Media Relations – the Pastor and the Press

Media relations involve working with various media for the purpose of informing the public of an organization's mission, policies and practices in a positive, consistent and credible manner. Typically, this means coordinating directly with the people responsible for producing the news and features in the mass media. The goal of media relations is to maximize positive coverage in the mass media without paying for it directly through advertising - Wikipedia
It can be most stressful and disconcerting when encountering a crisis or having to address national issues, therefore it is important that a church leader build good media relations. For this reason, I share a few tips to guide a leader when relating to the media/press.

Make Friends with the Media

I have learnt from experience that the best time to get to know the media is in good times. For example, when assigned to a new area or given a new assignment, introduce yourself to the local newspaper, radio or television station by way of a letter, phone call, or email with a face-to-face follow-up meeting. By doing so you would have started the process of media relations, which is not built overnight but over time.

It is also important to bear in mind when seeking to develop media relations to consider the kind of business that we are in and how we can synchronize our objectives in a mutually beneficial way. The following should be noted:

a. The church’s business is to win souls for Christ and nurture them into a loving relationship with Him.

b. The media’s business is to publish news, features and information (whether it’s bad or good) that will appeal to its audience and make them look better than their competitors (i.e. the media is always looking for a good story that will appeal to its audience).

So, once we give the media what they want – good stories – we would have gone a good way to building that crucial relationship, as credibility is built in this process and after a while, they would be seeking information and stories from the church instead of the church ‘seeking out’ the media.

Dealing with the media presents unique challenges in that the news media cannot be controlled — they have ultimate control over whether stories pitched to them are of interest to their audiences.

Utilize their Service

Another way that you can build a good relationship with the media is to invite them to make presentations to the church members or leaders. Asking their opinion of an issue and how they would manage it in the good times is also another way of making them feel important in achieving your objectives.

Know their “Beats”

One way to ensure a positive working relationship with media personnel is to become deeply familiar with their "beats" and areas of interests. Church leaders, pastors and communication personnel should read as many magazines, journals, newspapers, and blogs as possible, as these will not only help in knowing their “beats”, but also keep one informed about what is currently happening, so you can be better informed to relate to the various audiences.

Reacting to the Press

Just as how you cannot control what they might put out to their audience, you must not be seen as fighting the media because you will not likely win. So, watch your attitude towards the press. In this regard, seek the input of trained journalists in the church, your local communication department and above all, pray for the guidance of God Almighty. We must learn to work with the press as opposed to shunning them.

I can share several experiences I have had with the press. For example, following a presentation to a local Toastmasters group, the caption of the same in one of the dailies implied that I was telling the government what to do regarding the proposed referendum on gambling. Quite frankly, I did not; neither did I know that the Prime Minister had addressed the issue of gambling with a group of UK consultants earlier that day. The reporter tied both stories, inferring that I knew of the Prime Minister’s meeting. Nevertheless, in fairness to the reporter, my remarks were carried albeit at the end of the article. A press statement or release may prove useful to clear the ‘air,’ as it allows you to make your point without entertaining questions.

Consult With Leadership

It is always best to consult whenever possible with your church leadership before speaking or releasing any story, especially if it is likely to be controversial. While news reporters might be friendly, they must be treated professionally because they are always skeptical towards every organization including the church. Something controversial will prove sensational and appealing to them, so it is very important to consult with church leaders to mitigate any possible fall out that the church may face in any controversy or misunderstanding. We will come out better together than any single individual will anytime.