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Public Relations for Congregations
Ministers and congregations play a vital role as a voice for Unitarian Universalism in local communities. Here are a few tips for developing a communications/media relations strategy.
Establish a Communications Team
You don’t have to do it alone. Figure out who your communications superstars are. Who is good at and willing to manage social media, write for the web, proofread, draft press releases, and maintain a media contact list? This is your communications team.
With your team, develop a list of local media contacts. See who has covered your congregation or issues your congregation cares about in the past. Now, introduce yourself. Email them, call them, tweet at them, or connect on LinkedIn and let them know you are available to provide a liberal religious perspective on issues the reporter is covering. Mention a piece they recently wrote that piqued your interest.
What makes a good news story? What are reporters looking for? Look at any article and you will find one or more of the “5 C’s”— Controversy, Conflict, Contradiction, Colorful Language, Cast of Characters. If you want to get noticed, you need to amplify these qualities in interviews, press releases, and public statements.
Craft Your Message
When talking with reporters, it is important to be prepared. Write down the three main points you want to get across—and stick to them. Avoid “committing news” by inadvertently saying something you will regret. Avoid irony and sarcasm because these comments can easily be misconstrued.
To nurture your relationship with the media, you want to be responsive. Reporters are under strict deadlines. You need to return phone calls and emails in a timely manner and be prepared for comment unless you want to see “could not be reached for comment” in an article. Reporters will go back again and again to people who make their job easier.
Be Your Own PR Machine
Blog. Tweet. Post to Facebook. These days, you don’t have to wait for your column to be published in the local press to get publicity. There are lots of FREE social tools to get your message out there. Start a blog on your congregation’s website, share meditations from your worship service on your congregation’s Facebook page, tweet about what is happening in the world and how it relates to your congregation’s social justice work. All of this will build a wealth of credibility which will be useful background for reporters.
Crisis Communications 101
Don’t wait for your first crisis to put a plan in place. With your communications team, put together a brief communications crisis plan. Identify who will be your spokesperson and your back-up. Determine how you will handle press who show up at your church doors. Figure out how you will communicate the crisis situation to congregants and the media.
Essential Elements for a Crisis Communications Plan
- Be prepared to communicate quickly on all forms of media, both internally and externally.
- Show compassion and understanding for those affected by your crisis.
- Never lie or “spin” the truth. A cover-up is likely to be worse than the crime.
- Share pertinent information.
- Make sure there are ways for your audience to communicate questions and concerns.
Call the UUA. Our communications staff is available to help your congregation in crisis. We will guide you through what may happen based on your unique situation and help hone your plan. Contact us at pr [at] uua [dot] org.