Would you rather see a story about your company in USA Today or the local church bulletin?

In most cases, if you said USA Today, you’d be wrong.  Think about it… do you truly read through every page of USA Today every day?  Probably not one person reading this column actually does.  You probably don’t even do that for your local Daily newspaper!

Now answer this. Do you look at every page of your church bulletin when it arrives?   A decent percentage of people probably say yes. 

I know you’re not actually reading it word-for-word, but you are looking through each page skimming the headlines and looking at the pictures to decide if there’s anything you want to actually read.

The reason is actually pretty simple.  You chose to be part of this community.  It’s also likely you have friends or family who are members, and that you’d recognize other church members.

When you see someone you recognize in a photo, you read the caption and possibly even the full story to see why they are included.  Same if the header has information you need or is of interest to you.  More people in your community are likely to read and remember a story about your service in the church bulletin than people in that same community that read USA Today.

The same concept applies to free community papers—the ones that get left on doorsteps or are mailed to your home.  People flip through these small, locally focused papers to see if they recognize their neighbors or if local shops or schools are mentioned.

Here’s the key point of which too many spokespeople and public relations people fail to take advantage… it’s a lot easier to get a positive in a church bulletin or community paper than it is to get a positive story the big daily newspaper.  These small papers often only have one or two people on their editorial staff.  Unlike a big paper reporter receiving 200 story ideas by email each day, the local community papers need to delete most stories ideas because they’re only looking for very localized community stories.

A community paper only considers a story if the business is literally, physically located in their distribution area or the company is doing something targeted specifically to residents in that target area.

Can you repeat an event you already have planned in another neighborhood and easily recreate it or submit a picture in front of numerous different local landmarks to make sure each community paper gets a local pictures to personalize your story so that they care?

An easy way to do this would be to take multiple pictures from different locations when you make a donation or offer a community training event.   If you’re providing tips to school kids, take photos in front of different schools and send the right picture to the appropriate community newspaper.  Even if you never enter the school, it’ll still make the story more locally newsworthy.

When you send photos, make sure to say where the photo was taken so that the local paper is forced to acknowledge that the photo is local/personalized for them.  Don’t expect them to recognize every photo/building.  If you take this extra step to personalize the visuals, you’ll absolutely get more coverage for your agency.

If you can’t physically do an event in a paper’s distribution area, there’s another way to increase the changes you’ll receive a story.  Quote or include a photo of an employee that lives in that area.  When sending the story to the paper, include an editor’s note stating which employee lives in their area, and include the zip code in which they live.  Doing this makes a story local… even if the actual event occurs 20 miles away.

Church bulletins might prove harder to get a story included than the community papers, but if you’re creative you can find an excuse or two each year to get included.  For example, if you offer a free CPR or AED training at the church, you’re likely to get a great PR or photo opportunity.  Same if you do a touch-a-truck tour of the ambulance for the kids.  Try to assign crew members or a spokesperson that’s already a member of that church.