How to write a Media Release to promote your church event

Mikey responded to yesterday’s rant about media releases with a post on Christian Reflections urging churches to think about how they can use the media. The day before yesterday a friend in Townsville sent me an email asking for some tips on how to talk to the media – she had sent a release out and had received some interest from a local television station.

For those wondering what makes me qualified to give this advice here are my qualifications in a nutshell. I’m a journalism graduate who spent four years working as a corporate communications hack for a regional development and tourism marketing body – I marketed my organisation and the Townsville region. I wrote hundreds of media releases and had a pretty good strike rate in terms of getting them placed. This was partly because Townsville is a regional centre with lots of media outlets and a finite number of sources, and partly because my organisation had a finger in just about every pie, and probably partly because I know what I’m doing. Enough self promotion for now…

It’s time to put all those years of spin twitting to good use – here’s my guide to writing a media release for your church event, and some tips for what to do when it is picked up, and when it’s not…

The first thing you’ve got to remember when sending out a release is that journalists are time poor and get heaps of media releases. You need to be prepared for the idea that they may not get past the heading and the lede (the first line). If you’re lucky they’ll think your release is interesting and read to the end, if you’re really lucky they’ll want to follow it up. With that in mind… follow these steps.

  1. Write an intriguing headline – it doesn’t have to be literal, puns are ok, but make sure you get some feel for what the story is about from the heading.
  2. Put the important stuff first – who, what, where, when, and most importantly why. The first four are easy. The why needs to cover why you’re doing it, why the outlet should cover it (is it news), and why their audience should be interested in coming.
  3. If you’ve never spoken to the media before put some information about who you are in the second or third paragraph.
  4. Keep it short – ball park 500 words.
  5. Include quotes from a spokesperson – do as much work as possible for the journalist – if they don’t have to call you for follow up that works for them. Three sentences (or paragraphs) of quotes should suffice.
  6. Include a closing paragraph that contains a call to action – how can people register for an event? Who do they RSVP to? Media Releases are great to put on your website too, it won’t necessarily just be the journos reading them.
  7. Include contact details for follow up – and most importantly – be available for calls from a journo. They’re not going to follow you up just because you think your story is worth it (unless it really is). If it feels like covering the story is doing you a favour (and not a disservice) then treat it as such. If your availability is patchy put when you are free in the footer of your release.
  8. Send it first thing in the morning (if you want television coverage) or after lunch if you want to give the paper a free run at it. Remember that media releases need to be timely. Don’t send it six months out from the event (unless that’s when you need registrations).
  9. Remember that you won’t always get a response. That’s ok. Send releases regularly so that you can build a rapport and a reputation with the local media. If it’s your first release, or an important event, place a phone call to the newsroom’s chief of staff (not the editor) and make sure they received your release. Be prepared to talk them through your event – pitch it to them as a story that matters to their audience. It’s also ok to call before you send it to make sure you’ve got the address of the newsroom right – you may also need to fax a copy through.
  10. Remember that pictures are worth 1,000 words. Be prepared to have a quirky photo op lined up for a newspaper or some pictures for a TV station to shoot – TV stories without pictures are dead. Make it clear in your footer that you have opportunities for filming or photos – and be creative. Does your event involve people in costumes? Get someone on site in a costume. This will give your story the best possible chance for the best possible coverage.

Once your release is in the wild you need to play a little game I like to call “wait and see what happens”… if you do get a call from a journalist – relax. Take a deep breath. Most of them are nice people, and most of them aren’t out to build a reputation as a bloodhound who takes down churches and disgraces ministers. Here’s how to get the best out of your interaction with the media post release…

  1. Never ever, let me repeat, never ever say “no comment” or “I can’t answer that” – if you get a tough question just answer it without answering it. Learn from the politicians, turn the question into an opportunity to push your agenda. Say “it’s interesting that you ask that, I think it’s important, but right now we just want to tell you about…” if they ask again, say it again. Repeat ad nauseum. They’ll get sick of asking the same question before you get sick of answering it.
  2. Try to include the gospel – you never know what they won’t cut.
  3. Remember they’re looking for eight second sound grabs or two sentence print quotes. Try to be quotable, succinct, and interesting.
  4. Don’t wear stripes or loud colours for TV interviews.
  5. If you mispeak during an interview pause, correct yourself, and start the sentence again – unless you’re doing a live interview (which I don’t really recommend unless you’re pretty experienced). Be prepared to tell the journalist that you stuffed up and want a do over.
  6. Stick to your point – stick with what you know.
  7. A good journalist will ask you at the end “is there anything you’d like to add” – use this as an opportunity to make a clear statement about your event and why people should come… and then stick the gospel in there. Journalists need it too. Even if they cut it they’re hearing it.
  8. Act with integrity, smile, make small talk before the interview with the journo to make yourself comfortable.
  9. Remember to blink if you’re looking at a camera, breath, relax, look confident, look up not at your toes, look at the journo, not at the camera.
  10. Speak clearly. Deliver your words as though you’re speaking to a crowd, not just to one person. I have a theory that Camera presence comes from aiming your words to the back of the camera not the lens – like when you kick a soccer ball you try to hit the far side while connecting with the front, or when you hit a cricket ball you follow through…

If this all sounds too hard I’ve set up a fiverr task where you can pay me $5 to write you a ten line media release. If you want to use me more than once I’ll probably make you pay more – but I’m happy to help. And I’m always happy to read over something before you send it out…

Nathan Campbell

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Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His Daughter. His Son. Coffee. And the Internet. He is currently a campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of the last 8 years working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online.

17 responses to How to write a Media Release to promote your church event

  1. Wow! Thanks very much dude! What a precious treasure.
    My recent post Media releases

  2. Thanks. Very helpful.

    A question. Is it a good idea or not to ask the journalist to go over the finished piece with me before it's published. I am absolutely paranoid about either being misquoted or having the emphasis of the story shift to something totally unhelpful.

    I don't write letters to the editor because they cut bits out. And when they do that, the letter often becomes incomprehensible.

  3. Hi Al,

    It's a good idea – but only if you realise you have no real control over the finished product. They do have to quote you accurately – but what they say around the quotes is up to them. Your paranoia is probably justified. You will have to weigh up the pros and cons of giving someone else the opportunity to talk about your brand in their publication. The benefits are obviously the platform it gives you, the dangers are that you'll not come off in the light you want to.

    The Jensen brothers are a great example of this – they get caned by the SMH, but they keep going back for more, and they keep putting the gospel front and centre. I've never read a story (however negative) about the Jensens that hasn't mentioned the cross. There's only so much your message can be twisted if you just stick to your key lines.

    They also won't always say yes to that sort of request though. And it's very hard to pull a story once you've put the release out if you don't like the angle they've taken.

    If it's a bad story it's better to remember today's news is tomorrows fish and chip wrapping and put it down as a learning experience.

    I probably should have made this statement in the post proper – the real goal of sending out releases is to develop a relationship with the outlet so that they call you looking for comments or for stories all the time.

    The more consistently you deliver usable content the more they'll look to you for content and informed comment.

    This is the win – one story will never make or break an event (and if it will you probably need to consider the event you're running). Most people are like journalists – they only really read headings and look at pictures in the paper, very few people have time to read every word.

  4. Thanks for the help here…. what format should it take?
    My recent post Spur 2010

  5. Nathan — cracker of a post. So much packed in. I’ll be coming back to this one.

  6. Hi Al Bain,

    If you want to promote a simple church run event I can assure you 99% of the time your local paper isn't going to twist the story as you seem to fear. Why would they? I agree totally with Nathan's post, but I think his response to you needed a little clarification. Nothing annoys journalists more than people who want to 'read over' stories. A journalist should be more than happy to read over your quotes (which is what I think Nathan meant) but as to the entire content of the story that's against the policy of most publications (the journalist would be in trouble if their boss found out). This isn't because we have some evil secret purpose to twist your human interest story but more because everyone thinks they're an amateur journalist and that they can write something better than you can and end up trying to argue for changes to structure, the intro etc which essentially make a once interesting story unappealing to your average reader. I hope that helps and if you're in Townsville and want to promote an event ask Nathan for my contact details and I'd be more than happy to help you out :)

  7. Hi Sam,

    I'm going to interpret that question two ways in the hope that doing so helps… send them as a word document attachment (.doc not .docx) with the text in the body of the email is probably the best bet – you never know what format newsrooms are working in, they all have their own software that links in with their publishing formats and broadcast platform… if you meant structure go with the following:

    Letterhead (or your church name)
    Some people feel it necessary to write "Media Release" here, but in most cases this is actually pretty clear…
    Date
    Heading
    Intro paragraph
    Supporting paragraph
    Some facts or figures that might be important.
    Quotes (three max, if you have a guest speaker quote them too – two talents are better than one).
    Call to action paragraph.
    The word "ends"
    Contact details, info re photo op.

  8. Hi Emily,

    Great to have someone from the dark side giving their advice too…

    Al is in Tasmania. But they still have News Ltd there – so it's good to have insight into company policy.

  9. Thanks Nathan. Really helpful. As was your advice to this media novice. The interview is on my fb wall if you want to see how you helped me!

  10. Yeah that's cool but I still say it's you guys on the dark side! what happened with the real estate those were my favourite posts grr they make me so angry I think we need an update

  11. Here's a question that others might be interested in the answer too also: Once you've played the waiting game, do you call any of the News Desks to follow-up on the Media Release that you've sent?

  12. Hey Nathan,

    Great to discover you on the web. Thanks also for this post.

    I actually think that PR is a massively underused tool for many churches. Your post is very practical and provides simple steps even I can follow (and that's saying something) Thankyou!

    I posted an article a while back more on the prep work before getting to this step.

    http://bit.ly/cGJgjR and http://bit.ly/bOLnEx

    The one ingredient I would add is for church leaders/comm's peeps to cultivate a relationship with different outlets/reporters. It makes it so much easier to call them as they know who you are – especially if you have given them good stories in the past. Journo's love it when we make life just that little bit easier for them. Not because they are slack, but because it helps create a better story.

    Journo's will be so much more open to what you have to say once they know what you have to say adds value to their job.

    My recent post What Is The State of The Internet?

  13. Hey Nathan,

    Great to discover you on the web. Thanks also for this post.

    I actually think that PR is a massively underused tool for many churches. Your post is very practical and provides simple steps even I can follow (and that's saying something) Thankyou!

    I posted an article a while back more on the prep work before getting to this step.

    http://bit.ly/cGJgjR and http://bit.ly/bOLnEx

    The one ingredient I would add is for church leaders/comm's peeps to cultivate a relationship with different outlets/reporters. It makes it so much easier to call them as they know who you are – especially if you have given them good stories in the past. Journo's love it when we make life just that little bit easier for them. Not because they are slack, but because it helps create a better story.

    Journo's will be so much more open to what you have to say once they know what you have to say adds value to their job.

    My recent post What Is The State of The Internet?

  14. Thanks Nathan.

    And Emily, your comments are really helpful. I certainly wouldn't want someone reading over every blog post that I put out to change it around. Good tip. Thanks.

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