Four PR lessons Father Bob taught faith leaders about engaging with the media

9 June 2023  |  Insights
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If there was one person that everyone in Australia had an opinion on, it was Father Bob.

Known as the ‘people’s priest’, Father Bob dedicated his life to charity and was a regular media commentator around issues of faith and social justice. Few leaders could invite such lively discussion in the media about Jesus and life, with humour and empathy.

In a divided world, Christians can often feel intimidated or ill-equipped to share their beliefs in the media, but Father Bob could have given a masterclass in how to engage effectively from a faith perspective in the media.

While most media trainers would advise to steer clear of his unusual rhetoric, there was something about him that was both innately Australian and faithfully sincere. The media offers a place where opinions – even controversial ones - can be voiced and debates can be had. While there are certain media outlets that may never show an interest in sharing ideas or opinions from a Christian faith perspective, there are plenty that will and continue to do so.

With Father Bob’s passing, and that of other high-profile Christian leaders, Christian organisations and churches have an important role to play to encourage and equip the next generation of faith leaders to speak out on public issues.

Here are four lessons that faith leaders can learn from Father Bob about how to engage with the media:

1. Promote the service, not the person

He was a man of service, not self-promotion: Watching interviews with him was like listening to two men having a beer at the pub, talking about the real issues of the day and how Australian’s were faring. He didn’t stick to a script and had little interest in being seen as an intellectual or even that righteous. He was a man of faith who cared deeply for the community around him, and if the media would help share his message of serving people, then he’d happily engage.

2. Engaging with the media can be risky

Father Bob knew that not all press would be in his favour. The truth is, if you engage with the media long enough, the coverage won’t always be positive. He understood the role the media played and took the good with the bad. It would be easy to disengage because of a media interview taken out of context, but he didn’t let his ego get in the way of the greater good of sharing the message of faith and service.

3. Take part in real conversations

Father Bob engaged in thoughtful and real conversations. Not many people would be interested in doing a radio show with John Saffron, an irreverent commentator who was interested in a very unique lens, but he took the opportunity to offer a different viewpoint. He wasn’t afraid of
lively discussion and was confident enough in his convictions to be questioned and even poked fun at. He didn’t shy away from the very real conversations that Australians were listening to.

4. Being human is the best way to connect

It’s easy to ‘stay on point’ when faced with a microphone, but when you take the time to first connect as a human, that’s when the real message
resonates with an audience. Father Bob was a ‘true blue’ Australian man of faith, who showed his humanity unapologetically, which invited the wide community to consider the Gospel message in a whole new way.

Perhaps that was Father Bob’s greatest legacy – just being a man of the people. His faith was an extension of that authenticity, which invited everyday people to consider what this ‘faith thing’ was all about.

It’s by showing this authenticity that the next generation of Christians can use their voice effectively to share their faith and speak into the issues that matter.

Rachel De Giorgio is an Account Manager at Jersey Road PR Australia.

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