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A local reporter covers a 2015 Rethink Church event at Monte Sano United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

Photo by Laura Buchanan, United Methodist Communications

A local reporter covers a 2015 Rethink Church event at Monte Sano United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

Working with local media during General Conference

By Laura Buchanan*

As General Conference draws closer, you will have opportunities to tell the church’s story and to show how we as a denomination and citizens of the world make decisions together. Delegates serve as storytellers for the conference, and local media outlets are one channel for getting the word out about the experiences of General Conference participants.

If you haven’t already done so, begin by working with your conference communicator to discuss the messages you want to share and create a communications plan. If you’re reaching out to local media, it’s likely you will want to send out a press release.

The press release will serve to not only educate local media about General Conference, its purpose and its scope, but it will also make them aware of the community’s connection to this important, international church gathering.

Press release templates can be found in the General Conference Communications Toolkit, on pages five through seven. These templates serve as a starting point for delegations to announce their participation in the conference and to give updates as the conference progresses. Conference communicators will have a list of go-to members of the media who should receive the press release and who are likely to cover the story.

You’ve got your press releases written and ready to go. Now what?

  1. First and foremost, know your media policy. Your annual conference communicator will be an invaluable partner and resource for connecting with the media, answering your questions and working through these tips.
  2. Put your best spokesperson forward. Be sure you have someone who is prepared to be in the spotlight and can do a good job of speaking on your organization’s behalf. Condense your message and get it down cold. Think in sound bites because you will probably just have a matter of seconds to make your point.
  3. Make sure the information on your church website is current and up-to-date. Chances are that reporters will be checking it out and using it as a source for background information.
  4. Put your media kit online via your church’s website. Include a history of your church, its mission and goals, brief profiles and photos of key people, the most recent news about outreach projects, contact information, etc. Busy reporters will appreciate being able to access this information easily.
  5. Know the messages you hope to convey. The information you share should be noteworthy and relevant to a large share of the public. Reporters don’t want yesterday’s news, items that are of interest only internally to your organization, or routine events. Think “newsworthy.” Reporters love a good human-interest story.
  6. Make yourself available to the media at any time. Give them a home or cell number where they can reach you day or night. Reporters are working on a deadline and will appreciate your rapid response.
  7. A personal thank you goes a long way.

As the journey to General Conference continues, the Public Information Office at United Methodist Communications is happy to support your media efforts, whether by compiling a media contact list or helping to answer questions.

*Laura Buchanan is a public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee.