WATCH LIVE   ·   App   ·   S+L site  

Church PR: Marketing 101 – Back to basics

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

When you hear or read the word Marketing, what does that conjure up in your mind? If you’re like most people, you’re likely thinking about advertising, branding, websites, email blasts, special promotions etc. All too often, we equate Marketing to these tactical – though very important – activities. We tend to forget or do not realize that it’s much larger than this.

Many Marketing introductory classes will start with the four or five Ps: Product or Service, Place of Distribution, Price or Cost, Promotions, Publics.

The American Marketing Association offers this definition:

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

When we, the Church, re-focus to these broader and more accurate definitions of Marketing, we realize that it hits closer to the core of our “offering” or value to society. Most of us will agree it’s advisable to reconsider the use of the 5 Ps in today’s Church – to the degree possible outside of the sacraments and other core elements of the Mass. Just consider these questions: What activities, services or “hospitality experience” are we offering immediately before or after Mass? Are we offering opportunities for engagement (feedback/personal expression)? Are we making it easy for people to start or reset their faith journey with us in a gradual way? What is our parish or Church group doing to connect with members of our broader community – including those who live largely on the Digital Continent?

An extended reflection on these questions – each of which touches on at least one of the 5 Ps – will surely lead to continuous innovation.

The “Need in the Marketplace” – The source of my optimism
Back in the late 90s, a professor explained how the beauty of marketing is how it helps meet unmet needs in the marketplace. I found his assertion simple and powerful. The foundations of Marketing start with solutions to unmet needs. And in this area, there is great reason to be optimistic for our faith. Across the globe and generations, people are desperate for love, purpose and fulfillment. A walk with Jesus offers us all that – and more!

As we consider how to use our time, talents and treasures in the New Year and throughout the year, let’s redouble our efforts to understand and embrace this broader definition of Marketing. With the Holy Spirit as our fuel and guide, there’s no limit to where we can go.


And what about Public Relations and Publicity?
Elements of Public Relations (e.g.: publicity or media relations) have a permanent home in Marketing and Promotions. That said, Public Relations should be considered a stand-alone managerial function within an organization or institution – outside of Marketing. To help crystalize this, it’s best to go back once more to the definition of Public Relations according to the Public Relations Society of America or the Canadian Public Relations Society:

“Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” – PRSA

“Public Relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.” – CPRS


If you’re intersted in learning more about this specific topic, read, How can I build a strong PR department?, or listen to the Media Ministry Minutes segment from that SLHour episode.

Daniel Torchia is founder of Dialogue and Grace, a team of professionals devoted to helping the Catholic Church and its members improve their programs, campaigns and competencies in the areas of Public Relations and Organizational Communications. Read more from Daniel at Dialogue and Grace.

Church PR – Faith in Journalism?

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

I have a love-hate relationship with journalism. Sadly, I think I’ve accused media of all the vices under the sun. Yet throughout my adult life, the truth is I’ve reaped immeasurable benefit and fulfillment from the work of journalists. Recently, as part of our Public and Media Relations training workshops, I’ve reacquainted myself with their codes of conduct and ethics. Doing so has renewed me with energy and appreciation for their work.

Some elements from the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists include:

“Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”
– taken from their principle, “SEEK TRUTH AND REPORT IT”.

“Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
– taken from their principle, “MINIMIZE HARM”.

“The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.”
– taken from their principle, “ACT INDEPENDENTLY”.

Understandably, like in all professions and vocations, not all journalists keep up with their codes, standards or expectations. I’m sure we can all relate.

That is why, though tempted, we should never give up on the fight for open and sincere dialogue with media – or any other stakeholder group, for that matter. Deep inside us all, as well as intrinsic to most professions, there is a raw and persistent longing to do good, to serve public interest.

So whenever something goes sour for you or the faith in the press, which it inevitably will, let’s rally together as a community (faith-based or professional) to forge ahead, grow and learn and renew our energy to keep up the dialogue – one sincere conversation at a time.

Read more from Danny Torchia at Dialogue and Grace.

PR: A noble profession that needs more faithful practitioners

15034819373_1949aaa337_o (1)

The confluence of Public Relations and faith
A noble profession that needs more faithful practitioners

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to Danny Torchia’s Media Ministry Minutes segment once a month on the SLHour.

Public Relations often gets a bad rap. In the world of mass media and pop culture, the Catholic faith doesn’t often fare much better (though many are changing that). And that’s not where the relation between the two ends. Public Relations is terribly misunderstood and the public conversation related to it is so far off the hinges at times it’s hard to gain an appreciation for the serious academic underpinnings of the profession. Some could say that about faith too. The negatives will stop here…The purpose of this text is to share a seldom appreciated aspect of Public Relations: the profession, when properly understood, can be a bona fide vocation and blessing that can help the world in myriad ways.

My preferred definition of Public Relations, a combination of definitions from James Grunig and the Canadian Public Relations Society, provides a glimpse into this noble character.

“Public Relations is the management function that helps to nurture relationships between an organization and its stakeholders – groups that can either enhance or constrain the ability of the organization to deliver on its mission, with the good of society in mind.”

In order to enjoy the fertile, sustainable and good relationships that are implied in this definition, organizations must deploy some effort in Public Relations, at least theoretically. And, according to best practices in PR, these campaigns must invariably include listening, dialogue, compromise and continual communication. For the advocate in me and my own conscience, the operative word here is compromise. Companies owned and managed by leaders who understand the power of true Public Relations know that they too must often change in order to ensure the sustainability and success of their organizations. I mean change for the good. For example, they must pollute less, pay more, recycle, innovate and keep better lines of communication with media – to name one public or audience group.

In many small ways such as these, PR fulfills its critical role of building meaningful bridges between organizations and the publics on which the future of these organizations depend, as well as an organizational culture that is ready to change in alignment with the good of its stakeholders. These principles apply to the faith sector as it does to the for-profit sector. If more people knew this noble character of Public Relations, and practiced what they preached, the world would be a far better place.

To consider a career in Public Relations, or learn more, visit: The Institute for Public Relations, Canada Public Relations Society, and the Public Relations Society of America.

Church PR – Be perfect, therefore, for Christ’s sake and….

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 11.41.22 AMBy Daniel Torchia
Listen to Danny Torchia’s Media Ministry Minutes segment once a month on the SLHour.

Leadership comes with responsibility. Think of a mother or good father, or a hero like Dr. Martin Luther King. Although we rarely dwell on it, part of this responsibility is pure and selfless service. That includes active listening, patience, forgiveness and unconditional love – for starters.

It means, too, weighing every word that comes from one’s mouth and every action taken in public, but also in private.

That is, of course, a life of holiness. But it’s also your life when you take stock of the leadership roles you may have in your life.

The leader of today’s organization, parish, charity, fundraising campaign or community group shares in this calling. A leader lives for and serves the group. Yes – even in the normal supervisor/”direct report” relationship. This is how it ought to be at General Motors or General Mills, at your local school board or in your parish or home. In many ways we’ve lost this understanding.

Before accepting any leadership position, even with a small group, remember the life of Jesus: the service toward others, the conviction or authority of his words which are based in Truth and love, the ability to take the higher ground when faced with aggression or traps etc. Believe it or not, this is one of the ways in which I provide media training to corporate clients. They are reminded to be “unblemished”, humble and caring in their conversations and encounters with stakeholders. They are reminded to do the right thing, over and over again – not necessarily the action that is easiest or most personally rewarding.

They are, as well, expected to give time and considerate attention to all audience groups, including angry or agitated members of the media. All of this helps breed good leaders, and remind corporate executives that leadership is about service and altruism.

So therefore, be perfect, for Christ’s sake…. and for the well-being of your organization and the audiences on which your success depends.

Church PR – How can I build a strong PR department?

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

Before building a Public Relations department or reviewing your existing PR function, it’s always a good idea to remember (1) How do I define Public Relations and (2) What are the goals of my PR efforts?

A definition worth considering

My preferred definition of Public Relations goes something like this:

“Public Relations is the management function that helps to nurture relationships between an organization and its stakeholders – groups that can either enhance or constrain the ability of the organization to deliver on its mission. And all of this with the good of society/all in mind.”

I must give credit to James E. Grunig, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland. This definition comes mainly from him and his seminal book, Excellence in Communications and Public Relations Management.

That’s a loaded and rich definition. It’s worth meditating on it.

It all starts with measurable goals

Good goals will guide you and all you do. Consider some of these:

  1. Improve relationships with any – or all – of my key audience groups
  2. Convey our true story / vocation / mission
  3. Become more responsive to our core audience groups
  4. Foster a greater leadership team and put them “out there” with greater confidence

Your options are endless. What’s key, in my experience and opinion, is that they find their inspiration from the above definition of PR – and that they are measurable.

So what can I do?

Here are some ideas on how to build your PR department:

  1. Find experts who are willing to act as mentors and advisors. Consider PR directors at Catholic organizations, dioceses etc. or retirees that have experience in PR.  Ask if they’d consider helping you with strategy or finding qualified volunteers.
  2. Establish a solid “source” of potential PR volunteers or interns. Many PR programs at academic institutions demand that students find a co-op placement (for credits). A partnership with your local Catholic campus or vocational school can work wonders.
  3. Take the time to read about PR from quality sources. Consider Tactics Magazine from the Public Relations Society of America – one of the most insightful journals in the business, or join the mailing list of the Institute for Public Relations (
  4. Build a team that combines Technicians and Strategists.  The former have the skills to program websites, write quality content, design a nice poster or organize events, for example. The latter understand the strategy and the overall program management. Both are needed.

Once the department starts yielding fruits, your organization might be in a position to consider ways to retain all of the necessary resources to do more. What’s certain: when proper Public Relations programs are implemented, everyone wins and new bridges are made between your organization and the audiences on which your organization depends – from media to internal audiences and everyone in between.

Church PR – Bad publicity: Is there such a thing?

Decoding Gods Work

In the documentary Opus Dei: Decoding God’s Work, Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, explains how media coverage on Opus Dei in 2003 offered a teaching moment for the Church. Even the toughest publicity provides an opportunity for teaching moments, moments of truth or a memorable story of repentance and personal growth.

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

Like most of you, I’ve stirred up some heated debates in my life. The notion that bad publicity can actually be good is one of the arguments that has created big controversy in my life. You’ve likely guessed it by now: I hold the contrarian position that “Bad publicity can be good…”. But I add the following clarification: “…for the astute, prepared, ethical and bold communicator who plays a role in the corrective actions that need to follow any particular scandal.”

When bad really means bad

A scandal, serious fumble or other form of bad behaviour is and remains a tremendously difficult experience, especially when it’s made public by media coverage – traditional or social. Bad is bad. But bad is not abnormal. We’re all bad in some way or have descended disgracefully into that space at one time. Everyone can identify with ‘bad’. Identification offers a great soil for true and memorable communication.

In my opinion, heroism is the act getting back up, with grace, after a fall. The best kind (of heroism) is fighting a daunting adversity, innate or external, with a renewed sense of character, virtue and other qualities with whom people might identify (selflessness is a good example).

Just think of the major scandals of late and you’ll notice one of the primary reasons for widespread damage to reputation is usually the denial, litigious or pugnacious spirit of the ‘accused’, continued mistakes and the person’s lack of virtue (i.e.: the prevalence toward arrogance, selfishness, pride and other vices).

If these vices are absent, and if corrective actions or a sincere effort toward reconciliation and reform is pursued, then the scandal can be abated and a renewed deposit of goodwill, empathy and affection can set in. This new foundation lends itself well towards deeper relationships.

What does all of this mean?

In the S+L documentary Opus Dei: Decoding God’s Work, Father Thomas Rosica of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation speaks of the Church harnessing the challenging media coverage on Opus Dei to create a teaching moment. This is key. Even the toughest publicity provides an opportunity for teaching moments, moments of truth or a memorable story of repentance and personal growth. Any of these three scenarios is good.

For all of this potential to be realized the astute, bold, ethical and empowered communicator must communicate quickly and unequivocally. That means considering any of the following actions:

  • Have we addressed those who have been wronged in a meaningful and truly appropriate way?
  • Have we allowed the scandal to “bottom out”. I.e.: have we exposed the entire truth of the scandal or issue?
  • Are we using our own media channels to communicate the story, facts and future-oriented (positive) changes that are taking place in us or our organization?
  • Are we seeking the help we need?
  • Is our tone one of selflessness, sincerity and follow through?

At the end of the day, spokespersons – be it a CEO, athlete or religious figure – must strive to grow personally, in virtue. They must also realize that mistakes can happen and that these can be normal and, yes, even lead to positive change.

Where do we go from here?

Let’s go out there and grow, especially in virtue, and communicate sincerely every step of the way!

Listen to this week’s segment:

Church PR – Online Newsrooms: Today’s “News Bureau”

Tourism New Zealand
By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

As far back as I can remember, our offices have been full of Public Relations memorabilia and artefacts: Press releases, media guides, PR reports and plans dating back to the early 60s. As a young apprentice and summer student working with my father in the 90s, I vividly recall reading about the value of an Information Center or News Bureau and their role in PR campaigns. Boy did it sound cool – a sort of master control room for outgoing information on a topic, series of topics or organization. With the advent of online newsrooms today nothing has changed: Media still appreciate having a central repository for news and information from an organization. While the technology and terminology may have changed, the concept and rationale has not.

A recent survey from TEKGROUP International, a leader in online newsrooms, reveals some interesting information:

• 97% of journalists think it’s important for organizations to have an online newsroom
• 86% of journalists will visit large, medium & small business online newsrooms (size of the company does not matter)
• 95% of journalists have visited a company’s online newsroom (54% visit online newsrooms at least once a week or more)
• 62% of journalists say a company’s online newsroom should be available to all news readers (as opposed to password protected)
• Searching the archives within online newsrooms is important to 98% of journalists

The value of online newsrooms has been magnified thanks to a 24-hour news cycle, citizen-journalism, poorly staffed media outlets and the growth of social media. What’s shocking is that many organizations don’t have online newsrooms or have pages that are very poorly maintained.

Parishes, church groups and other religious organizations should strive to build functional online newsrooms. Why? Media will begin to see your organization as a partner in the ‘news/media’ business and they’ll learn to trust/turn to you. And that leads to meaningful “bridges” between Church and people.

Content categories
So what should an online newsroom contain? It’s good to start with the basics:
1. NEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS, for press releases and advisories, for example
2. BACKGROUND INFO, for any document that explains a complicated topic like “White Papers”, biographies, case studies, infographics or general media backgrounders
3. FACTS (FAQ) or DID YOU KNOWS, providing nuggets of information or complete media fact sheets
4. IMAGE gallery, for media-friendly pictures (taken in photo-journalistic style)
6. CONTACT, for media contact(s)
7. TOPICS INDEX, for easy-to-use searches
8. FEATURE STORIES, for feature articles that could be drafted by volunteers, donors and other partners

Danny’s pick
My favourite online newsroom is Tourism New Zealand. It is practical, intuitive and well indexed. Click on any press release and notice how the bottom of the page features “More information” and other “topics of interest”. Notice too how visitors can “sign up” to receive latest news from the newsroom.

Other interesting examples
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Where to begin?
It’s wise to start with a point person, someone who will manage the online newsroom into the foreseeable future. Then, consider reaching out to PR students, journalist majors or other friends of your organization who have relevant interests, education or experiences, who can make a commitment to providing quality content. At the end of the day, remember that your online newsroom will be visited by media and non-media types (ie: normal people), and so a little investment will likely go a long way!

Listen to this week’s segment:

Church PR – Photography

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Image is everything. These are only two of the many proverbs and tenets that express the same truth: man is a very visual creature. It’s no wonder you’ve often heard it said: “the eyes are the window to the soul.” In communications and positioning, the image is, indeed, if not everything than at the very least critical.

And so how are we, as a faith community or Church group, doing in matters of image or images? If you open your diocesan weekly, what pictures do you see? When you pick up your parish bulletin, does it strike you as an inspiring aesthetic? How about your website? Business card?

I wonder what images you’ve conjured up. I know in my world, especially with respect to some diocesan media or secular media covering the Church, I tend to see an over-representation of middle-aged clergy in religious garb. There’s nothing wrong with that image, but why does that particular category tend to attract the lenses of our cameras so much more than other targets or actors? What are we missing instead? And are we even taking out our cameras at the right moments?

In truth, the true image composition of our faith community is absolutely beautiful and diverse: Children in formation; Citizens in community action; Men and women in full expression of art and song; Communities in bloom; People working towards a better tomorrow. These brief sentiments are likely lived out – over and over – throughout your parish community or faith-based group each day. So what are you doing about it? Is there someone who’s got the basic training or reflex to snap some winning pictures? In my career I have the privilege of working with the best photo-journalists in the business: The men and women of Canadian Press Images. Courtesy of their chief photo-journalists, here are some basis tips:

  • The photo should be interesting—eye-catching
  • It should tell your story
  • Large groups and long lines of people are much less interesting than shots of two or three key people
  • Avoid shooting predictable, staid or overly contrived “cheque presentations” or photo ops. Think of some other way to get the message across. Try to showcase emotion and true action (a basic human emotion or activity in motion – think of the image of Bobby Orr’s famous winning goal featured above).
  • Keep shots tight. Do not shoot or crop them loose, with lots of uninteresting/non-pertinent space or clutter around the main focus of the photo. Get up and close to your subjects – and show some emotions
  • Identify the “must have” shots and key people at the outset
  • Be sure to have access to the best vantage points – without being a distraction. If possible, inform organizers of your objective before you start shooting
  • Don’t place too much signage in the image. Local media, for example, are looking for newsworthy images not plastered with advertising. It’s better to place small signage in the foreground, where photographers can keep it in the frame with a speaker or key subjects, but which will enable them to focus on the speaker or subjects, keeping the signage in soft focus

So you’ve captured a few inspiring pictures…Excellent! Now what? Before doing anything, remember to get permission to use the image of your subjects – especially to get consent from parents when the photography involves children. Then make sure to write a nice caption that explains – in just a few words – the who, what, when, where and why. Then, make sure to use them swiftly in any of the following ways:

  1. On your website
  2. On your social media sites (twitter, facebook etc)
  3. Share them by e-mail with natural allies/partners…in particular any Communications Director/Officer who may have access to an internal newsletter or his/her own websites or social media accounts. For example, if you’re with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, send it to your regional council or national council, as well as your diocesan PR office.
  4. Send the best two pictures (always with captions) to your local or regional newspaper
  5. Share the same top two pics with anyone else you know who has a blog, website or active social media accounts

As a last reminder, never underestimate the beauty that is found on the faces of everyday, ordinary people. It helps to recall the newborn baby who remains affixed and enthralled by the endless assortment of emotions conveyed by his/her parent. As a photographer, try to capture the richness and depth of human expression and emotion. At the end of the day, that’s what will get people talking, remembering and curious to know more. It’s also something that we can all relate to.

Let’s go out and snap some pictures….and remember to share them with us on our Facebook page.

Listen to this week’s segment: