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Basics

Why Bother?
Why it is worth your time to write a press release, and why beginners have a special advantage.

Where To Send It
Some tips on finding appropriate publications to send your press release to.

Timing
The most frequent and fatal error in writing a press release, and how not to make it.

A Few Points of Style
A few stylistic points, for the press release and yourself.

Three Types
of Press Release

1. Coming Event
Let's start easy. Let the community know about special events at your church.

2. Feature Story
What interesting people are there at your church? This could even land you on the front page - maybe.

3. News Story
What newsworthy event will happen at your church? Last not because it is least, but because it is less frequent that you'll be able to use it. But some day...

Etc.

What to Write About
"But nothing's happening at my church." Bet there is. And if there isn't, there's more wrong with your church than a press release can fix.

Media Bias
"But isn't the media biased against Christianity?" Probably, but here's why it usually doesn't make much difference.

 

The Feature Story

While news stories must follow a fairly regimented style, with the feature story a reporter has quite a bit of latitude to tell a story in an interesting way. Sometimes the general restriction against reporters expressing their opinions is relaxed as well.

Also, feature stories are not usually as timely as news stories, so writers have a bit more time to work on them, and they are usually longer than news stories. Sometimes they receive front-page coverage as well.

For these reasons, reporters like feature stories. You should too, because, in all likelihood your church is full of feature stories.

You don't believe it? Then ask yourself these two questions:

  • Does my church have any ministries to the community?
  • Are there any interesting people at my church?

    If you can't say yes to either of these questions, your church needs more help than a press release can give it. So let's assume the answer is yes.

    A note to the newspaper suggesting a story and telling what is interesting about the person or ministry is often enough to prompt a story.

    As I mentioned, feature stories are not as structured as news stories; however, they do have one critical element, often called the "hook."

    This simply means that there has to be something catchy or interesting about the story that can be stated in the first paragraph to hook the reader.

    Keep this in mind when you go fishing for a feature story. If you hook the editor, the editor will know that a writer can hook the reader. This hook doesn't have to be particularly ingenious. Simply state right up front why this story is interesting.

    So, simply say up front why this story is interesting, then provide any supporting details that you can below. Here are some examples of opening paragraphs.


    Examples

    STORY IDEA - New Arts Academy

    Feb. 20, 1999

    First Avenue Church
    123 N. First Ave.
    Hometown, CA 91111

    Contact: Marlene Lee - (818) 555-1212

    Dear Editor:

    I thought you might be interested in interviewing Marlene Lee, director of what we think may be the newest arts school in the Hometown area, First Church's Creative Arts Academy. The school was begun last September and has already grown to about 100 students. I've provided a bit of background below.

    ###

    Notice that the hook is that the school is new and is growing rapidly.


    STORY IDEA - 30th Anniversary of Developmentally Disabled Class

    Feb. 20, 1999

    First Avenue Church
    123 N. First Ave.
    Hometown, CA 91111

    Contact: Helen James - (818) 555-1212

    Dear Editor:

    I thought you might be interested in interviewing Helen James, who 30 years ago founded, and still leads, a 45-member Sunday School class for the developmentally disabled at First Church in Hometown. I've included a bit of detail about her and the class below.

    ###

    Here the hook is that it is the 30th anniversary of a ministry run by a very dedicated woman. Notice that this example uses the "old" approach, and previous example uses the "new."


    A Couple Comments

  • It is doubly effective to tie a proposed feature story to a topic that is currently in the news. For example, just after a parade in our town, a group of people from my church distributed left-over flowers to local retirement homes. Their act of kindness tied in beautifully with the parade. The "press release" for this event was just a few sentences sent by e-mail to the local newspapers, but it resulted in a great feature story with pictures.

  • I've noticed little interest by reporters in "spiritual" topics, unless they have a very substantial here-and-now element. For example, much as I'd like the newspapers to run a story about a dozen people coming to know Christ at our church, I doubt they would take me up on that. But if a dozen people, motivated by the love of Christ, start a low-cost food program that benefitts the surrounding community, I think they'd be very interested.

    Copyright 1999 Brad Haugaard.