Being on message for Jesus: What is good PR?

The result of good PR isn’t always a good story (though sometimes it is). That’s one of the foundational points of Public Relations that I probably haven’t made clearly enough in my posts on PR for Jesus. There’s that stupid maxim that “all publicity is good publicity”… if that was the case then more companies would be out committing crimes for the benefit the media coverage brings.

In the comments of my “being on message or Jesus” post – Daniel made the following point regarding Peter Costello’s warning about the idol of positive media coverage:

“His warning to “beware the false idol of positive media coverage” seems at odds with some of what you seem to be saying about public relations.”

It’s not. But this is mostly because I probably haven’t been clear about what the goal of PR is, in terms of media coverage. Positive media coverage is up to the whim of journalists and editors, and largely shaped by the expectations of the readers/viewers of the particular outlet. It’s pretty unlikely, in Australia, for Christians talking about the gospel to be handed positive media coverage on a platter. We get it pretty easily if we criticise the establishment or say something a bit controversial, but that’s not really what I’ve been talking about.

Most situations where prominent Christians are being interviewed in the media are situations where the media is expecting a particular response from a Christian voice on moral issues, or on controversial issues, in which case it would be easy to bang on about morality (ala the ACL), it’s hard to bang on about the gospel – and the gospel is our key message.

One of the other comments on the previous post, from Aaran, said:

“I think there is a fine line between taking the opportunity to talk about Jesus and sounding like a politician on QandA.”

This might be true, and nobody likes those sound bite fests where people fail to engage in an issue because they keep repeating the same mantra like eight second summary of their key message. But at least they’re on message, and you know what the politicians on Q&A stand for – (“not the other guys)… because they’re on message. Good PR finds a balance. Good PR engages with an issue so that you get invited back to talk on another issue. But good PR means gaining a good airing for your message, not necessarily gaining a good story.

So while I’m pretty blithely dismissive of the apparently axiomatic “all publicity is good publicity”… there’s something in it. All publicity that presents and engages with your key message is good publicity. That’s a better summary. If we’re selling a message, which we are as Christians, then we should celebrate when that message gets out with clarity. Our job is to be messengers, to faithfully point people towards the Lord Jesus. That’s not the job of a journalist. We want to make sure that while the journalist does their job putting together a story, we’re doing our job – getting out our message. This means understanding the medium/media a little too – being on message in an interview for the TV news means finding an 8 second summary statement, you’re not going to get much more of an opportunity than that, being on message on Q&A means finding a way to tie the topic to the gospel, to show how the Lord Jesus leads us to a particular response to an issue. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the news story is negative, or if the other panelists shout you down – we’re in the marketplace of ideas, and while it’d be nice to convince the journalist and the panelists, our target audience is really the viewers.

So, back when I was a PR man, we used to measure our media coverage using a bit of a matrix. This was how we decided what dollar value to put on media coverage. Media coverage as editorial is inherently more persuasive than media coverage where you’ve paid for advertising. It’s somebody else blowing your trumpet v you blowing your trumpet. So we started by multiplying the rack rate advertising value by three. This is a pretty arbitrary number, and it’s a pretty arbitrary process. Next we look at the story to see if it featured our key messages, then to see if it featured a “call to action” (similar to the key message but usually, in tourism, details on how to book a holiday etc), then we assessed whether it was a positive story or a negative story. Each of these factors had a multiplier effect on the initial value, of a similar scale. We saw a bad story with a call to action as just as valuable as a good story with our key messages and no call to action (and any combination of the options). But if a story you’ve been involved in doesn’t present your key message/aptly represent your views – then that’s bad PR. That’s where you fail. And that’s where Christians fail if they fail to mention Jesus.

3 Comments Being on message for Jesus: What is good PR?

  1. Daniel

    Thanks for this post, it makes things a bit clearer to me. Still a few wrinkles I’m trying to iron out in my mind. But at a fundamental level I think you’re spot on.

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