April 3, 2014

If At First You Don't Succeed

NPR didn’t come calling. But one of the feature stories of yesterday’s “Morning Edition” newscast was about Lent Madness – and by extension, The Episcopal Church.

That’s the kind of publicity that no marketing budget can afford. But it didn’t happen magically.
Lent Madness founder Tim Schenck and his partner in crime and tongue-in-cheek arch nemesis Scott Gunn, both Episcopal priests, have worked for the past few years to make contacts with reporters. They’ve pitched the story far and wide: Lent Madness offers a unique twist on March Madness, inviting people to learn about the saints of the church in a fun and communal way. 

Because Forward Movement, where I work, is the official sponsor of Lent Madness, I’ve helped too over the past year. But here continues the lesson: despite having several different contacts in the media, I didn’t have any takers. The local newspaper wasn’t interested. A former colleague who now works for Salon.com passed on the story. The local public radio host, the mom of one of my daughter’s friends, said she’d look into it. And I never heard back. The AP bureau chief for our area, my boss for three years, thanked me for the idea but apparently back-burnered it. Getting media attention takes persistence. Luck plays a role, sure. A slow news day opens space for feature stories. Perhaps there’s a news director who sees religion as a viable beat and source of stories instead of a quagmire. Or there might be a reporter who doggedly pushes the story to the editors. 

But persistence is the engine for getting a story into the media. Tim and Scott sent out media releases and contacted reporters. They called on friends of friends: Do you know someone who might help get this story in the news? On the radio? As a segment on Stephen Colbert?

They weren’t angry when a reporter didn’t bite. They didn’t get discouraged. They tried different routes, new and creative ways to interest the media. The purpose isn’t a vanity project for the founders; they don’t get kickbacks from Lent Madness brackets. But rather this is one way to talk about what we believe, about how we take our faith seriously – but not ourselves. Too often Christians are portrayed in one-dimension, as fanatics or hypocrites, as snake-handlers or bigots. Here’s a chance to show a side of Christians – and frankly, through an Episcopal lens – that doesn’t often lead the news.

When good things happen, when Morning Edition picks up your story, you might hear from others how lucky you are. They might gig you a bit about how you snagged such great publicity. You don’t have to tell them the secret. They should have learned it in kindergarten: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.