Telling the good news, in the media
It isn't easy for a church or other Christian organization to get media coverage (unless something has gone wrong). But it is possible, with these 10 tips from two church communications consultants.
February 12, 2013 | Editor’s note: In “Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World,” Jim Naughton and Rebecca Wilson, partners in Canticle Communications , offer churches and other Christian organizations much-needed advice on public relations, social media and other techniques to raise visibility. In the following excerpt, they list 10 tips on how to get media coverage.
Every now and then we hear people in the church say something like this: “The media only pay attention to the sensational stuff. They love conflict. They never focus on all of the good things we do.” To which we have four replies:
1. The church is frequently in conflict -- it has been since Paul faced down Peter at the Council of Jerusalem -- and its conflict over important social issues is significant to the wider society. The media’s attention is evidence that the church still matters. Be glad for it.
2. There isn’t a designated mainline Protestant slot in the paper that would be filled by a story about your food pantry if arguments about sexual morality were suddenly resolved.
3. Sometimes the church does something egregious and needs to be held accountable just like any other institution. Because people rightly hold the church to a higher standard than other institutions, there is a deeper sense of discontinuity when church folk go wrong, and that increases the news value of the story. Call it the hypocrisy factor.
4. If the media isn’t telling the stories you want told it is possible (we say very gently) that those stories aren’t interesting or significant enough to warrant coverage. Or, it is possible that you are not presenting them to the media in a way that catches their attention. Or perhaps you have not presented stories to the media at all.
It isn’t easy to get your congregation, diocese, conference, or other sort of Christian organization into the newspaper or in online media outlets unless something has gone significantly wrong. It is even harder to get it on television or the radio. But it is possible if you absorb these 10 simple tips.
Tip 1: Know what’s free.
Many newspapers have free listings. Many websites have free calendars. Submitting brief descriptions of your items to these lists takes very little time, and editors sometimes troll the listings to select featured items.
Tip 2: Know what kinds of stories a particular media outlet runs, and pitch them accordingly.
Does it do all news, good and bad? Does it feature fun things? Does it focus on big issues and illustrate them using local examples? Or is it a local paper that writes about community news and events and will often take your photograph and cutline -- or even your well-crafted press release -- and print it verbatim? The best and most effective way to get a grasp of how the reporters, editors, and producers at the news outlets in your community think is to read the publication, visit the website, or watch or listen to the broadcast regularly. As you do this, ask yourself what kinds of decisions were made to produce the stories that you read or hear.
Tip 3: Know the media outlet’s approach to religion.
When reading a newspaper or magazine, pay attention to what kinds of stories have been written about other church organizations. Make a note of what issues seem to be of particular importance to the publication and consider ways in which your church’s priorities are pertinent.
In particular, note whether the publication’s coverage of religion is primarily about church politics and the church’s role in politics, or whether it also includes feature stories. A story about your youth group’s campout to raise awareness of homelessness is a great pitch to a reporter who wants feature story content, but not to a reporter whose coverage is primarily about theological disputes over sexuality or reproductive rights. In addition, don’t limit yourself to the religion pages (assuming the publication still has them). If your organization is actively involved in a community issue, pay attention to what the reporter covering that issue writes. You might have the chance to get your organization’s name and its message into a part of the paper read by people who avoid stories about religion.
Tip 4: Know the personnel.
Who covers your issue or your geographic area? What’s the best way to get to know this person? If a reporter gets to know you as a reliable, responsive, and fair source, sometimes you will have the opportunity to point that reporter to people in your organization who are experts on a particular topic, or to give the reporter perspective on a story that might help shape his or her coverage. This will not always get the name of your organization mentioned, but it will build a relationship that will stand you in good stead.