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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.