Creating a positive perception of your church in the community provides a critical foundation for all other communication.
When it comes to good church public relations, no slick, fast-talking spin-doctors or expensive consultants are required. Public relations is simply that—relating to the public so as to create a favorable impression. PR is one of the most accessible promotional tools available to your church, and creating an effective campaign may be far less intimidating than you think.
WHY PUBLIC RELATIONS?
Creating a positive perception of your church in the community provides a critical foundation for all other communication, outreach, and evangelistic efforts. This positive perception can make a world of difference when a church member invites a friend to your next event. Instead of hearing someone say, “The Easter service at Grace Church? Who are they?“—a church’s positive reputation may elicit a different response: “You mean Grace Church is having an Easter service? I’ve heard good things about them!“
In addition, public relations is more powerful and influential than advertising alone. Advertising is often perceived as hype or self-promotion, while the results of your public relations efforts are perceived as more genuine and often more truthful.
Finally, while a small display ad in your local newspaper can cost hundreds of dollars, a press release about that same event can fill that same size space (or larger) at no cost. Public relations makes dollars and sense.
WHAT DOES GOOD CHURCH PR LOOK LIKE?
Building community goodwill and generating positive mentions in the local media starts with a plan founded on basic public relations principles. Plan your church’s strategy by asking a few questions:
1. Who is your church’s target audience?
2. What is your church’s message? Why should someone in the community care?
3. What are some creative, meaningful, and/or newsworthy ideas your church can generate?
4. What are the most appropriate media options for this message?
5. How do we execute the message?
CASE IN POINT
Initially, generating media coverage can sound like a daunting task, but after taking a look at this church example, you may begin to see the opportunities:
Although Fellowship Church has been in Farmingdale, Nevada, for more than 50 years, many community members (especially those in the newer subdivisions) aren’t aware of the church. Several young families, however, do attend the church. The church feels called to reach young families in their growing community.
1. Who is their target? Young families in their town.
2. What is their message? “God cares about what’s important to you, and, at Fellowship Church, so do we.“
3. What are some creative, meaningful, and/or newsworthy outreach ideas?
Creative idea 1. Offer free parenting workshops weekly for a month. Classes will be held at a local school and will have no overt evangelistic content.
Creative idea 2. Church will host a free ice water station at the local baseball park throughout the season. In addition, a sportsmanship award is given and posted each week. Donations are made in the chosen player’s name to a local children’s hospital.
Creative idea 3. Sober ride sponsorship after dances at the local high school.
These events, which build visibility and goodwill in the community, could also be considered newsworthy to the local press. While somewhat labor intensive, none of these ideas is particularly expensive.
HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Challenge a sharp businessperson or even a stay-at-home mom in your community to spearhead your public relations effort. Begin with a phone call to each of the media outlets in your area (newspapers, magazine, local radio and television, key newsletters) and determine the appropriate contact information and submission guidelines. Input the contact person and the contact information into a database or address book so that labels, letters, or even electronic e-mails or faxes can be easily generated on a regular basis to these media outlets.
Next, write a press release about the event (check out the sidebar for tips) and send it to the media on your database. Follow-up a few days later with a phone call to answer any questions and to keep your news event “top-of-mind“ with the media outlet. Like most things, PR is most effective when it is consistent and the media begins to trust you as a news source in the community.
Put PR to work for your church and see how God uses it to help reach people for Christ in your community.
How to Write a Press Release That Gets Published
A press release is simply a straightforward presentation of newsworthy information sent to a media outlet. This press release can be “picked up“ (used more or less verbatim) in a listing, story, or small article, or it can generate “coverage“ (when a media outlet devotes resources to creating an original story on your ministry or event). Here are the basics for putting together a powerful and professional press release.
IS IT NEWS?
Make sure your release has a strong news angle that will appeal to the audience of the media outlet you are contacting.
GIVE IT THE RIGHT START
Include a date, contact name, phone number, and the words “For Immediate Release“ at the top of your release.
GRAB ’EM WITH THE HEADLINE
A clear, clever headline that identifies the news angle of the story will help your press release be noticed.
LEAD WITH YOUR BEST PUNCH
Your opening sentence or “lead“ should state the “who,“ “what,“ “where,“ “when,“ and “why“ of your story in a clear, straightforward manner.
TELL ME THE STORY
Begin your release with the most important facts and move to the least important. This “inverted pyramid“ style is preferred by editors when evaluating and editing articles.
GIVE IT THE RIGHT VOICE
Tell your story as an objective observer of the events, not as an active participant. Avoid superlative language and stick to the facts. Instead of “The beautifully staged production offers an incredible look at the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ,“ try “The elaborately staged production recreates the scene of Jesus’ birth using professionally trained actors and live animals.“
KEEP IT SHORT
Two pages, double-spaced is appropriate for most releases. Make sure your title and contact information are on both pages, just in case. Use the “###“ marks centered at the bottom of your release to indicate its conclusion.
A professional presentation can be the difference between a press release that generates coverage and one that hits the circular file. Ensure that all information, spellings, and grammar are correct. Include a simple fact sheet, photo, or digital image plus a brief cover letter outlining compelling reasons to cover your event. Follow-up with a phone call to the editor or the appropriate news section editor.
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