Category Archives: public relations

Right Message, Wrong Delivery

A month ago today a murder took place. It was a drive-by shooting right in front of the public high school of my hometown—the small, bedroom community of Owosso, MI—and the man killed was an activist infamous to the area.

I say infamous because he was an anti-abortion protester.

Knowing our nation’s diverse stance on abortion and the volatile topic it is, being “anti-abortion” can mean many things. There are those who believe in the sanctity of life and lovingly encourage others of God’s truths. Their goal, as humanly possible, is to mirror Jesus during his time here on earth.

And then, there are those who share this belief but voice it in a much more rank and oppressive manner. Owosso’s murder victim was allegedly one of those. Residents, including his own son, complained of his gruesome posters and the harrassing way he enforced his view.

Being obnoxious certainly doesn’t warrant getting killed. But one has to wonder how much more effective this activist might have been had he delivered his message in a less menacing way? Instead of shocking people with graphic images of dead babies, what if he enlightened them the beauty of a living one? Instead of angering pregnant women with biblical law at a critical, vulnerable time, what if he offered them hope, comfort and God’s love?

Instead of being anti, as in anti-abortion, what if he had been pro, as in pro-life?

Feeling Welcomed

A story regarding education on today’s National Public Radio stated that even in overly large classrooms, when the teacher stands outside the door and greets students as they come in,  they feel more welcomed and individualized.

Such a simple thing. And so very true.

As adults, we haven’t outgrown the need to feel welcomed. Isn’t it nice when the pastor greets you at the church door? And what about members of the congregation? Isn’t welcoming to have them receive you as well?

Such a simple way of communicating the love of Christ. Welcome!

Press Release: They Don’t Call it Free Press for Nothing

O.K. I admit I’m a bit ambiguous in my use of “free press.”

Journalistically, the term “free press” refers to the uncensored freedom our constitution offers American media. For our church purposes, this term carries an additional reference: a wonderful opportunity to publicize our message of Christ.

For free. As in no cost.

A press release is free publicity

Direct selling expert Jeffrey Dobkin says a well-written press release is “the most valuable single page in all of marketing” (or, in our case, mission outreach). A press release is a document sent to media editors who, if they find it interesting, will publish it or decide to further report on it. For free.

You can send press releases to newspapers, magazines, radio, T.V. and now online publications. There are even online press release services that help distribute your news for you.

Of course, there’s a catch: You have to write it right

Editors receive a gazillion press releases each day. They have a ton of reading to do and not much time to do it. If you write your press release right, it will not only get read, it will also get published.

Match your media
Make sure there’s a connection between you and the media. If you’re publicizing your church’s elderly day care, send a release to your local newspaper or AARP Magazine. The Onion newspaper would not be a good choice.

Contact the editor
After selecting a media, contact its editor and ask how you should send your release. Hard copy? Email? Addressed to whom? This is a good time to put in a quick plug: “I’m Joe, from Trinity Ministries, and I’d like to send a press release on our exciting Hispanic outreach program. Who should I send it to and in what format?”

Remember, editors are busy people. Get straight to the point. And call after the media has been sent to publication, such as the afternoon if it’s a daily newspaper.

Press Release format
Google press release template and you’ll come up with hundreds of helpful guidelines. They’re basically all the same and I’ve posted one here. Of course, since you’ve already spoken with the editor, you’ll know if he or she has particular preferences. Customize your release to meet those preferences.

Use the Inverted Pyramid
Another journalism term here. But, hey, when in Rome…

Think of your document as an upside down triangle, with the wide base on top narrowing down to a point at the bottom. The broad base represents your opening paragraph and your most newsworthy information. The point at the bottom represents the last paragraph and the least newsworthy. In other words, if the newspaper needs to cut out the last paragraph for lack of space, make sure everything the public needs to know is in the first paragraph.

Note: This style of writing may be absolutely opposite what you learned in school, particularly if you’re a pastor. Remember, think journalism.

Absolutely NO passive voice!
The media is about action. Write in an active voice. Use strong action verbs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check this out.

Five W’s and an H
Who, where, what, when, why and how? These are journalistic questions you have to answer. Is your church sponsoring an overseas missionary? Tell who she is. Where is she going? When will she go? What mission work will she do? How will she do it? Why?

Why? Because of Jesus
The public media hardly seems a receptive tool for spreading the gospel of Christ. If you come on too preachy, you’ll likely never make it off the editor’s desk. Jesus was often subtle in his manner of teaching. We can be subtle too.

“Building a new school during tough economic times is a challenge,” says John Jones, principal of Abiding Word School. “However, we know God has a plan and we trust it will be a good one.”

Imagine how the Holy Spirit can use a quote as simple as this to work miracles in the hearts of thousands. Talk about free press!

Press Release: You Gotta Have a Format

Writing a press release? Follow this easy template.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Contact Person
Company Name
Voice Phone Number
FAX Number
Email Address
Website URL

Headline Announces News in Strong Active Voice,
Ideally Under 80 Characters

<City>, <State>, <Date> -The lead 1-2 sentences must contain your most important information in 25 words or less. Answer who, what, when, where, why and how.

Keep the following paragraphs short, with no more than 3-4 sentences. Some say the total word count for your release should be no more than 800 words. I think even that’s too long and prefer to keep it to 500-600 words. It must be written as factual, with no hype or salesmanship. Any information that is considered subjective, such as an opinion, should be expressed as a quote.

Use the last paragraph to inform the public of your church or organization. Follow up with: “For more information, call or email…”

– END –

Type “End” after the end of your story to let journalists know this is the end of your release. If your release goes onto a second page, type “MORE” at the bottom of the first page.

If relevant, include a quality, black and white photo image relating to your story.

Public Relations: For Churches Too?

Happy Inauguration Day!

Whether you’re Democrat, Republican or an Independent, you’ve got to admit President Barack Obama certainly has captured the public’s attention. Yesterday alone, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Obama reiterated his strong stance on public service and thousands of Americans joined in volunteering.

As Christians, we can easily parallel this agenda with God’s command to love one another. Because he first loved us, we too reach out in love to others. But in doing so, how much attention do we attract? What kind of attention? Do we want attention? Does attention communicate the message of Christ?

Here’s where the term “public relations,” a.k.a. PR, comes in.

Yes, once again, we’re applying the business world to our church world. Can we rightfully do this?

Yes, we can.

Read my disclaimer

Will this business tool bring lost souls to Jesus? No, of course not. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Might the Holy Spirit use this tool for his purposes? Of course. Along with his command to spread the gospel, God also gives us knowledge—practical knowledge that can be used completely to his glory.

PR can be God’s outreach tool.

What is PR and how does it apply to our job of communicating Christ?

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) gives a lengthy definition of PR. In college I learned a more succinct definition: Using communication to create a positive image of an organization or product to the public.

News articles, T.V. interviews, web site, advertising…these are a few of many ways we can communicate a positive image of our church, and ultimately Christ, to the public.

Has your youth group recently held a food drive? Send a press release to your local newspaper. Has a member participated in humanitarian work overseas? Promote it on the Internet. Is your church raising money for a mission? Put up a poster showing your results.
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Isn’t this bragging?

Jesus tells us we are the light of the world. He describes us as a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Furthermore, he says “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” Matt. 5:14 & 16.

PR can allow our light to shine. PR can glorify God.

In a time when the media commonly portrays Christianity in a negative light, it’s imperative we counteract with a positive light. It’s vital we communicate Christ.

Coming next: Writing press releases that get published.