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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:

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:

Faith, love and terror in Algeria

Michael James Mette
In 1996, seven Trappist Monks were killed in Tibhirine, Algeria. This week, we speak with John Kiser, author of The Monks of Tibhirine about faith, love and terror in Algeria. Danny Torchia has some PR tips for ProLife organizations, Andrew Santos tells us about St. Agnes and we meet singer/songwriter Michael James Mette and listen to music from his new album, Bring Forth the Light.

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The SLHour celebrates Christmas

Join us for a special Christmas edition of the SLHOUR with all our contributors, Kris, Cheridan and Andrew giving their segments a little Christmas flavour. Also in light of the incident in Newtown, Connecticut, Danny Torchia has PR advice in times of tragedy; Sr. Marie-Paul Curley finds the window to the soul of 5 great Christmas movies, Mark Matthews tells us what’s Christmas-good in Hollywood and Gillian Kantor learns a Christmas lesson from her kids. We tie it all together by listening to music from John Michael Talbot’s The Birth of Christ.

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February 18, 2012

Do you think that there is room for humour and laughter in religion? This week on S+L Radio we ask Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Between Heaven and Mirth, why all the sour faces? Daniel Torchia offers public relations tips to Church organizations and we meet new Catholic teen rock band, FX of Grace and listen to songs from the album Life in  Color.

December 10, 2011

The Catholic Digest is the most popular Catholic magazine in North America and this year they are celebrating their 75th anniversary. This week on S+L Radio, we speak with Julie Rattey, Managing Editor of the Catholic Digest about their great history and legacy of bringing the Catholic Church into people’s homes. Danny Torchia offers some public relations advice for Church groups and new Christmas music from Rosanna Riverso.

November 26, 2011

Are you ready for the new translation of the Mass? In case you’re wondering, there is a new app to help you make the change. This week on SL Radio we’ll be speaking with Cale Clarke, creator of the New Mass iphone app. We also meet pianist, singer and composer, Fr. Robbie MacDougall and we learn about the business of public relations and the future of media.