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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Media-savvy Boston-area UU minister.

Say, what is Hank's secret? His spunky Unitarian Universalist church in Medford sure gets a lot of good press. Here's at least the second story about the church's serendipitous acquisition of a church bell. I remember another story several months ago when the church first obtained the bell, which I can't find online anymore; now there's this story about ringing the bell at the congregation's homecoming service. Simple, charming news that helps keep a small and growing congregation in the public eye.

News featuring Hank arrives almost like clockwork. Last August, I noted that Hank had helped the Boston Globe mark the death of the Rev. Eugene H. Adams with a fine and downright entertaining obituary. The September before that, I noted Hank's amusing interview with the Boston Phoenix about his quest to find a suitable gift for the Dalai Lama. Clearly, he has been handed some great media opportunities — but maybe he also knows how to go looking for them.

Hank, since most of us don't really have to worry about meeting the Dalai Lama, you can skip that one — but do you have tips for colleagues and other UUs who wonder how to turn small moments in church life into appealing stories in their local paper?

("Unitarians Get New Bell," Nell Escobar Coakley, Somerville Journal [really? not the Medford Transcript? hmm] 9.15.05; "Rev. Eugene Adams, at 87; Civil Rights Leader, Minister," Michael Busack, Boston Globe 8.16.04, reg req'd; "Shopping for the Dalai Lama," Chris Wright, Boston Phoenix 9.25.03)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 18 September 2005 at 9:13 PM

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Adam Tierney-Eliot:

September 19, 2005 09:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

Not that you asked me, but, I fear, the best way to get news in the papers like Hank does is to actually be Hank. Ya know, really interesting, fun to be around, that sort of thing so people say, "Hey! It would be fun/interesting to have a conversation with that guy!" Needless to say, this is something of a challenge for lots o' clergy (myself included, incidentally)!

I have also noticed that Hank and others who get a great deal of press just plain know a lot of people!

So there ya have it. Be less boring. Meet new people... Maybe that would be a good new-church-year resolution for some of us...

Frank Malefatto:

September 20, 2005 02:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Media-savvy Hank and UU Medford recently had a radio commercial running on the Boston Progressive Talk AM stations (1200 and 1430). Apparently, Hank went down to the studio, also in Medford, and recorded the ad himself. Using the local Air America stations to reach a focused,liberal radio audience at a very modest cost - Very Smart. Getting a UU message into 15 seconds - Miraculous.


September 20, 2005 08:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hi gang,

First, thanks for the added press. OK this is going to be long but if you really want to know… before I answer, let me also remind you of a couple of stories that you forgot, there were two different stories in the Boston Globe about my church's newly renovated stain-glass window this past Spring. The front page of the New York Daily News had a photo of me marrying a same-sex couple on Boston City Hall Plaza on May 17, 2004 (the photo also appeared in some Japanese paper.) And of course there was that feature that MTV ran on me about 10 years ago.

So how do I do it? Well I first want to thank Adam for such nice words. I do know a lot of people and I have a good story. I credit these facts to a couple of things but a big one is that I went to UMass Amherst and UMass Boston. As Adam’s dad says, state universities are “where you meet everyone who is going to be anyone in state politics”… and local journalism too. For instance my friend who wrote a couple of pieces on me for the Boston Phoenix was a UMass Boston classmate, and another UMass alumni friend is a producer for the local NBC station.

What else? Well I think punk has a lot to do with it on a few levels. There is the knowing a lot of people level, and also the DIY spirit still burns hot in me. As a young punk in Boston we would have to rent halls for our own shows, book our own tours, and advertise ourselves. This means that we had to always be on the lookout for good places to hang flyers and also talk to people in ‘key’ positions to inform the public, you know like the owner of the record shop, or the cute girl who sells tofutti on the Common. Since these key people would know about the show they would talk it up to people that came into contact with them.

So today with the church the key people are the local newspapers, but it’s more than just that, you need to have the right angle to sell them. Reporters want a minister who will give them something ‘churchy’ but modern. No one cares that your church is having a book sale, but if your church is selling only books of poetry, that’s an angle. You should look churchy and yet modern. One of the reasons why I believe my photo was used in all those newspapers when I did one of the first same-sex marriages was because I was wearing a collar and a nice tan suit. The women were there two old grandmotherly types and it was Boston City Hall Plaza. So when you looked at the picture it told you, ‘cool minister marries harmless loving couple which is recognized by the state.’

OK but the biggest thing I do is that I CALL THE PRESS MYSELF and tell them about what we’re doing. If I tell them that we’re installing new stain glass, the press thinks here’s a nice chance to use the color section of the paper. If I tell them we’ve got a new bell, they think “wow here’s a church that is growing and isn’t some nutty evangelical.” I also don’t give them a lot of time, I mean a day or two max, I will often call a newsroom and say “hey they’re installing this bell today, sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner (blah, blah, blah) why don’t you send someone down?” And they will know if they have someone sitting around right then or not. Press releases are basically a waste of time. They get buried at the bottom of a pile on the editor’s desk.

It is important for church to stay relevant and out in the public eye, so running ads on Air America may not bring anyone in today, but it gets our name out there and gets the church and other UUs psyched (thanks Frank.) By the way we got fourteen fifteen second ads for $250. I’ve been having discussions with the Weekly Dig about running some ads, and even seeing what it would cost to put ads on these coffee cuffs that are then given away free to the local bohemian coffee-joints. I target our marketing at people who I want in church and who may not be targeted by any other religious organization, especially in a place where they are not expecting it.

Most of all, a church needs to be a church. The fact that some church now has space for an art gallery doesn’t say that the church is blossoming or really cool, but that it’s dying and has extra space. So make sure that what you say is about something relevant, and about our values… and don’t be afraid to exaggerate for dramatic effect.

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