Advice on promoting your church in the media
Most churches are involved in activities and events that will interest the local newspapers and radio, and sometimes regional TV. This is particularly true when the events involve the wider community.
But remember that it is the unusual or special that makes news. 'Church holds service' is not news. Nor is 'Vicar preaches sermon.' But 'Church holds service in supermarket (or a special service, as in the example below), or 'Vicar speaks out against/for (a newsworthy local or national issue)' are news items more likely to win coverage.
So what is the best way to secure the airtime or column inches?
'Put it in writing' is often the best way of ensuring your 'news story' has a good chance of publication or broadcast - and phone the newsdesk in advance to alert them to the story (but not on their press day). News items are often submitted as 'press releases' - a piece of paper or e-mail message with all the basic information presented in a logical sequence.
Sounds easy? But there is a catch. Every newspaper, radio and TV newsroom receives a pile of news releases each day. The challenge is to make yours stand out and catch the news editor's eye.
Tips on producing a news release
Take a look at the following press release and the key points that follow:
draft press release
News from Blanktown Church,South Street, Midshire
NEWS RELEASESPECIAL SERVICE TO REMEMBER CHILDREN
A special service for people who have suffered the death of a child at any age will be held at Blanktown Church, South Street, Midshire, on Sunday afternoon (April 18) at 3.15 p.m.
The one-hour service is for anyone who has suffered the loss of a child at any stage of life, from conception, through pregnancy, during childhood or in later life.
Revd Doreen Spinto, Vicar of Blanktown Church, said: "The service is for all those affected by a child's death either recently or many years ago.
"We have designed the service as an opportunity to reflect, remember or mourn. Each child will be remembered as an individual of unique value."
During and after the service, prayer will be available on request for those attending. Children are welcome, and childcare will be provided.
More information from Revd. Doreen Spinto on 01234 223344.
- Think of a title that tells the story and put it at the top of your release. It will help to summarise it for the newsdesk. Do not be disappointed if your title does not appear in print, nor if your release is reworded before publication or broadcast. Media outlets normally like to produce material in their own style.
- Include all the basic facts in your first paragraphs. Answer When? Who? Where? Why? How? early in the release. Write in short sentences and keep paragraphs no longer than a few lines. It should be possible to cut every press release paragraph by paragraph, working back from the end, and for it still to make sense!
- Decide what is the most important or interesting feature of your news item. Include this in the first paragraph. In the example, the key points are the details of the service itself.
- Use direct quotes. A relevant comment from a person directly involved in an event adds interest and helps the flow of the news item. If you want to express an opinion, do it in a quote. In the example, it is the vicar who sets the scene for the service. Also, direct quotes are unlikely to be edited before publication.
- Steer clear of religious and church jargon. The minister could have said: "We praise God for his concern for all his children and for the promise of eternal salvation to all who truly believe." But this statement would have meant nothing to many people and is unlikely to have found its way into print. If you cannot find a way of translating a religious phrase into everyday English, leave it out. Do not assume that reporters will know the meaning of church terms like 'PCC', 'diaconate', 'synod' or 'curate'. If you need to use these words, explain them.
- Use a format with 'news release' and your church's name displayed prominently. So the newsdesk can see easily the source of the information.
- Add your contact details and make sure you are available to answer follow-up questions from the media during the day. Local radio may also want to interview you 'on air' and ask you to go through the key points. Put both your home and work telephone numbers on the release. Note that in the example the word 'Ends' marks off the details for publication from those added for the newsdesk only. This should avoid your telephone number inadvertently appearing in print or being broadcast.
- Keep the release to the equivalent of one sheet of A4 paper, if possible. Two at the very most. If journalists need more information, they will contact you.
- Date the release to show when it was issued.
- Check your information with the organisers of the event before sending out the release. In many churches, the vicar or minister will also wish to agree the wording. If not, let him or her have a copy as a courtesy. Journalists may contact them to ask about the event - even if their name is not on the release.
- E-mail, post, fax or hand-deliver the release in good time to all relevant media. If you e-mail, send your release as part of the body of the message - do not send as an attachment.
- Send information about an event in the future, rather than an event which has happened. Future events are more likely to win coverage - and you may get coverage after the event as well.
- Supply a photograph if you can. But you need to know the style of photograph the newspaper is likely to use. And don't miss a deadline waiting for your prints to come! Increasingly, newspapers like good quality digital photographs, sent in JPEG format.
Invite the media to attend your event or activity, and look after them if they arrive! (In the example in the news release, it was not appropriate to invite a photographer to attend). But remember that most newsdesks are short-staffed and are unlikely to be able to attend many events.
The Communications Office of the Church of England runs training courses to help churches maximise the opportunities that their events and activities may present for coverage in the media. You can find further details of the course programme here.
Communications Officers or Directors of Communications are also available in dioceses to offer practical help and advice in any work with the media. You can contact them via the Diocesan offices.