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How to get news coverage for your church event

By Diane Degnan

Why should local churches be concerned about publicity? News coverage often can help you achieve your objective, whether it's to provide information about outreach programs and services, tell positive stories about the church, engage the community, attract visitors, raise funds or make your voice heard.

In short, media coverage can help the public understand more about what your local church does and why. Organizing a successful event is one way to generate news coverage.

1. Demonstrate the news value. Consider whether your event will be of interest to a large audience. Does it relate to something new, noteworthy or relevant to many people? Is there a human-interest element or other hook? Is a celebrity or public figure involved? If your event is only important to members of your church, chances are it won't garner news coverage. Frame your story to show why it is significant for the local community and how it affects people outside the church. In other words, consider your audience and ask yourself how your news relates to them.

2. Make it visual. News media, especially television stations, will be more interested in reporting your story if it has a creative or unique visual element. An event or activity that is creative or out-of-the-ordinary is more apt to attract television cameras. A blessing of the animals, cardboard city fundraiser for the homeless, sleepout to end malaria or potato drop all provide great visual opportunities for media interest. When planning your event, consider how to position people, banners and other visual props for best effect and optimum lighting. You may want to add elements of color such as brightly colored balloons or matching T-shirts for participants. Have opportunities for action shots if possible, such as planting a community garden.

3. Recognize that timing is everything. If news coverage is your aim, try to hold your event at a time that's convenient to media schedules. Late morning is best. Journalists will not yet have their daily assignments if you hold an early morning event, and an event too late in the day won't make their story deadline. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are generally the best days to get news coverage. Be sure to pay attention to what else is going on in your community and avoid competing with established events, elections, festivals or other happenings likely to attract media attention unless you can tie your event into them. Have your event in a convenient location easily accessible; the closer and more interesting, the better. Make sure a reporter can get the story within a half-hour window.

4. Write a news release. News releases are an excellent way to alert reporters to your event. Do some research so you know the appropriate contacts, then email a one-page release that concisely tells who you are, what you're doing, when and where it's happening, and why people should care. Include a bold headline and an attention-getting lead. Get to the point up front with a short summary of the facts; then include a "sound bite" quote to add interest. When sending a news release to a print publication, include a high-quality photo if appropriate. The more distinctive or original the photo, the more likely it is to be used. Follow up with a telephone call to make sure reporters know about the event and be prepared to pitch why it's important. On the day of the event, make reminder calls and encourage reporters to attend.

5. Create a local angle for a breaking news story. The news media in your community will be looking for local news angles that tie into big stories in the news. Connect your event to something that has everyone's attention, such as a breaking story making national headlines. If you can provide an interesting angle for a national or regional news story, you are likely to attract reporters.

6. Create a good track record. Build relationships before media opportunities occur and you are more likely to get attention. In addition to daily newspapers, TV stations and wire services, weekly newspapers, monthly community publications, local radio stations and public-access cable channels are good places to get media attention for your church's events. Check with these outlets to see if they maintain a community calendar or electronic bulletin board where you can list upcoming events at no charge. Get to know reporters who cover the type of stories you are promoting and build good working relationships with them. A personal telephone call to an established contact is often the best way to get your news covered. Develop a press kit for your website so background information is readily available.

Hold media events only when you have a good story to tell, great visuals and an articulate spokesperson, and you will establish your church as a good source for news in the future.