So, your church has great programming and worthwhile events, and is ready to be a presence in the local community. The challenge for many congregations is making that presence known. Reaching out to local media and building up those relationships can be a crucial step in that process, but a tricky one to navigate.
The Episcopal Church Office of Communication recently came out with a Public Affairs Toolkit, available for free online. You’ll find a Getting Started Guide, with practical tips for creating and distributing press releases. You can also access a list of topical suggestions for pitching to your local media outlets.
Here are some additional tips from our own Office of Communications:
Build a Relationship
Ask for a short meeting or phone call with a local religion or community writer/reporter. Keep it short: introduce yourself, pitch a few timely story ideas and leave them with a press kit. Don’t forget to include television and radio reporters in your communications. Ask them what you can do to make their jobs easier when submitting press releases: inquire about their deadlines and preferred formats of submission. Make yourself accessible, so when they are in need of a quote on a particular subject, or are looking to fill space for an Easter issue, they’ll know that you can help them out in a pinch.
Create an Effective Press Kit
Consider including the following items in your press kit. Revisit the kit every 6-12 months to see if it needs updating. Package the kit simply but professionally – in a folder or binder – and make sure that it carries clear marks of your church’s graphic/visual identity. The kit should include:
- Basic statistics about the church: membership figures, brief history, mission or key ministry priorities;
- Bio of church leader(s) and headshot(s), if available;
- Copies of recent newsletters or bulletins;
- A calendar of events for the next 6-12 months;
- Contact information for potential interviews or spokespeople;
- A short list of timely story ideas;
- Any statement your clergy or vestry have released on topical issues of the day.
Think Big – But Think Small, Too
Yes, it would be ideal to be on a first-name-basis with the religion editor at The Washington Post. But don’t let that goal distract you from the next best thing. Reach out to community papers and weekly magazines. Let them know that you’re available for interviews and to pitch story ideas when they need to fill space or tell a church story. Don’t focus just on print media – investigate community blogs in your area and other online possibilities.
Be Timely and Topical
Send press releases that are topical and timely. The press is much more likely to be interested in your ministry or outreach event if it relates to a topic or season that’s on people’s minds. Don’t waste time on press releases that would only appeal to a limited audience or are not truly newsworthy. Don’t forget that if your rector or vicar has a statement on a timely and topical issue, that statement can be sent to media as a stand-alone press release.
Make sure your communications with the press adhere to the following guidelines:
- Designate one or two people in your church to be official spokespersons.
- Distribute press releases well in advance of an event – but not so far in advance that the date isn’t even on the horizon.
- Be clear and concise. Avoid flowery language and exclamation points. Proofread carefully for proper grammar, syntax and spelling.
- Avoid acronyms and define any “insider” church language (ECW, UTO).
- Use a style guide – the AP Style Book and the Chicago Manual of Style are the two most frequently used by media. Church communicators might find the Religion Writers Style Book helpful: religionstylebook.com.