Become more media relations savvy so you can make the news without becoming the news.

52 smart rules for savvy media relations

BY KERRY BURAL

We’ve all seen or heard it. Someone pops off with an incendiary comment or an inappropriate gesture. Rumors start flying—and people start to feel uneasy. Phone cameras and recorders were rolling (remember, they’re always rolling). The clip goes viral and emotions escalate. Suspicions rise and hypotheticals spread like wildfire. Attorneys get involved.

So how exactly do ministry, church and nonprofit leaders prepare for media relations and navigate opportunities or challenges when they are unfolding? What should be done when a positive opportunity presents itself? How should a crisis be handled?

52 Smart Rules for Savvy Media Relations offers practical, strategic and tactical steps that can help you better prepare to manage media relations—both positive and negative.

My hope and prayer is that these smart rules will equip you to become more savvy so you can make the news without becoming the news.

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RULE #6

REQUEST THAT JOURNALISTS SUBMIT QUESTIONS AND RELATED INFORMATION IN ADVANCE.

This is where your designated screener can be most helpful. They can help you prepare for your response by researching context, compiling questions and exchanging information with the journalist.

Key thought: They should help facilitate an active and timely response internally to minimize mishaps and intentionally drive the engagement forward.

RULE #10

UNDERSTAND THE ANGLE THROUGH WHICH THE STORY IS BEING GENERATED.

Review other articles, publications or content generated by the same journalist to gain perspective and discern the angle they might be pursuing. Look for patterns and rhythms in the topics they cover.

Compare and contrast their perspective with articles written by other outlets for discerning accuracy and fairness.

RULE #16

ALWAYS CLARIFY WHAT YOU MEAN BY WHAT YOU SAY.

Journalists are infamous for misinterpreting what you’ve said because they fail to ask follow-up clarifying questions. So, you should assume that they won’t “get it,” and clarify what you mean by what you say, even if they don’t ask for such. Be careful, though, because you might also end up inadvertently over-communicating in ways that hurt you and hurt the case you are making. This might also be the right time to declare that something you are stating is “off the record” (or not for publication with or without attribution), so the journalist knows that what you are saying is not quotable and/or usable in their reporting.

Again, be very careful on this point, because how some media outlets define “off the record” allows room for the journalist to make judgment calls which may not work in your favor.

In other words, be sure to clarify whether or not the ideas, information, or precise verbiage you are communicating may or may not be shared in any form in the journalist’s reporting. Also be clear about whether or not your name should be published as the source of the information.

RULE #37

OUTRUN THE STORY AND DO YOUR BEST TO GET AHEAD OF IT.

The speed and expediency with which you approach a news story has everything to do with how the story will ultimately develop.

Run toward the opportunity or challenge in question—not away from it. Anticipate challenges or objections. Don’t conjecture or suppose. Back your smack with just the facts.

Key thought: Don’t say everything you are thinking. Instead, think through everything before you say it.

RULE #38

DON’T POP OFF OR MAKE INCENDIARY REMARKS TO JOURNALISTS, UNLESS YOU WANT TO GUARANTEE YOU WILL BE QUOTED.

Remember that your attitude, remarks and personal opinions will affect the way journalists view the entire faith community.

There is no place for gossip or destructive remarks about others. Your attitude, tone and demeanor will naturally manifest through your engagement with journalists, so be very cognizant of your vibe. This can be easily misinterpreted and misrepresented. Be deliberate in how you engage them to ensure the best possible outcome.

RULE #41

ALWAYS MAINTAIN A CHRISTLIKE AND PROFESSIONAL ATTITUDE.

Be humble and don’t make demands. You might be surprised by how much this will help.

Key thought: These are real people too, and they aren’t likely to respond well if you cop an attitude.

RULE #45

LESS IS MORE WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH THE MEDIA.

Don’t spill all your candy in the first interview. Full disclosure is not for the faint of heart. Before you are interviewed, think long and hard about “telling all” and be very intentional about what you share. Nuance details for press releases and news cycles. Directness can be good or bad—depending on what you are trying to accomplish strategically.

BUT WHY SHOULD I DOWNLOAD 52 SMART RULES?

Implementing these rules of engagement will help you avoid the unintended consequences that come from being ill-prepared for that inevitable news media inquiry—whether positive or negative.

If your organization hasn’t yet established general media engagement process and protocol similar to what I’ve presented above, you will inevitably wish you did. I encourage you to thoughtfully and deliberately work through each of the rules with the intention of developing solid protocol and process.

Be ready and be on your game. Learn to interact appropriately with journalists to optimize a positive situation or manage a negative one toward more positive outcomes.

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About the Author

Kerry Bural loves helping ministry nonprofits, schools, churches and leaders expand their influence and impact. Give this man a whiteboard and a marker, and he will distill clarity from even the most complex ideas. He has 25+ years of experience in building international ministry brands. He’s the president of The Resonate Group®, Inc., a strategic and creative brand development and advancement agency in Nashville, Tennessee.