A lot of clients come to us and say, “I need PR.” They hear PR is the best marketing value. They see PR in action out in the marketplace. They want in on that action. If you are one of those people who want to invest in PR to promote your latest project, here is everything you need to know about strategies for success in Christian PR.
For PR to Work, You Must Be Newsworthy
The first and most important prerequisite for PR is that you must be newsworthy. You must have something of value to the media–that is more valuable than what other people have. Something needs to differentiate your story from the rest.
PR is about obtaining coverage from media gatekeepers to reach their audiences. And the truth is, not everyone has a good enough story to tell… at least not in the eyes of the media. If you are a theologian who wrote a theology book, that’s great! But there are a lot of theologians writing books on theology. What makes your book different from the rest? What makes your book newsworthy to the media?
To ensure you are ready for PR, take a step back and look objectively at what you have to offer. Put yourself in the shoes of the media Writer, Editor or Producer who is reading hundreds of PR pitches a day. Why should they pick you out of today’s batch of experts and influencers?
Newsworthy content is the determining factor as to whether or not PR will work for you. While it is part of the PR firm’s job to present what you have to offer in an engaging and meaningful way, they can’t make something out of nothing. With the intense competition for coverage, you must start with something unique about your project, book, film, cause or product for PR to be successful overall.
So, how can you prepare yourself for PR? Consider what you have to offer, how what you bring can benefit a media outlet’s audience, and what angles there are to pitch yourself and your story to be relevant.
For example, FrontGate Media’s PR Division is currently working on PR for the new Roe V. Wade film, scheduled to release this year. With the change in political power and overall focus on the pro-life vs. pro-choice issue, the topic is already relevant and newsworthy. To make matters better, this film has a star-studded cast. People in the media want to know what this movie is about and want to talk to the stars. Even better, this is a drama telling a part of the story that hasn’t been the focus of past films.
While being newsworthy is a requirement for PR, you don’t have to be star-studded or high-profile to have success. At FrontGate PR, we have found great success for author Welby O’Brien who writes about grief and recovery. Her work is relevant because everyone experiences grief. She is always newsworthy because she writes topically about loss of life, divorce, and issues facing veterans, including PTSD. Every Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day and so on, her book on PTS is relevant all over again. It doesn’t hurt that she is a wonderful person to work with and a great interviewee.
You Also Must Be Available
Once we’ve established your newsworthiness, then you also have to commit to making yourself available when the media wants you. If you are on the West Coast, you better plan on getting up early for morning media on the East Coast. If you are on the East Coast, you have to be ready to end your day late. You can’t just say you’ll do interviews in your afternoons or when it’s convenient for you. If the media selects you as being of interest, and then you aren’t flexible enough to meet their time needs, then you’ll not only lose this one opportunity. The media outlet will likely pass over you in the future as well. You have to make yourself available and have a flexible schedule.
What Does Traditional PR Include?
Traditional PR includes obtaining coverage from radio, digital, print, and TV media outlets by building relationships with their gatekeepers to reach their audiences. Traditional PR can be template-driven to secure wide general coverage using press releases for a high volume of news, or it can be more individualized to pitch stories, interviews, and articles about a client or project.
FrontGate PR is a boutique PR firm. We specialize in unique clients and projects. Every client is different. Rather than a templated approach, we find and create new ways to pitch and promote our clients through our relationships with Christian and general market media outlets. By focusing on one specialized project at a time, we can better serve the media market, our clients, and the Christian audience.
Expanded PR in the Digital Age
Traditional PR includes pitching your story or project to journalists, producers, and programmers who work for media outlets. At FrontGate Media, we define PR and media more loosely. Anything that has an audience can be a media outlet for effective PR, including blogs, podcasts, social platforms, and influencers. By the traditional definition, a blogger is not technically a media outlet, but by modern definitions, bloggers are another area of PR.
In our opinion, if you can get a famous person to talk about your product or cause to their hundreds or thousands of followers, then they are a new type of media. The main downside of these newer non-traditional PR opportunities is it can be harder to validate or verify the potential reach because there isn’t any history or third-party measurement like Nielsen Ratings to determine a standard of how effective they are. The industry is working to create more accuracy and standards now.
Scheduling events, red carpet appearances, or conferences and conventions when applicable
Events are great PR opportunities. They are an additional tactic beyond the traditional story and interview pitching. Events take additional coordination and their own budgets to execute successfully. You and your PR team can go to an event and work the attending media there, or you can create your own event inside of conferences and conventions, using the event’s attendees and promotional opportunities as a launchpad for even more media exposure.
What Does PR Work Entail?
PR works in phases. The first phase of a PR relationship includes writing and sending one or multiple press releases, gathering key art and content together, and creating a media kit. This is the starting point. Once these assets are created, we’re prepared to go out and do the work of PR, which includes:
Building lists of current and new media outlets to target
At FrontGate, we start with the thousands of Christian and family media platforms we have existing relationships with and then extend our reach to build an expanded list of new media targets in order to create new relationships for our clients.
Creating a strong story angle to pitch to media outlets
This is where strong media relationships pay off. Each pitch is tailored to the receiving media outlet. At FrontGate, when we know what an outlet is looking for, we can pitch our clients in a unique way that fulfills their needs.
Using wire services to broaden outreach
Wire services send your press release to their large list of media professionals. Wire services aren’t the best for direct contact leads, but they are good for getting your information across the country and around the world. Their reprints of our press releases create backlinks to your website that aid in SEO rankings. Wire services should be used in addition to other direct PR strategies and should be selected based on your target audiences. At FrontGate, we like to use at least one general market wire and one or more faith-based wire services for our clients, such as Religion News Service or Christian Newswire. Costs are based on the word count of your press release and the media lists you select from the wire’s offerings.
Offering exclusives when applicable
Offering a media outlet the opportunity to be the first to have something like a video clip, artwork, or interview with somebody significant is valuable to them. For example, one lucky media outlet will get to be the first one to debut the trailer for the Roe v. Wade film. When you can offer an exclusive opportunity to a big outlet, you plan ahead to do it.
How long does PR take?
Finding all the best possible media outlets, creating individualized pitches for each one, and getting them to say “Yes!” doesn’t complete in 30-90 days. While securing commitments from individual outlets can start almost immediately with digital outlets, the execution of a basic and successful PR campaign takes AT LEAST 4-6 months. Digital media and newspapers can begin to pick up initial press releases within a couple of weeks. Feature stories and interviews can start to appear in digital and newspapers in four to six weeks. Features on radio and television programs can begin at three weeks to eight weeks. Articles in magazines can first appear in 90 – 120 days.
That’s just to get started, but remember, we are all working to serve the media outlets and their audiences on their timing. They may love our pitch, but want to hold it until 5 months from now when they do their special feature on your topic. Working twelve months of PR is the best option as it allows for the entire annual news cycle. For Christian projects, you generally want to be around for Easter and Christmas as well as other key or special days.
There are also opportunities that just pop up during the year. Something will happen on your topic during the year, possibly more than once. If your PR campaign ended at month four, you will have missed that opportunity in month six. For example, if you are a relief organization, when disaster strikes, you want PR to be part of your immediate response scenario. To be successful in PR, you want to try to prepare to invest up to a year with your PR agency.
PR and the Christian Market
In the faith-based market right now, radio and digital are the strongest categories for PR. Print publications are still useful, but they tend to have a long lead time. And while many people want to get on television, there are relatively few coverage minutes available. If you expect TV coverage, you need to be established, in the very top percentage of possible story options, and your message has to be relevant for the immediate moment.
National campaigns are also preferable to regional campaigns. For every campaign we do, we look at the national and in some cases international audiences, the key regional areas that may have an extra value such as your hometown, and lastly look at denominational opportunities.
Many people think that if they narrow the focus of a campaign, it will be less work and therefore less cost. The reality is completely the opposite. Regional campaigns are tougher projects than national campaigns because you’ve limited the number of media outlets available to you. It takes more work and more time to generate less success.
Lastly, the Christian media market is not really a single market. What most people refer to as Christian media is mainly the evangelical market. There are additional market segments for Catholic, African American, and LatinX Christian media, and also crossover into broader categories like Conservative media. At FrontGate, we are a bit unusual as we have specialists on our PR team for each category.
Relationships are Key When Looking at a PR Firm
If you have a newsworthy story and are ready to invest in a PR firm, consider this: what you’re picking when you pick a PR firm is relationships. The PR tasks needed for any campaign are very similar: write press releases, create a media kit, serve it to the media, and use wire services. The work is about the same. What makes a difference is the relationships your firm has with different media outlets.
When you’re looking for a PR firm, look for someone who “gets you” and understands how to best pitch you to media outlets where you want to go. At FrontGate, we have over 20 years of experience building relationships with the faith and family-focused media outlets to promote our Christian clients to the right media people, in the Christian market, the broader faith-based market, and when applicable, to the secular media community.
How Do You Measure Success of PR vs. Other Options?
How do you know when you have success in PR? Success is found in exposure and reach. For example, if you get on the KLTY Christian talk-radio station in Dallas, you are reaching one of the largest listening audiences in the faith-based community. That’s “a” success. What you want is the highest volume of successes accumulating together to maximize the reach specific to your campaign. Your campaign has its own unique level of success based on your newsworthy potential, story and interview pitch angles, and timeline.
Between PR, Social Marketing, and Advertising, PR gives you the greatest reach at the lowest relative cost. To buy the same reach in advertising via KLTY would be much more compared to the cost of hiring a PR firm.
However, there are benefits from these other marketing strategies that PR doesn’t provide. For example, when you run a targeted ad campaign, you can guarantee that you will reach more of the right people and less of the wrong people while driving them to take a specific action. In contrast, when someone hears your radio interview, you have less guarantee that you are reaching more of the right people. Additionally, the drive to take action is much less direct, if action is taken at all. Advertising gives you the most control over content and timing for immediate results, and that control makes it the most expensive of the three core marketing options.
Social Marketing, on the other hand, is right in the middle. It is a combination of a very scalable advertising model with a more content-driven word-of-mouth set of opportunities in which you can invest a relatively smaller budget and still see a return on your investment.
The sum of a marketing campaign executing PR, Social & Advertising tactics is almost always exponentially greater than the success level of any individual tactic.