Having faith in your story

24 May 2022  |  Insights
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Having faith in your story

Raising hands in worship at a church.

According to a recent poll we ran on LinkedIn, nearly half of all respondents (46 per cent) think charities need to downplay their Christian identity to get media coverage or believe it’s a complicated area.

It’s not surprising that there’s hesitation among Christian organisations to mention faith when they’re trying to land a story. It’s a common – and not unfounded – assumption that many journalists aren’t too keen on Christianity, seeing it as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst.

Having spent the best part of two decades working in charity communications, I get it. It can be difficult enough to get the media interested in your charity. Why make it even harder, and possibly risk a public attack, by bringing Christianity into it?

But hang on – let’s look beyond the stereotypes.

At Jersey Road PR, getting media coverage for Christian charities and organisations is our bread and butter, and we don’t see the resistance you might expect.

The BBC’s new religion editor, Aleem Maqbool, echoed our experience when he spoke last week (17 May 2022) at the Religion Media Festival.

“There’s this sense outside the BBC that some editors are nervous about religion and faith stories. I haven’t found that,” he said.

“I have found that there’s a recognition that we need to report on those areas. It may be a honeymoon period, but I feel like I’m pushing at an open door. There’s nobody saying, ‘no, you can’t do that’.”

We regularly invite journalists from national print, online and broadcast media to talk to us as a team about how we can get coverage for our clients, and they’re pretty blunt about why they sometimes reject stories pitched to them by Christian organisations.

Spoiler alert: it’s not because they are Christian. It’s because they’re not strong enough stories.

Here are some of the key points these journalists tell us about how organisations can be openly Christian and secure good media coverage.

Be deliberate

Know which media you want to pitch your story to and make it work for them. For some more traditional media outlets or programmes, being seen as part of the Christian establishment is actually a benefit. For instance, this week the Clergy Support Trust held an event at St Paul’s Cathedral which was attended by a minor royal and a Christian former Prime Minister, and received coverage from several media including the Press Association, the BBC and the Telegraph.

Alternatively, giving that story to the wrong journalist can ruin your chances for that story – and for future opportunities too. Some national reporters, particularly those tasked with communicating with younger people, have specifically told us they won’t touch a story that feels ‘establishment’ and would dismiss us as irrelevant if we pitched it to them. They would, however, jump at an interview with a teenager about their addiction journey or a rapper who’s a charity ambassador – and Christian charities can be good sources of both this type of spokesperson.

Be valuable

If you’ve got a good relationship with a key journalist, you’ve won half the battle.

The usual way to build that relationship is to regularly feed them the types of stories their editor will like and to be reliable with the information and the interview opportunities you provide. That way, you’re making their job easier and building trust with them.

It’s one of the benefits of working with a PR agency that has a variety of clients and is regularly offering stories to the media. Because we work with a lot of different charities, we have plenty of opportunities to build relationships: in fact, some national journalists regularly contact us personally to ask us if we have any stories for them.

Above all, tell good stories

Even if a journalist likes you or is sympathetic to your cause, if you don’t have a good story for them, you’re on a hiding to nothing.

But the opposite is also true: if you can show your story has wide interest and significance, you can attract the attention of the most cynical journalist.

With news being primarily digested online, the media know exactly what their audiences are interested in because they’re either clicking or they’re not. If Christian organisations can provide a story that makes people want to click, they will run it.

It’s all down to knowing what makes a good story: Is it new? Is it surprising? Is it powerful? Is it relatable? Does it make you want to call up a friend and say, ‘have you seen this?’ (read more about this in our blog What is ‘news’ and can we still trust it?)

In our experience, Christian charities are bursting with stories that fit the bill and reflect their faith motivation. With a bit of confidence and expertise, those stories can – and do – make headlines. Now that’s good news.

Written by Charis Gibson, Director of Communications, Jersey Road PR.

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