Most of the time, when a church leader starts thinking about the need for marketing, they’re thinking about a specific event (like the annual Christmas bazaar, Easter service, the Habitat build, etc.) and they tend to think advertising – which is expensive. In this blog, however, we’ll be exploring how to get the media’s attention so that your church/ministry can benefit from one of the best kinds of marketing available … Free.

It may be helpful to take a moment to think about your local media outlet (newspaper, radio, television, local magazine, podcaster, etc.) and what makes them tick. There’s one thing in common with every media outlet … they need interesting and relevant news, filler, and curiosities. Without these, well, the paying public will quickly stop reading/tuning in and then the advertisers will stop buying ads and in no time at all, there’s one less media mogul in town. In other words, the media has an insatiable itch that needs to be scratched. Now, that’s good news for all of us. They need worthy “stuff” to report on and we need to get our worthy “stuff” noticed. Seems like a match made in heaven.

Which it is. There’s no reason the average church shouldn’t be at least mentioned by someone in the local media at least monthly. Well, there actually is a reason why they can’t get mentioned – because they don’t know how to scratch the media’s itch. So, let’s go get a backscratcher.

As I said above, most of the time when a church leader decides to try and garner some media attention, they doing so to get a particular even mentioned. They may try to write a news release, a public service announcement, or even an article to try and get their event picked up by the media. The problem is, the vast majority of writing bits that comes out of the church in this vein are “news” only in the loosest possible way and even a rookie copy editor can pick up an attempt to manipulate the system. The fact that your church is having a fish fry and the proceeds go to youth programming isn’t news. You might be able to get the event listed in the Community Calendar if your church has one, but that’s about it. On the other hand, if the oil you were cooking the fish in caught fire and the fire department had to put out the blaze when the fellowship hall burned down … that’s news.

So, the first order of business is to figure out how to (1) decide what and what is not news; and (2) figure out how to present your non-news so that it has a chance of being promoted anyway.

First, how can you tell what is and what isn’t news? Here’s a decent rule of thumb: Consider your topic carefully and then ask this question: Would someone who wasn’t a part of your church AND who wasn’t interested in seeing/buying/attending whatever you’re pitching be interested in reading the “news”? If the answer is anything but a resounding, “Yes” without any provisos (no “Yes, buts” allowed), then it’s not news. Which doesn’t mean you can’t get publicity, but it does mean you’ll have to fugure out a way to spin it so that it has snowball’s chance in Death Valley of seeing print/broadcast.

Here is a list of potential “News” topics. See if you can decide which would be for-sure news items:

Church is hosting a missionary speaker from the Congo
Church’s annual Christmas Bazaar is next Saturday
Church is sponsoring inter-church Habitat build
Church is sponsoring inter-faith Habitat build
Church has provided scholarship for youth member to Bible college
Church has provided scholarship for youth member to India mission field

Okay, that’s a bit unfair because what’s news in one community won’t be news elsewhere. For instance, the only one of these that saw a mention in the “News” in the Seattle Times was the inter-faith Habitat build, and only that because it was Habitat’s first inter-faith build. Some very small town editors might decide to print/broadcast any or all of these in certain circumstances (like there was precious little news that day). But to be clear, most media would pass on the missionary speaker, the Christmas bazaar, and probably both scholarships, though they might decide to do something with the youth going to India if international travel isn’t a part of the local community.

If you do have a news-worthy item, there are a couple ways to get the attention of the news desks.

1. Prepare a well-written news release. These are typically one page in length, double spaced, written in the inverted pyramid style of the most important facts in the first paragraph and lesser important information in descending order. At the top of the page, include the heading NEWS RELEASE followed by when the information should be released (is this an event happening next month, then choose a date two to five days before the event occurs. If it’s for immediate release, say so.) Also include full contact information – including the contact’s email, home phone, cell phone, etc. so that if the editor decides to do a “whole story” on the news, a reporter can contact you.

The key here is to WRITE WELL. If you don’t get someone who can. The piece should have all the facts, be interestingly written, and be free of grammatical, spelling, and factual errors.

Then submit the item. Check your local media outlets about how they want to get their news … email attachment, news in the body of an email, fax, etc. and then send it at least 10 days in advance so they have time to act on it.

2. If you aren’t, or don’t have access to, a good writer, then either email or call the editor and let them know what’s going on in the form of a news tip. Again, give them the key facts and they’ll go from there. This is NOT as effective as the news release, but it’s a start.

3. There may be times when you want to get a news bit in the media’s hands, but you don’t want it to appear that you’re orchestrating the attention. In those cases, I’ve used anonymous emails, faxes, etc. that called attention to the event, but gave few details (just enough to whet an appetite).

In the end, I managed to get myself on PRI’s MarketPlace, ABC’s Good Morning America, on the PTL show, and featured in a host of newspapers and interviewed on TV and radio stations. All because of the above. And honestly, if I can do it … so can you!