Read all about it! How to get your story in the media

As a former journalist, editor, press officer and PR manager, Allchurches Trust’s Head of Communications and Marketing, Emma Smith, has more than 20 years’ experience of getting stories in the press, radio and TV. Here, Emma shares her top tips for engaging local media

14th October 2019

You’ve received your grant cheque, the certificate is on the ‘wall’ (potentially a false one if you’re in the middle of building works!) and you’ve shared the great news with your worshipping community and volunteers. But what next?

We know how busy life can be on the frontline, but being active in publicity when you have something to say (receiving a grant for a project is one of those times!) and keeping a good file of publicity about your organisation will strengthen grant funding applications you make. It will make your community and volunteers feel proud and valued, and will increase support for what you do by raising awareness among a wider audience.

So how can you leverage your recent grant funding success to attract other donors and increase community buy-in?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all the media are interested in these days is the back and forth of Brexit, or what the royals are wearing on the school run, but if you have a great story to tell, there’s still a good chance you can get your local press on board with your project.

There’s no doubt it’s harder to get the media’s attention these days. Six or seven years ago, an e-mail to a reporter with a brief outline of your project or invitation to an event might have been enough to get them along with a photographer, or at least to pick up the phone and find out more.

In today’s ‘click-bait culture’, bad news and vague, misleading headlines tend to take centre stage, with decisions on content driven almost entirely on how likely people are to ‘click the link’. Then there’s the fact there are so few actual journalists these days… That can present a challenge, but it can also present an opportunity.

So what can you do to get the attention of your local press and community publications?

A well-crafted, short and simple press release focused on the impact your project will have on people in your local area is a great place to start. If a time-starved local newspaper can copy and paste your article with very few changes required, they are much more likely to use it. Our press release template can provide further help, but the key points to remember are:

  • Write in the third person unless it is a quote, i.e. St Mary’s Church will help combat loneliness and isolation in Oxbridge with a new community café opening in Spring 2020.
  • The press release/article should be in the body of the e-mail, not attached as a separate document
  • Give it a short, punchy headline and subject line that will grab the attention of the reporter and intrigue them enough to read more. The headline isn’t so much ‘New kitchen for St Matthew’s Church’ as ‘Church commits to tackle loneliness in (insert town/village/region) with delicious dinners and a cup of comfort’. Making the area front and centre is important for local media, so they can see quickly that the story relates to their ‘patch’.
  • Start the release with what you are actually doing, and who your project will benefit and how; and how the funding will help. A press release is not a diary entry; the most interesting information needs to be right at the top!
  • Include a short quote from someone leading the church/charity project focused on what’s good about your project and what your grant will enable you to achieve. Alternatively, ask a service user/member of your congregation or community who will benefit from the project/work for a quote, and don’t forget to ask your funder for a quote too!
  • Keep it concise. Set yourself a limit of 400-500 words. If a reporter wants to know more, they can give you a call or e-mail (don’t forget to include contact details at the end)
  • Photos are a must and, ideally, they should have people in them. So, if you’re putting in a new kitchen, try to include a photo of people serving/preparing meals, not just an empty room. Similarly, it’s better to send an interesting photo of your church building than the cracks in the walls you’re trying to repair (unless they contain rare medieval paintings!) Don’t embed photos within the press release, but include them as separate attachments to your press release, and they will need to be at least 1MB in size and fairly good quality (photos taken on a phone are usually fine if you don’t compress them, but photos copied/saved from Facebook will not work for media). If your photos feature Under-18s, make sure you have consents in place
  • Do include a fundraising update and ‘call to action’ for donations and support for events, but don’t make this the focus of your release, unless the grant means you’ve hit your target and your project/building work can now start as a result. Do think about what is ‘new’ news and include relevant web addresses so people can find out more.

Carrying out some simple searches on the internet will usually tell you what newspapers, radio and TV stations, websites, blogs and community news publications and forums cover your region. Think wider than your village and town! You can usually find out the best contacts/local reporter for your area on the website for your local news outlets, and it’s best to send directly to a named contact if possible, rather than the news desk.

If you haven’t heard anything back from the reporter/newsdesk within a couple of days, give them a ring to follow up and check they have received it. These people are bombarded by e-mails, and may well have just hit the delete button without reading the content. The call is your chance to sell them the story. The worst they can say is no!

Hopefully, you’ll see coverage in print, online or broadcast for your story, but if not, don’t give up! There will be other opportunities to engage your local media as you hit key project milestones, such as reaching your fundraising target, sod-cutting ceremonies, diggers on site, completion of building works, etc. Make a plan to publicise your project’s milestones and its official launch. If you can get a local celebrity/VIP to come along, the local media are much more likely to pitch up!

If you’re doing something innovative, transformational and/or a little quirky, there’s nothing stopping you approaching the national media or specialist relevant trade titles too, but in this case, it’s better to send a brief pitch (around 100 words) with a concise overview of your project to canvas their interest, and include your contact details. It’s even harder to get a bite in this arena though, so don’t be afraid to follow-up with an e-mail a few days later if you haven’t heard anything back.

And finally, if you need some advice and guidance on communicating your grant to the media or you would like us to supply a quote for your press release, we’re happy to help. Your publicity helps us too. By spreading the word about Allchurches Trust, more organisations will find out about our grants and be inspired to apply for funding.

So, please tag us in your social media, send us your press releases and keep us informed of your project’s progress with updates and photographs. We want to join you for your exciting journey!