Unwrap the True Meaning of Christmas
Learn how to connect with your community this Christmas through a meaningful outreach event. This video discussion with experts from United Methodist Communications will help you discover seasonal event ideas, publicity best practices, marketing tips, social media tools and more.
Crystal Caviness (CC): Welcome to today’s Live Learning session from United Methodist Communications: Creating and Maximizing your Unwrap Christmas event. My name is Crystal Caviness and I am a Senior Public Relations Specialist at United Methodist Communications.
Steven Adair (SA): And I am Steven Adair, Director of Local Church Services here at UMCom. Today’s live learning experience has been designed to help you and your church with your Advent outreach efforts, especially those who are planning an Unwrap Christmas event. We’re going to be giving some great ideas for your events that you can host and also how you can gain publicity to maximize your effort.
CC: Before we dive into the tips and helpful tricks of the event, let’s talk a little bit about the Unwrap Christmas campaign.
SA: United Methodist Communications has offered the Unwrap Christmas campaign for a few years now, but what’s new this year is that we’re really being intentional on resourcing the local church to reach out to their community, to offer meaningful places for people to connect during the Advent season.
CC: Research tells us that, when it comes Christmas, what people really value is spending time with friends and family. But it’s also a time, research tell us, when people are most lonely. So, the Unwrap Christmas events are intended to create a place of community.
SA: An Unwrap Christmas event can take on many forms. Maybe a church would like to set up a food donation drive at the local grocery store, maybe a hot cocoa booth at the holiday music concert or host a live Nativity scene. There are countless ways, and creative ways, that churches can reach out to their community.
For example, one United Methodist church that we heard about set up at a local grocery store the morning of Christmas Eve. They set up a tent and served hot chocolate to shoppers, while also handing out invitation cards to the church’s Christmas Eve service later that afternoon. Over a three-hour period, they offered a welcome presence to hundreds of people, and doubled their food collection goal by collecting two whole pickup truck beds full of non-perishable food for the local food bank. Also, two local news stations came out, and some smaller media outlets, which helped them reach a larger audience.
CC: That sounds like a great event! And I really love hearing how they used publicity to maximize the outreach for their event. And we’re going to talk about that and give some examples for that in just a few minutes.
Regardless of what your church chooses to do, we hope today’s live learning session will offer tips to make your event successful. Steven, should we get started?
SA: Absolutely! The first thing your church is going to want to do is figure out the type of event that you’re going to want to host. Think about the goals and vision. Are you hoping that people are going to attend your Christmas Eve services, or connect with you in a different way? Are you wanting to show that your congregation is a welcoming presence in your neighborhood? Check out what’s happening in your community and consider how you can maybe join up with an existing event.
Or, if you have the ability to host your own event, with the number of volunteers, or maybe monetarily, you can do that as well, to organize a standalone event, such as a concert or service project for your neighborhood.
CC: You know, as churches are considering their event, they really should think about how they could make it more interesting to the local media. And we’re going to talk that in a few minutes, as I said, and give some examples, but think about ways to attract news coverage as you’re putting your event together. It’s really a smart part of any publicity strategy. Events held in the late morning or early afternoon are more likely to generate media coverage. And you want to make sure that your event doesn’t compete with a well-established event in the community.
SA: Once you establish a vision for your outreach, put together a core team, people who will be instrumental to making the event happen. This core team can help find locations, check dates, develop a budget and put together the publicity plan.
There are a lot of details to consider, from recruiting volunteers to logistics to promotion. For example, when you’re considering locations, especially for standalone events, you’ll want to ask about permits, fees and other special considerations.
The good news is that we’ve put together an event guide to help you plan your event. Go to ResourceUMC.com/EventGuide, where you will find checklists and timelines, as well as tools and templates to make your event a success. We will put the URL in the comments and also repeat it at the end of this training.
CC: But the work doesn’t stop with event logistics. Sometimes, what we’ve seen happen is that a church focuses all of its energy on planning an event and then the church leaders forget about publicizing their event. It’s a shame to go to all of that effort and then miss this one big piece that can really maximize the impact of your event.
So once you have the event planned, you’ll want to let people know about it…which is where publicity comes in. As we mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to begin thinking about your event p.r. at the same time you are planning logistics.
For example, let’s go back to your example of the food drive at the local supermarket. You’d love for the media to cover it, especially your local t.v. stations. So, this is where you start thinking of a media hook, an added reason – beyond your event – that media may want to come out. For example, you may want to plan to have a bell choir or a children’s choir sing for 15 or 20 minutes during the event. If so, that’s the timeframe you want to tell media about. You can make sure they know that your event is from 9 a.m. to noon, for example, but the children’s choir will be singing from 10 to 10:20 a.m. Local t.v. news crews want good video for their stories and what’s more adorable than a group of youngsters singing Christmas carols while folks are dropping off canned food in the collection bins under the tent? The children’s choir may end up being the backdrop to the story about your event.
Once you’ve identified your media hook, in this case, the children’s choir, you’ll want to put together your publicity plan.
SA: You’ll also want to think about who your church’s spokesperson might be. Is that your pastor? Or, somebody in your congregation who is a community involvement leader? Whoever you decide, make sure this person is prepared to speak to the media about why your church is hosting the event and provide details about the event. They’ll likely want to talk to volunteers as well, so providing some talking points for volunteers is a great idea.
Anything that makes your event more visual can help as well, so consider having volunteers dress in the same bright colors or hats. Imagine how the event will look on television and determine the picture you want this event to convey. Plan how to position all people, banners and other props to accommodate this picture.
CC: At least a month before your event, you’ll want to send a press release out via email to the local newspapers, television stations, any websites that may seem appropriate.
It’s okay if you’ve never written a press release. We provide a template in the Event Guide for you. You’ll also want to include your annual conference communicator and district superintendent’s office in your distribution so they will know about your event. You can find this information on the annual conference website.
In addition to the traditional media outlets, consider listing your event with online event calendars. You can Google “event calendars” and the name of your city for a list of places to post. It’s important to post on these as soon as you have all of the details. Many event calendars require that you give them the event information at least a month in advance.
SA: Don’t forget to use your own social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for free and inexpensive ways to get the word out about your event.
Facebook has more traffic than any social media platform in the world and this is an excellent place for promoting your church activity. If your church has a Facebook page, then you have a built-in audience with people who already follow your page and are interested in what you are doing.
There are few different ways to use Facebook. You can post about the event on your church’s timeline. Make sure you use an interesting image – perhaps the Unwrap Christmas logo that you can find online. Also, include a call to action, such as, “Share this post with your friends.” We suggest starting your event promotion at least six weeks to one month before your event. Don’t post only once, however. Keep reminding your Facebook audience about this event, perhaps with a post once or twice a week. These posts can be updates about what you expect at the event and parts of the event that will create excitement, such as speakers, musicians and giveaways.
You may also choose to create a Facebook event, an online invitation intended to pique and engage interest in your activity. All of the important information about this event can live on the page. At the event page, people can choose “going,” “not going” or “interested.” Those people who say they are going or who are interested will receive updates when you post on this event page. You can also use your church’s regular Facebook page to promote this special event page.
For a moment I want to talk about Facebook advertising. In my experience, it’s very inexpensive to reach a large amount of people on Facebook that aren’t currently connected to your Facebook page. $1 or $2 goes a long way and if your church has a little bit larger of a budget, $5 or $10 will do even more.
I recommend targeting “people who like your page and their friends” as a first approach to growing your audience. When you boost a post, Facebook will make sure that post is seen near the top of a person’s Facebook feed. This is an effective way to get exposure beyond your current followers.
One last way to use Facebook: On the day of your event, consider going live, especially early in the event. Facebook Live offers a way to give people a live look at your event, which serves as a great way to encourage people to attend. When you go live on your Facebook, make sure you are live for at least 10 minutes so that Facebook can send out notices to your followers that your page is live. During this time, you may do a brief interview with your pastor or spokesperson to ask about what is happening that day, talk about the goal of the event and take a brief tour of the event site.
In addition to Facebook, you can use Twitter and Instagram to publicize the event. Both platforms offer ways to boost your posts to reach a larger audience. Consider where your target audience may be most active, whether that’s on Facebook or Instagram.
CC: With your press release out and your social media outreach underway, you can start thinking about targeting media contacts. That means think about reporters who you know cover community events. You’ll want to look on their websites, that’s a good place to find that information, get their email address, and then you can send them an email with your press release and a personalized note. Perhaps you’ll say something like, “I want to make sure you know about our event, that it’s going to be at 10 o’clock on Saturday, our children’s choir will be playing at noon, we’d love to have you come out.” Pitching to reporters this way usually happens about two weeks before your event.
On the day of the event, you’ll want to send out media alerts. This is information that you’re going to send to your t.v. stations. Again, you can find that information on the websites of the different stations in your city. It’s going to have the basics, the who/what/when/where, and I recommend following up. Call the news stations and just make sure they got your media alert, ask if they’re planning to cover the event. A lot of times they may say to you, “Yes, it’s on our schedule,” but just know, that with news crews, they could be on their way to your event and at the last minute they get called away to something that’s more breaking news and not come, even if it was their intention to be there.
Sometimes media outlets send photographers and videographers without you knowing about it. So be on the lookout, and if that happens, be sure you approach them, be helpful, friendly, ask if there’s any specific shots they would like to get, if they would like to speak with your pastor or spokesperson.
Immediately after your event, it’s a good idea to do some post-event publicity. Using your original contact list, you can send out your original press release, a few of your best high-quality photos from the day that really tell the story and information about how many folks came out, how much food you collected, any nuggets of information that might be helpful to tell the story of your event.
So, those are some ways that you can maximize publicity.
SA: That’s all great information, Crystal. Just as a reminder, for all of the information we’ve shared here today, plus a press release template and necessary photo and video releases, you can find those at ResourceUMC.org/EventGuide.
CC: Before we finish with today’s live learning session, any last thoughts, Steven?
SA: We just want to thank you for sharing God’s love through these Unwrap Christmas events. These events are happening all throughout the connection and we want to see what your church is doing. So be sure to tag all your posts, your photos and your videos with #UnwrapChristmas.
CC: Thank you for joining us today!
Both: Merry Christmas!