serve as a warning to brands wanting to jump on newsjacking opportunities. Milani’s statement insisting neutrality completely contradicts their output on social media, serving only as a hasty PR attempt to avoid a future crisis or reputation breakdown should the tides of public opinion turn. 

To newsjack or not to newsjack? 

Newsjacking and reactive PR have been seen as optional facets of a digital PR strategy in the past, but with consumers expecting brands to show more of their values and opinions, weighing in might not be so optional in the future. Newsjacking at the expense of your brand reputation is a big no-no, so ensuring all opportunities are well thought-through whilst still respecting the quick turnaround required to insert yourself into a trending conversation is vital. 

For brands and PR executives that are new to newsjacking, it’s worth having a brainstorm of key topics that you can contribute to, and assessing recent opportunities within that field and how you would’ve approached it. The key thing to consider when it comes to this form of digital PR is the risk aspect, as if you’re successful you’ll be tied to the event or piece of news you comment on, whether that’s beneficial or detrimental can only be told with time. The recent case of Milani Cosmetics shows the importance of exercising caution and getting a second-opinion when it comes to your reactive PR efforts. 

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