I’ve been on both sides of the press release divide, receiving them as a magazine editor and radio producer and sending them on behalf of parishes and ministries with whom I’ve worked, and I would say that a press release functions as a way for an interested party to generate interest by an uninterested party in something potentially interesting. That isn’t to say that press releases are always unwelcome. A reporter or editor or producer on a deadline and looking for new ideas and interview subjects will welcome a timely offer of a person or thing of interest to the audience which will also fill an empty slot. However, the PR must stand out, clearly offer value, and fit the mission of the media outlet. But I’m not here to offer a manual on effective press releases.
Parishes and small ministries should recognize that local media, especially small hometown newspapers or local radio stations or online news sources like Patch.com, can provide them with a platform for reaching the unchurched and the curious. For example, the collaborative of two Catholic parishes in Medford, Massachusetts, recently launched a new combined web site with a companion smartphone app. Many parishes launch new web sites but how many send press releases to their local paper about it. The Medford collaborative did and it was published in the North of Boston Wicked Local news site, which also publishes a bunch of small community newspapers in the Boston area. With this simple news story, the parishes are able to showcase their new site, create buzz, and set themselves up in the mind of readers as savvy users of technology. For non-parishioners, this could be a moment where an impression of the churches can be set. Perhaps it’s the moment they decide to try out a Sunday Mass. Maybe it’s one more step which builds on other positive local news stories about events and happenings in the parish which will lead the curious back to church.
Parishes should look at their local media outlets as another resource for communicating with the community alongside their Sunday bulletin and social media accounts. Not just for Mass times on the religious services page, but for real stories in the news section.
Do you have a parishioner doing something extraordinary? A youth group going on an interesting trip? Are you organizing a big festival? A Christmas concert? Are you holding any event to which the general public will be invited? And I don’t mean just prayer and devotional events, but social gatherings and service opportunities as well. Write a press release and make it interesting, not just self-serving. Think of what would interest you in a story about a church that isn’t yours. Make it succinct, compelling, and well-written. Include a high-resolution photograph or two. Find people willing to be interviewed. And then send these press releases regularly. Become visible in your community’s media outlets as a first step to reaching out to the curious as a first step in your evangelization efforts.