For a church staff member or volunteer, dealing with the media can be a tricky business. Here are 5 guidelines to get your staff started in the right direction ...

Do you have a standard process if someone from the media calls for an interview? If you had a crisis communication situation on your hands, who would represent your organization? What if the crisis involved an executive leader who would normally be the "go-to person" when it comes to talking to the media? 

For a church staff member or volunteer, dealing with the media can be tricky. It's important to adopt a process that is both warm and professional while also being aware of potential pitfalls and red flags. Regardless of whether you are reaching out to the media or if they reach out to you, it's essential to make sure everyone in your office is fully prepared to interact with them. 

Here are 5 guidelines to get your staff ready to deal with the media: 

1. Have a plan. Stick to the plan.

Work with your executive leaders to create a media policy. Being proactive in this area can help you avoid those last-minute scrambles when the media contacts you. Your media policy should include a brief purpose statement, a “who speaks” list with contact information, the process for receiving and processing media inquiries, and some general guidelines (think what to do vs. what not to do).

 2. Share the plan.

Share your media policy with staff and key lay leaders. Let them know that the goal is to help your church communicate intentionally and strategically with a unified message. Train your receptionists and other front line staff members about the policy since they are likely to encounter the media in person or via phone. Often, reporters work on short deadlines and may try to contact a ministry department directly to save time. Train your staff on the guidelines and the appropriate process. They should not say, "I'm not allowed to speak with you." Instead, they can let the reporter know they will get him or her to the right place to get a timely response.

3. Choose representatives wisely.

Ideally, the leader speaking for your church is someone serving at an executive level, or possibly the communications ministry leader. Also, consider the medium. Some leaders might do well in a phone interview with the local paper but would become anxious in an on-camera interview. Choose individuals who are comfortable public speakers for these interviews. If a reporter has questions about a general topic (e.g.., youth culture), it might be fine for a staff leader to respond via phone or email, even if you wouldn’t normally put them on camera.

4. Pause and prepare.

When a media interview is scheduled, prep the person who will be speaking. Let them know the background for the story, when/where it will run (if possible), and potential pitfalls they should avoid. This is the time to anticipate the interviewer’s questions and plan your organization’s responses. Decide on your key messaging and supporting points. The leader being interviewed should stick to the messaging that has been decided upon and state the most important point first.

5. Think friendly, but not too friendly.

Remind your staff and leaders to refrain from being lulled into casual, off-the-record conversations with reporters. Assume that any conversation with a reporter will be repeated and/or quoted. It’s okay to be friendly and engaging, but remember that he or she is there to do their job.