By Shannon Martin
When a crisis occurs, and the news media begins asking you questions, pastors are often pushed past their comfort zone. After all, Media Relations 101 is not a class offered in seminary! So here are five tips to get you started in dealing with the media, especially when your church reputation is on the line!
1. Be prepared
The number one rule when talking to the media is, “be prepared.” When a journalist calls your church for an interview, ask for the journalist’s name/number and what the story is about, and then refer the call to the spokesperson, so they can prepare for the interview.
After the spokesperson is prepared, then call the reporter back for the interview before their deadline.
It’s also important to have a written crisis communication plan. For a sample from United Methodist Communications, go to: UMcom Crisis Communication.
2. Choose a spokesperson prior to a crisis
It is critical to choose (and train) a media spokesperson before a crisis occurs. A church spokesperson needs to be well spoken, credible and someone who accurately reflects your brand. Having just one spokesperson ensures that one unified story is told. It is also essential to educate personnel, so they are aware of who is designated to speak on behalf of the church.
Four Questions to ask when identifying a spokesperson
3. Respect a Reporter’s Deadline
Respect a reporter’s story deadline. During a crisis, the media is going to be one of the ways your church tells the good news about Jesus Christ to your target audience. A delayed response, or no response at all, could mean a missed story opportunity for your ministry.
4. Communicate internally (to your church) and externally (to the media)
When a crisis occurs, communicate the message to your internal audience first, then to the media.
5. In a media interview: Listen, Think, Respond
When a reporter asks a hard question, it is ok to pause for five to ten seconds, formulate your answer, then respond. The only exception to this rule would be a live interview.
Shannon W. Martin is Director of Communications for the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church where she works with the media in positive and sometimes negative situations. She and her husband David live in Spring, Texas and have two adult children who attend out of state universities. She enjoys traveling to see her children, reading, camping, hiking and excellent food with friends.
Foundations of Faith provides advice from Texas church pastors and its leadership on how to lead effectively. This blog is brought to you by the Communications Department of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. To be considered as a subject matter expert, contact Shannon W. Martin, Director of Communication at smartin@smartin