Crafting Better Stories by Cultivating Stronger Media Relationships

An interview with Michael Harrington from Salem Radio News.

Journalists can be strong allies for faith-based organizations, helping them to share their message and increase visibility. But it’s important to have an intimate knowledge of what types of stories they write and produce, and how they like to be contacted in order to build fruitful relationships.

In fact, when ministries take the time to craft stories that resonate with journalists, the result is a higher level of storytelling and messaging that resonates with all of their stakeholders, including board members, donors, employees, volunteers and more.

So can ministries begin cultivating better relationships with the media in order to craft better stories?

We reached out to Michael Harrington, religion desk editor at Salem Radio News, to learn more about what he thinks makes a great pitch, how he sources his stories and what tips he would give to ministries aiming to increase their visibility.

ICC: What are the three most important elements a media pitch must have in order to pique your interest?

MH: The most important part of any pitch is that it match my needs.  What we are looking for here at SRN News are hard news stories about moral-cultural issues.  For instance:  Religious freedom, transgender issues, abortion, atheism, politics and Israel.  I’m also looking for stories about the health of our various denominations and where they are splitting on doctrinal issues.  Bible translation, missionary and Christian NGOs are also of interest.  I also need the pitch to be concise and coherent and when I make contact to set up the interview I want as little friction in the process as possible.

ICC: What are some of your go-to sources for researching story leads and ideas?

MH: I get most of my story ideas from the internet.  I have a lengthy list of “favorites” — mostly Christian websites that I find story ideas and leads from.  There are too many to list here but some of the best are The Christian Post, Religion News Service, Christian Today, The Barna Group, Baptist Press, LifeWay Research, Pew Research, Public Religion Research Institute, Persecution.org, Life Site News, Life News and Christian Newswire. 

ICC: What tips would you give to a ministry that is new to pitching the media and trying to increase visibility?

MH: My number one tip is be professional.  Everybody thinks Public Relations is the kind of thing that anybody can do and isn’t all that important.  Putting somebody who isn’t professional in the job as your PRIME contact with the working media is a GREAT way to irritate the working media and get your press release launched straight into the trash.  There are some guys that are so bad that as soon as I see their name on the e-mail I hit delete.  Get your PR person some training.  Human beings are not born with the innate ability to do public relations.

Somebody smarter than me once said — You need to know what game you are playing.  The game a ministry who wants media attention is playing is SALES.  You are trying to SELL your story and your spokesman to ME.  Treat the media like a customer.  Make it easy to understand the product.  Find out what the customer wants.  When he wants to BUY make it easy.  No friction.

Before you shotgun your press release to 500 different media customers, find out something about them.  I can’t tell you how many times I have received press releases or e-mail inquiries at SRN News that include such phrases such as “I have included some photos for your publication.”  “Where can we read your article about our ministry?”  “What are the call letters of your station?”  A five minute Google search would tell you a few pertinent facts about SRN News that you could use to tailor your release to a radio network versus a magazine, newspaper, etc.  You don’t need a specific press release for each media customer, but you may need two or three different releases to cover the various types of media.  Nothing says “I don’t really care too much about you and I’m not very professional” then sending a radio network a release clearly aimed at the print media.

Want more information on how to leverage the media more effectively to make headlines and maximize your time on the airwaves? Download our newest free resource, “The Media Is On the Way: Are You Ready?”

 

Ty Mays Kelty has served as an account manager at InChrist Communications since 2007.