Monday, February 2, 2015

Please Release Me - Tips on Sending Out Press Releases

Print may be dead, but churches can use it to spread the good news. 
By Russ Ward
Print is dead or at least on life-support. It's true, when you look at circulation rates for local, regional and national newspapers. As an example, the top ten national newspapers' Sunday edition circulation has dropped 47.5% in ten years. Total revenue reveals an even more devastating trend. In 2000, the advertising revenue for newspapers in the US was 65.5 billion; by 2013 that number dropped to 17.3 billion.

So if print is dead why should a church waste the time to send out a press release?

Because that lost revenue will allow you to tell your story more effectively and then communicate about your church through social media. This is based on the total decline of news reporters. Only 38,000 full-time jobs now exist in print media in the United States and that number is down 33.2% from its 1989 peak of 56,900, according to the annual census of the American Society of News Editors. This has led to many newsrooms to quickly peruse submitted releases and then publish them as they are sent. The result is you get to set the tone and tell your church's story the way you want.

In my career I have witnessed this decline. Fifteen years ago when sending a press release my client or myself would often receive a follow up call with questions. Now, the phone never rings and the vast majority of times the press releases are printed without a change. Keep in mind that editors still have to fill papers and without a full staff of reporters, so they use more press releases to fill the columns.

But if people don't read the newspaper why should we care? Because the purpose of a press release is not to have it seen in the paper. It seems like an odd contradiction, but the printing of the article in the paper is only an ancillary benefit. The real benefits are to use the paper to create an opportunity for social media to spread the word, use the newspaper's online presence and lastly, use the printed story as a way to reach other media outlets. So send out a press release.

Also, keep in mind that the newspaper is not the only media outlet. Local radio, television and other outlets form media today.

Below are some tips on sending out a press release:

How often?
Press releases should be sent out weekly to monthly. More than once a week and they will start to get ignored by much of the media. Less than once a month and the press will forget who you are. An additional benefit of consistent releases is that your church will become the "experts" on church matters and social questions. You will be called when reporters have a question about a story in the news about faith or God. Take advantage of this relationship by working with the media and be mindful of their needs and deadlines. Consistent press releases are a great opportunity to build rapport with influencers.

Who should I send a release to?
Everyone. We don't need stamps or a FAX machine so don't be stingy with your story. All newspapers, radio stations, television stations, magazines, media services and online outlets, should be sent a release; but not only just locally. If you are in Missouri, you should be sending your releases to the media in both Kansas City and St. Louis plus nearby medium sized markets. Even some national news outlets should get the release. If your media list is less than 50 email addresses, then you are not sending it out to enough people.

What should I say?
The release can be about a variety of subjects: A new sermon series, VBS, happy 100th birthday, a holiday program, community outreach, mission trips, pastor appreciation festivities, Superbowl alternatives, and much more. One of the more successful press releases I have sent out for a church was about them not serving doughnuts for Sunday School anymore. It would be easier to list what you shouldn't send. Just remember to tell the story in a way  that reflects your congregation and the love they have for the community.

How long should it be?
Most press releases should cover one typed, single space page or less, including the contact information and title. Very few press releases should be multiple pages, however the most important thing is to give all of the information.

How should it be worded?
Press releases are not an opportunity to gloat or brag! It is a way to let people know who you are and what you do. Write it in that fashion. Most media outlets now have an online component, so those that publish your release will be putting it online as well. People searching for information about your church will be the audience. Write for them. Always be completely honest and clear. If you are expecting 100 people for a special program say that. Don't use the "deacon count" (count the cars in the parking lot and multiply by four).

I find the best way to write is to compile a list of all of the important facts. You know these as the "who, what, why, when, where and how come" of journalism 101. Then just put them in a reasonable order from most important to least important and fill in the blanks by joining the fact together as a story. It is also a good idea to quote someone in the church associated with the program you are touting. Lastly, have someone proofread it. It is always better to look like an idiot to a friend or fellow christian than to everyone that reads the paper.

Also, there is a specific format expected. You can find samples on line or contact me at and I will email you one.

Lastly, have fun and involve others in telling the story about your church!

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