Approaches To Publicizing Parish Events

By Eugenia Warhol Skuby

Publicizing your parish events through the media can be a trying as well as a rewarding project. Whether you belong to a mission parish or an older, established one, the rules for getting coverage are the same—facts and follow-up are what count. Each newspaper and TV or radio station sets different priorities about what it chooses to cover, but there are certain guidelines which can maximize the chances of getting the publicity your parish wants.

First of all, it is important to select one person to represent the parish to both print and electronic media. Whether it is the priest, a parish council member, or an interested parishioner, this individual will establish credibility and rapport with local reporters and can be called upon by these reporters when they need additional information. This rapport can be initiated by a simple phone call to the religion column editor of local newspapers. Just introduce yourself and your church, and tell them you will be periodically contacting them about important upcoming parish events, such as an open house or when your priest speaks at a local university. After this initial contact, the following points may help you save time and effort, and will be appreciated by the media covering your event.

1. Identify Who It is that Will Get You the Coverage You Need

For a major event (a visit by Metropolitan Theodosius or a foreign religious dignitary) call the news/programming directors of the local TV and radio stations. Also call the local newspapers—the managing editor, the religion editor, or the city editor, whoever is “minding the shop” when you call. For less significant, but more common events, the religion editor, the director of community relations, or even the ad manager will be able to assist you, depending upon the situation. It is these individuals who can help you announce your holiday service schedule, cover a human interest story, or purchase an ad.

2. Be Straightforward

Reporters’ time is limited and your appreciation of this fact will be beneficial. Stick to the point, be concise yet thorough, and be knowledgeable about the topic you’re discussing. For example, if your parish is hosting a discussion group to which various denominations have been invited, knowing a bit about each of the participants and why their presence is significant, will help you convince the reporter that coverage is needed. Presenting the facts in a straightforward manner that will “sell” is crucial, whether you’re writing a simple press release or making a phone call.

Your written contact may be a formal, narrative press release, or can be as simple as a fact sheet stating the basic five W’s—What, Who, When, Where, and Why. Always include your name and phone number for additional information. Because most press releases considered news-worthy are poorly written, reporters must take time to extract the necessary and relevant information. You can save them time by writing the release accurately, simply, and completely. Your telephone call to the reporter should have the same characteristics. Whether your story is minor or major, introduce yourself and state simply why you’re calling and why the reporter should be interested. The rest is up to the reporter and the editor.

3. Be Realistic About What a Reporter Can Do For You

While we all like to think that our own stories and activities are important, so do about 200 other people who contact daily newspapers in the hopes of getting publicity. Consider the newspaper or television staff’s priorities. Rescheduling your Friday evening activity to a Sunday afternoon, when media schedules are a bit less hectic, may pay off. Some talk-show hosts and newspaper reporters even seek out “feature” type stories to help them fill in slow weekends. You’ll be ready for this, if you’ve maintained periodic contact with them. For this reason, don’t ever assume your story is too small or insignificant It might be just what that reporter wants. (Articles you may have seen in the Sunday papers about the tradition of coloring Easter eggs would fall into the feature category.) Furthermore, some media are staffed with only skeleton crews on weekends, which may affect their responsiveness to you.

4. Consider What Is News

In the eyes of the media and by classroom definition, news is: important, unusual, relevant to readers’ lives, and current. By this you can easily see why state budget cuts will make the newspaper before your parish’s 10th anniversary celebration. Your geographical location makes a difference too. In a city like Washington, D.C. you’re likely to be lost in the shuffle sooner than in a smaller metropolitan area. Expect disappointments now and then, but don’t give up.

5. Time Your Contacts Wisely

Send a press release one month in advance of what you consider will be a major event. Follow up with a second, more specific release about a week prior to the event. It’s a good idea to follow up in person or at least by phone. Reporters can easily throw away a press release, but will be less likely to forget if they see you in person. For lesser events, contact reporters three days (or more) in advance.

Our Experience

As mentioned above, the attention which individual reporters will give to religion in general and your parish in particular differs greatly from community to community. In Richmond we are fortunate to have an excellent religion editor who regularly writes a “Religious Notes” column, giving us an outlet to announce special feast-day services or other non-routine items. If your community does not have a column or service, you might suggest that one be started. We also periodically place ads in the newspaper, usually around major holidays like Christmas and Easter, to announce the times when services will be held. In addition, our local newspaper publishes an annual supplement called “Discover Richmond,” which includes articles about community activities and resources available to area residents. This supplement includes a free listing of churches and has become a valuable information piece for people moving to Richmond.

Other Resources For Publicity

I have concentrated on the use of the media to publicize your parishes and their activities. There are probably many other resources available to you if you search for them. In Richmond we have listed St. Cyprian of Carthage Church in the yellow pages, newcomers’ guides published by some of our major banks, and a “Welcome to Richmond” guide available at our airport. (If you haven’t approached anyone from similar publications in your area, be prepared to be persistent and patient. It may take several months before their next edition is released, and it’s up to you to follow up.) Using these resources and the newspaper, we feel we are reaching visitors to our area as well as incoming and current residents. In the future we are planning to invite our close neighbors to an informal open house and we are looking into how we can use our local libraries, colleges, and universities to help spread our message and expand our public image.

Eugenia Warhol Skuby is a member of St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church in Richmond, Virginia, a mission parish with approximately 30 members. She recently spent two years as manager of press relations and communications for a trade association in Washington, D. C. and is now a customer service supervisor for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia, in Richmond.