One of the best ways to increase awareness of your church and boost its reputation is by garnering some positive media coverage. Whether it’s by a small local newspaper or TV station or an outlet with statewide coverage, being featured has the potential to help you reach new people. So, how do you get good press? Creating a newsworthy event is a key way to get positive coverage.

First, it’s important to understand the seven news values. These are criteria used by media outlets to determine how much prominence to give a story—in other words, how newsworthy it is. The news values are:

  • Timeliness: Recent events have higher news value than earlier happenings. Of particular value are stories brought to the public ahead of the competition. These are known as scoops.
  • Proximity: Stories about events and situations in one’s home community are more newsworthy than events that take place far away. If 1,000 persons drown in a flood in a faraway country, the story has about the same news value as a story describing how 100 persons drowned in a distant part of the United States. In turn, that 100-person story has about the same news value as a story concerning 10 flood victims within our own state. Finally, a story about those ten victims has about the same value as a story describing a flood which drowns one person in our local community.
  • Impact: The number of people whose lives will be influenced in some way by the subject of the story.
  • Prominence: People who are well known have higher news value than obscure people. When a celebrity or politician is diagnosed with cancer or some other life-threatening illness, people want to know about it while an ordinary citizen with the same illness would not have commanded the attention of the national news media.
  • Oddity: A classic example of this is dog-bites-man vs. man-bites-dog. Man-bites-dog is more bizarre. Dog-bites-man usually is not news.
  • Relevance: Takes into account what’s on people’s minds or what’s trending. Think the Ice Bucket Challenge some years ago. This story generated a momentum completely of its own—and news outlets covered everything from the latest video of a celebrity dumping water on their head to the economics of the phenomenon.
  • Conflict: Strife is newsworthy. War. Public anger or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues.
  • Human interest: People are interested in other people. Taking a glimpse at somebody else’s life appeals to a voyeuristic part of human nature. A fire burning down an empty building doesn’t have nearly the human interest of a fire that burns somebody’s home, leaving a family homeless. We identify with other people, and that’s part of what gives a story human interest.

Five key practices to create a newsworthy event:

  1. BE RELEVANT – Craft A Meaningful Community Event

News outlets want to see that you are in-tune with current events in your community and are finding a way to answer the needs of people around you.

A block party for a poverty-stricken neighborhood (proximity, human interest)
A 5k to raise money for a common cause (impact, human interest, relevance)
A mission day with projects open to community volunteers (impact, human interest)

Non-newsworthy events turned into newsworthy events:
No: A bake sale for your church to raise money for a youth mission trip in another state.
Yes: A bake sale to raise money to help rebuild a home in the community that recently burned down in a fire. (impact, timeliness, proximity, human interest).
No: Summer activity night in the church parking lot.
Yes: A hands-on service project for community volunteers that meets needs within the community, ex. packing backpacks with school supplies that local schools can give to students in need in the fall. (Impact, timeliness, proximity, currency, human interest, bizarreness)

What’s a meaningful and newsworthy community event you could do at your church within the next year? How many of the news values does it hit on?

  1. BE VISUAL – Frame Media Photo Opportunities

Visually showcase the event to make it media friendly on the day of the event and also if you pitch event coverage to the media directly.
Will be there be a shot of a room full of volunteers at work?
Set up a picture-ready scene beforehand.
Could you have a special guest ready to interview?
Take some good photos that you could give to the media with a short write-up after the event.

What makes a good photo? Some tips:
• Focus on people/emotions (not the backs of people’s heads).
• Get close to the action.
• Capture candid shots.

What are a couple of great photo opportunities for your community event?

  1. BE SOCIAL – Use Social Media for Effect

Social media is inexpensive and people check it continually.
Use Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter to recruit volunteers (while simultaneously advertising).
Social media tells stories well. Tag everyone involved and have everyone spread the news.
Use quotes and stats for effect.
Boost posts that are targeted to the audience you want to reach.

What’s a strong and relevant social media post for your community event?

  1. BE NOTEWORTHY – Involve Well-Known Community Figures (prominence)

People in the public spotlight will interest the community, a demographic the local media hopes to serve.
Will the Bishop participate in your project?
Will the Mayor attend and give an official welcome?
Is there a celebrity who you can involve, such as a popular local band to play music during your meal-packing event?

Who is a well-known person or people you could invite to your community event and ask to participate in a specific way?

  1. BE THOROUGH – Strategic Public Relations Efforts

Be thoughtful about your PR efforts and approach. Several steps need to be completed:
Press releases should be sent at least two weeks prior to the day of your event with a quote from an event leader and how people can get involved.
Follow up with reporters who have covered similar events and let them know why they should also cover yours.
Gather a list of local media contacts from radio, print, and television (religion reporters are always helpful if you have them).
Send out a reminder to the media 48 hours prior to the event with all of the information.
On event day, be ready to welcome members of the media and prep several spokespeople who are ready to talk about the event.
Immediately after the event, send a short article and some great photos to local media that didn’t attend the event (especially community newspapers) with encouragement to feature a story.

What makes a good press release?
• Put the most important information at the top.
Think about the news values as you craft it.
Include a compelling quote.
• Tell media what they can expect at the event.
Be succinct.
Include contact information for someone who can answer questions.

Example press releases:
Minnesota Conference Million Meals Marathon
Balaton church gets former NFL player Ben Utecht to come speak
Hamline Church to donate meal for each one sold at its State Fair dining hall

What would the intro of your event press release be? How will you demonstrate news value and capture the media’s attention with your first sentence?

Whose responsibility is it to do all of this? Not just the pastor! It’s important to have a communications team that can handle these tasks. Who from your church is a good writer or photographer? Who’s great at using social media? Who has lots of local connections? These are the people to recruit to be on a team that can help your church build awareness in the community!