I was to write a blog on practicing good stewardship in marketing/advertising when I realized something. The best thing an organization can do to practice good stewardship in advertising is to have a well thought out public relations plan. So, I’m going to skip the advertising and head directly to public relations!
Defining Public Relations
I say this for two reasons. First, actually, public relations IS a marketing strategy, and if you don’t have a good public relations strategy, any other type of marketing may be for naught. I draw that conclusion from various definitions of public relations. Definitions include:
Source: Merriam Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary
The activity or job of providing information about a particular person or organization to the public so that people will regard that person or organization in a favorable way
- The relationship between an organization and the public
Source: Public Relations Society of America
- Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
- The profession or practice of creating and maintaining goodwill of an organization's various publics, usually through publicity and other nonpaid forms of communication. These efforts may also include support of arts, charitable causes, education, sporting events, and other civic engagements.
Secondly – notice the wording - “public RELATIONS”. Relations/Relationships. God/Church. WOW! That’s what we are all about! Now that is exciting!
So, how do churches implement a good public relations plan? Should they? Why? And, what does that have to do with good stewardship?
Why Have a Public Relations Strategy?
In my opinion, public relations is one of the most important marketing strategies your church can have. It is all about building relationships. For a church, building relationships include those relationships with your members, neighbors, the public, and most importantly, the unchurched. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, relationships are built with God. That is some powerful stuff!
I have been blessed to work with mission facilitators that understand the power of relationships when combined with the work of the Holy Spirit. Their relationship building together with congregations in the Northern Illinois District has seen many new relationships developed with God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
What they do is part of a bigger strategy.
How to Implement a Public Relations Strategy
The question really is, how can a church build relationships through a public relations strategy? Congregations can do this through communications. The majority of communications is carried out FREE through publicity. And that’s part of having good stewardship!
Communication Components of a Public Relations Strategy
A common source of free publicity is the press release. Press releases are intended to inform the public of important events, announcements, or achievements. Correctly done, they can also create interest for people to see out further information about you. According to the Huffington Post, here are 8 tips to writing a good press release:
Grab attention with a good headline
Get right to the point in the first paragraph
Include hard numbers
Make it grammatically flawless
Include your contact information
One page is best, two maximum
Provide access to more information
That being said, there is a specific format to press releases. I won’t go into it here, but there is a wealth of samples online.
Content for a Public Relations Strategy
So what topics should be covered in a press release? Recall that the intent is to build relationships. That is done through maintaining and communicating goodwill, showing your congregation in a favorable light, and communicating topics of mutual benefit. Some topics to include are:
- New services (times)
- Open houses
- Professional recognitions
- New staff/pastor
- Outreach events/community service projects
- Special events/celebrations
- Achieving goals
- New web sites, especially if there is useful content to the public
Perhaps the most impressive way to build relationships is through story telling. There is a personal touch when stories are used to tell about your congregation and that personal touch can create lasting impressions and develop relationships.
Press releases, in many cases, can be planned in advance and should be done so when possible. Examples are seasonal events including school open houses and Christmas celebrations.
When Things Go Wrong
In cases where things go wrong, a good PR marketing strategy is vital. Have a specific policy in place and someone designated to address these issues with the public. As for public opinion (aka: relationships), angry people are inescapable, and the most unreasonable are often the loudest. Listen to them. Your reputation is not what you want it to be, but what others perceive it to be.
Your church workers and your members are really the most important part of your public relations. They are the ones out in “the field” developing relationships on a daily basis. They will need the guidance, tools and prayers necessary for your congregation to develop relationships, especially those relationships with the unchurched.
Practicing Good Stewardship
Good stewardship comes not only in terms of monetary considerations, but in the entire planning process.
Find people with the skills required for public relations work. Having someone without the necessary skills can do damage and waste time. Time is a resource to be used wisely.
Have a strategy. Working without a plan can lead to disorganization. Set goals and measure them. Know where you are going. Again, don’t waste your resources (people included) working on something without having a plan.
Know the people that you want to reach. Since it’s about relationships, you need to know about your community and who lives and works there. If you are communicating about things not of interest to them, it is for naught and you are wasting your resources. Lutheran Church Extension Fund is one source to learn about your community. Check out their demographics page to learn how they help you understand your community. And it’s free!
Make certain your congregation’s membership is on board. Since your members are the most important part of building relationships, they need to agree with your planning. All of the planning, money, work could be wasted resources, if in the end, your membership is working against you.
Public Relations = Building Relationships
Public relations is about building relationships. Building personal relationships and relationships with God through the Holy Spirit. You don’t have many opportunities to create a positive lasting impression to develop good relationships. On the other hand, they can be destroyed quickly. Managing a public relations policy and plan properly will help insure you practice good stewardship in your marketing.
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