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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: