The Church and Public Relations.
Perhaps they don’t make much sense together. After all, the two are not often discussed in close proximity, but rather placed firmly on either side of the sacred-secular divide.
Or they might both leave you with a sense of distaste, because one thing they do have in common is a public opinion issue (ironically, in the case of the public relations industry).
High profile stories centring around PR agencies have more-often-than-not focused on exorbitant fees (most recently in the COVID response), the protection of some questionable high profile reputations, or simply the ‘spinning’ of the facts…or alternative facts. Similarly, the Church has often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons - whether it be child abuse, financial misappropriation or simply the extreme or the wacky, sitting on the fringes of orthodoxy.
A worthwhile challenge
In our business, we straddle both worlds. We are a PR agency working with Christian businesses, charities and churches to help give voice and influence to the great work many are doing to make a difference in the world.
It can be a challenge – some may think futile – but we think it’s worth it. Because for all the negative headlines, there are also a lot of good news stories waiting to be told.
Churches around the world are making a positive contribution to society. They have been doing so for centuries, but most recently it has been highlighted during the pandemic as they have provided food, clothing, debt advice, employment support, counselling, friendship, and a place for people to explore their own spiritual journey. They are not abusing people, they are not manipulating relationships, they don’t judge and they motivated by love.
Similarly, there are PR agencies around the world who are working tirelessly to find, shape and share stories on behalf of small businesses, new products, charitable endeavours and social impact campaigns. These stories build profile that could transform an individual, a business, or even a country. They are not looking to spin the truth, they are not looking to defend the indefensible and they are not looking to make themselves rich. They are driven by the impact stories can have and making a difference.
At its core is an issue of trust - and trust can only be built through relationship that is based on mutual value. Both the Church and the public relations sector could blame the media for their public profile, but both must take some responsibility themselves.
Both could be accused (and I am speaking broadly, as there are no doubt many individual exceptions) of blaming the media for their poor representation, without investing time into engaging effectively with the media. PRs should know better, but often stories are sent to journalists who have no interest in the subject, or when they are on a deadline or without the relevant assets - we have certainly been guilty of this over the years. And churches have oftentimes simply avoided the media altogether. They have assumed that their words will be misrepresented or misconstrued and that raising their head above the pulpit will result in a firestorm of potential repetitional risk.
If PRs and churches invested time into understanding the media, learning what stories individual journalists focused on, and in understanding whether their story was newsworthy, it may redress the balance of negative public perceptions.
But more importantly, it will add value to the news cycle and give opportunity for stories of hope, transformation and inspiration to be shared at a time when the world around us needs good news.
Generating positive word-of-mouth communication often feels as elusive as creating the next “viral” video. It’s not something that can be created, it has to be organic. Wrong. Here are three simple steps to encouraging people to start talking about your organisation.