The ancient Japanese martial art of Aikido focuses on using an opponent’s own energy against them. Practitioners execute a series of movements that redirect a competitor’s attack momentum in order to neutralize their offense. It requires the highest degree of discipline, patience, and situational observation, but once mastered, these techniques (referred to as waza 技 in Japanese) can put you in the position to anticipate your competitor’s next move quickly enough to capture and redirect.
The same waza can be applied to public relations.
The modern communicator is watching everything that is happening in the media. Trending topics, swelling issues, and of course their own company and spokespeople. But out of the corner of their eye they are keeping a close watch on their competitors — which media they are appearing in, how they are being mentioned, and how quickly their stories are spreading on social media. Every PR campaign has a rhythm, a certain movement. By monitoring certain signals and maintaining a persistent state of readiness, you can best the competition before the fight has even begun.
Here are three techniques to put your opponent off balance and give you the high ground.
1) Measure the quality, not just quantity of your competitors’ media placements.
Simply counting the number of articles that mention your competition can be highly misleading. They could be generating significantly more coverage than you but not all of their press mentions may be driving meaningful business results for them. By analyzing and organizing competitor press coverage based on qualitative dimensions you can quickly identify the specific strategies, stories, and media outlets that are having the most impact for their brand. Key measures of quality include (1) how relevant press articles are to their brand, (2) the reputation of the media outlets which are covering them, and (3) the tone and sentiment of their media coverage. The sooner you identify where your competition is having success the sooner you can insert your own brand into those conversations. Conversely, quickly detecting negative sentiment around your competitor’s brand can give you the ammunition you need to take advantage of key themes that may be working against them.
2) Don’t just track the placements, measure which articles are trending on social media.
It is not enough to simply obtain a great piece of press. The PR Master knows that the most successful media coverage is that which is liked, shared, and re-tweeted. Social media engagement is both a proxy to consumption, but is also the path to additional, free reach. By understanding which of your competitors’ stories are gaining traction on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, you can get an early indication of which topics may trend for your own brand. If you monitor closely and frequently, you may even spot these opportunities before the competition is aware and get far enough ahead of the wave to own the story.
3) Discover the unexpected authors.
In today’s fragmented media world where every blogger is a journalist and there are 5-10,000 new blogs started every day, you can no longer lock your focus on a handful of journalists who write for a few target publications. While it is certainly still the case that tier one media outlets are able to attract some of the highest quality journalists, the author who is actually driving your competitor’s Power of Voice or social media amplification may be a less obvious contributor to a little known publication. In fact, many of the authors who have the highest influencer scores are independent freelance writers and bloggers who are not affiliated with a particular publication. By including this dimension into your competitive analysis, you may discover opportunities to reach up-and-coming authors who are more likely to collaborate with you and could very well drive more impact for your brand.
Classic “newsjacking” helps companies get ahead of the wave of general news. But by quickly spotting the stories that are driving actual impact for your competition, you can insert yourself into those conversations before your competitors are even aware of the opportunity. While it is always the case that the path to victory starts with knowing your enemy, true success comes from acting quickly on this knowledge. Let your competitor make the first move. Let them advance and build their momentum. Once you have spotted the right opening, strike swiftly and you will prevail.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.