how to talk to the media

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…

How to talk to the media without looking like an idiot

This post could, by rights, be renamed "Don’t be Sarah Palin"…

There’s nothing that annoys me more (both professionally and privately) than people botching interviews.

If the media is interviewing you it’s pretty much a free hit. They have a finite amount of time to gather better quotes from other people and your best chance of getting good exposure is saying something usable in a usable way.

Here are some general tips for broadcast interviews (because everyone loves a list):

  1. Don’t wear bright coloured stripes – they’ll bleed on screen and distract people (I’ve said that before I think).
  2. Look at the journalist not the camera – eye contact freaks out audiences.
  3. Don’t use the journalist’s name – you’re ultimately talking to the public, not the journalist. And throwing their name in the middle of your sentence makes the comment unusable.
  4. Have a go at actually answering the questions asked – most media trainers tell you to ignore the questions and regurgitate rehearsed PR guff. Chances are you’re not a politician and nobody really likes listening to that stuff. It’s usually full of weasel words – like “showcase”…

Right, so those are the basics.

The “un”-basics apply to more specific examples that have prompted this post. If you’re a politician holding a media coverage and you may or may not harbour desires to one day run for higher office – don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Particularly – don’t spend your time talking to the media complaining about how the media treats you. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy – where the attention turns to how badly you handled yourself by complaining about the media coverage you received… you don’t really want this sort of paragraph appearing in any story about you.

“Ms Palin delivered the news from the backyard of her home in Wasilla, in a sometimes rambling 18-minute speech that took 11 minutes to get to the punchline. She veered from pugnacious to bitter as she lamented her treatment at the hands of the media and her political foes.”

This may seem obvious – but don’t do interviews about topics that are likely to create controversy – or things you don’t know anything about. Particularly avoid controversial topics where you might find yourself praising Hitler. That’s never good for your personal branding.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has described Adolf Hitler as a leader able to"get things done" in a discussion about dictators during an interview with The Times newspaper.

Asked to comment on accusations that world motorsport chief Max Mosley behaved like a dictator, Ecclestone went on to speak about Hitler, former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein – whom he said should have stayed in power – and the Taliban.

"In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he … could command a lot of people, able to get things done," Ecclestone told The Times.

If you know it’s terrible to say – don’t say it. It’s easy.

Scroll to Top