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Manage media relations to your church's benefit

Developing good relationships requires time and care. Relationships with the media are no exception. Having solid relationships with reporters can help promote your church's ministries—and ensure fair coverage in a crisis.

However, sending out news releases is not the best way to develop good relationships with the media. Reporters and editors are always on the lookout for news. If they can count on you to help them, the effort will pay off for your church.

Here are ideas to consider:

Identify reporters who cover subjects your church ministries address. Larger newspapers assign reporters to beats or subject matter. There may be a religion reporter, but that is not the only person you want to contact. Reporters who cover youth, nonprofits, social justice and other topics may be interested in information your church can provide. Get their names and contact information. Small newspapers may not assign their reporters by subject. Contact the editor to see who might cover news from your church.

Recognize television reporting is done a little differently.
Television reporters usually are not assigned beats. They may be divided by geography. More often, however, they are assigned a specific story each day, so it is harder to identify who might cover your interests. Get to know the assignment editors (they may be different people on the weekends). Watch newscasts to see which reporters tend to cover your interest areas or do the best job of reporting on your subjects.

Introduce yourself to the media.
Send an e-mail or call them. Let them know you would like a few minutes to share a little bit about your church, its activities and how you might be a resource. Explain right away you do not expect them to do an article on the church—you simply want them to know how you might be able to help for future articles.

Even if you do not get face-to-face time with reporters, send a letter identifying your church's ministries and interests beyond Sunday morning worship and other activities. Be certain to let them know about outreach ministries in which you are involved. That way they know you are a resource even if they do not need you now.

Make it easy for them to find you.
Use Facebook, LinkedIn and online forums to establish yourself as a potential source. Connect directly with reporters as well as prominent figures in the community who are regular news sources. If you have specialized interests or expertise, list those. If you are a gourmet cook, for example, list it on your profile. You never know what articles the media are working on!

Keep in contact by sending tips and notes NOT related to church activity.
Drop a note of kudos if you read or see a good piece by the reporter. Be specific about why you enjoyed the article or segment—do not just say "good work." Do not send something every time they publish or air something—the sentiment is lost.

When news breaks, plug a timely church angle.
If something big happens in your community—such as a large employer closing shop—call or e-mail the reporter with information on church outreach programs for affected residents. If you have a church member losing a job, and he or she is agreeable, offer that person as an interview possibility.

Follow and react to trends.
If something relevant to you or the church is happening, join the cause. Whether it is Facebook pages, weight-loss contests, corn-hole tournaments or anything else that is hot, remember your local media are probably putting together pieces on them. Offer church groups and activities reflecting the trend as potential sources and opportunities for video or photographs.

Benefit from relationships.
If a crisis arises at your church, reach out to the media proactively or as soon as possible after an incident occurs or a disaster strikes. If the media already know you, they are more likely to take the time to hear your explanation. If you reach out to them before the news hits other outlets, they may be honored that you gave them a scoop and trusted them with getting the news out accurately.

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