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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: