PR for churches
I was talking to a friend this week about a statement his church might put out on gay marriage and he said “have you seen any good press releases on this issue” and I said “no”… which isn’t entirely true, I could probably find one or two. So I wrote one (P.S – to that friend, I’ve tweaked this a bit since).
It’s a bit wordy, and I’d want to edit some bits out depending on context, but it does, I think, incorporate our “key messages”…
CHURCH NAME seeks way forward in Same Sex Marriage Debate
CHURCH/DENOMINATION NAME apologises to LOCATION’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex community for any hurt caused to them in the name of Jesus when homosexuality has been singled out as a special sin. We recognise that this apology is particularly necessary given the heat involved in the current debate surrounding the redefinition of marriage.
As a church community we are interested in people of all sexual orientations, and from all backgrounds, meeting Jesus, and having a long term relationship with the God who created the universe, we believe all human relationships come second to this one relationship.
CHURCH NAME, Spokesperson name, said that while it will inevitably cause tension for people, CHURCH NAME must continue to define homosexuality as contrary to God’s design, as the Bible is clear on the matter, but admits the church has done a bad job whenever homosexuality has been singled out for special treatment.
“As a church community we have to recognise that whenever the Bible discusses homosexuality as contrary to God’s created order, it does so in long lists of sins too often given a free pass by Christians speaking out in the same sex marriage debate.”
“As a society we need to work hard at fostering debate which is inclusive and loving, where loving disagreement is not just tolerated but encouraged. It’s unfortunate that standing up for the current definition of marriage is inevitably framed as standing against those who seek changes to the definition. We are not seeking to question the personhood, or limit the freedoms, of the GLBTI community so much as seeking to uphold an institution that we believe was created by God.”
“Perhaps, as a society, we should be taking stock of the heavy emphasis we put on sexual expression as a fundamental human right in the first place, this seems to inherently discriminate against those who are asexual in orientation, or the unhappily single. We believe that sexuality is important, but that it cannot function as the basis of one’s identity.”
“We believe, as Christian churches have for almost 2,000 years, that Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the son of God, was crucified by the Roman Empire, and was raised three days later. We believe that this historical event verified his claims.”
“From the beginning of Christianity this event has been called the gospel, which means good news, because it has implications for every human, it makes a relationship with God possible because the fundamental truth of human nature is that we cannot avoid doing those things that the Bible calls sin, that is stuff that isn’t in line with what the God who made all things would have us do.”
“We’re not arguing that homosexual orientation is a choice, simply that what is natural to us can still be wrong. All of us are naturally wired to do these things. And the Bible says Jesus undoes that wiring. Not in a way that means we don’t do the wrong thing, but in a way that frees us from defining ourselves by those things.”
“We believe, as churches have since the canon was established by councils 1,700 years ago, that the Bible is the word of God, containing the collation of documents necessary to guide us, but ultimately to tell, and foretell, the story of Jesus as the central event in history. Our calendar years still recognise Jesus arrival as a turning point.”
“Jesus taught that marriage, from the beginning of humanity, was instituted by God as between one man and one woman. While we acknowledge that there are many cultures that have made modifications to this design, or that have no ties to the Judea-Christian tradition, we believe that this design is self evident from the anatomical sexual compatibility of men and women.”
“Because we believe that Jesus, as God’s son, and God himself, speaks as the creator of humanity, and we believe the Bible is God’s word, we must continue to oppose the redefinition of marriage, and to continue to define homosexuality as part of the brokenness of our human nature.”
“This is not a decision we take lightly because we recognise that some people in our community are hurt by disagreement, but it’s a decision we must take in order to continue to offer the hope that Jesus offers to all people.”
“While we believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and have no wish to legislate our belief system for everybody, we recognise that all people in a democracy have a right to participate in policy debate. We continue to oppose a redefinition of the marriage act on the basis that we believe that defining marriage as a lifelong commitment made between a man and a woman is the best way to enable human flourishing. We believe that this is the type of family structure that God intended, though we understand that families are complex and all families need love, support and care, which we humbly offer in our church community.”
“We are always happy to have conversations with people who disagree with us, and will continue to offer love, support, and prayer to those people, and anyone struggling with any sin, or people who want to understand who Jesus is.”
For more information contact SPOKESPERSON on PHONE NUMBER
What do you reckon? Is it missing anything vital? What would you cut, or add?
I really enjoyed this book. This was actually my second time through (I’d read through it on a previous holiday) – but I wanted to skim over it again having read Platform… its fundamental thesis is that the social media success is tied to being Likeable , which in turn is tied to being a good citizen of the web, giving content away, sharing, and being altruistic in order to win brand loyalty and create ambassadors. So its got some great tie ins with ministry – especially since the gospel should come with built in enthusiastic ambassadors, namely, the church (2 Corinthians 5:20).
“In the beginning, there was Adam and Eve. Eve said to Adam, “You’ve got to try this apple,” and the first marketing interaction in the history of the world had taken place.”
The fundamental conviction at the heart of this book is that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing (I agree), but that harnessing word of mouth marketing and even generating it – especially in the age of social media – requires a bit of thought and deliberation, and then an ongoing commitment to being present in a persistent and authentic way.
“Who is better to defend you against negative posters, you or your thousands of happy customers? What kind of company would you rather do business with as a consumer—a company that publicly answers every single customer, or one who seemingly ignores many customers?”
The thought and deliberation happen at the level of thinking about your brand’s personality and the substance or content you aim to share to engage and benefit your audience.
Being authentic means speaking in a language that really represents who you are, but also in a language that resonates with the people you want to connect with – this means, in business, avoiding corporate weasel words or legalise, in the Christian sphere it’ll mean avoiding jargon and in crowd stuff.
You also need to have some grasp of the way each social media channel works, and use that knowledge and the thinking work you’ve put in to figure out a strategy for how you use them (or don’t). I’ve put together something like a social media strategy a while back which has some info about how Facebook works, amongst other useful things, but this book is helpful because it gives you practical homework at the end of each chapter that will leave you with a good sense of how to take your next steps into the world of social media.
There’s some stuff in the book that’s incredibly useful if you’re looking to promote a specific product where you want a purchase decision (which I don’t think you can do with the gospel – there are a few more categories that probably need to be esablished than a Facebook ad or status update can accomplish) – so this advice is relevant for events, or for people who are looking for tips for a small business, there are lots of pearls of wisdom along the way, like:
“Write five sample Facebook updates that combine an engaging question or valuable content with an irresistible offer, and link to your website to buy or learn more. Test, track, and measure the results in order to optimize for future ROI.”
To translate – even when you’re selling something you want to be hooking people with the update so that even if they don’t act, they engage, and including some sort of call to action. And you should experiment till you get it right. This is a theme Platform develops in more depth, I’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of days.
In my experience, and I, at last count, administer Facebook pages for about 20 different churches, events, and businesses, the pages that do this stuff well, and thoughtfully, are the ones that take off – so one page, for a popular drag racing team, has gone from 0 to 7,000 fans in about six months, just by having a well thought out brand, carefully driving people to their page, providing good content, and urging people to share the love and invite their friends.
Here are some examples of helpful “homework” from the book.
1. If you’re a one-person operation or a very small business, write down five things you could say that would seem inauthentic or that sound like marketing-speak to a customer. Then write five examples of how you could say the same messages in a more authentic way on Facebook.
2. If you are part of a large organization, create a plan for how to represent yourself authentically. Recognize that authenticity won’t be easy but that it’s essential. Meet with key stakeholders and management at your organization to determine how you can make communication more authentic across all channels, especially on social networks.
3. If you already have a social media policy, examine it carefully to ensure that it encourages authentic communication, and tweak it if it doesn’t. If you don’t yet have a social media policy, draft one now.
4. If multiple people are responding on Twitter on behalf of your organization, have them sign tweets with their name or initials.
1. Create a social media policy that insists on honesty and transparency as the default expectation. Review with other key stakeholders in your organization what company information, if any, is off-limits and how you can better embrace openness and transparency while still keeping this in mind.
2. If you work at a large organization, determine whether your chief executive officer can effectively use social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook herself to be the ultimate transparent representative of your brand.
3. Closely examine your social media policy to make sure it is aligned with the values of honesty and transparency at its core. If it is not, consider what you could add to help instill these values. Include references to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s code of ethics.
4. Write down three ways you could respond to questions and comments on social networks in a more transparent way in order to further build trust with your customers.
And here are some helpful quotes from the book…
“The formula for ad success is not to link ads to your website or shopping cart but to link to your fan page. Connecting users to your page encourages them to engage with you. They might enter a contest or ask you some questions about products, services, or your industry. They have the opportunity to connect with other people in your community.”
“Also, forget the notion that YouTube is about creating “viral videos” and getting millions of views. Is it possible to create videos on YouTube that will go viral? Sure. But think of the last 10 viral videos you’ve seen on YouTube. Chances are few of them, if any, were created by or for a business. Most of these videos take off organically. Videos that are “produced” don’t tend to go viral. What makes content viral is that very thing that often can’t be produced: the spontaneity of human experience. Even parody videos are based from the initial experience that was captured on video and released to the world, then deemed viral.”
“Many company blogs are unsuccessful because they are updated infrequently, and too often they’re updated with press release-like broadcast material, rather than valuable resources or content. With a blog, you have the opportunity to include longer text updates than you’re able to through Facebook or Twitter, as well as incorporate photos, videos, polls, and other multimedia. You can also tell stories at your own pace and on your own terms.”
One of the central theses of the book, if not the central thesis, is that being successful on the web means being prepared to give away good material in order to build your brand, and goodwill.
I think the great take home messages for people in ministry, or people who are thinking about how to use Facebook for Jesus, is that churches looking to use social media to help spread the gospel, as a way of connecting with people, the secret is in empowering those in the pews to be using your church’s presence as a bit of a call to action in their use of Facebook – we should be encouraging those who are keen ambassadors of Jesus, and members of our church communities to be talking about both Jesus and church in an authentic and engaging way online, we don’t carry the entire weight of producing good content that people will engage with (though our church/ministry pages should be doing that).
There are some interesting ways I’m thinking we could use Facebook advertising spinning out of this book – you could target people who say they’re Christians who have just moved to your area (changed location), you can target friends of friends to invite them along to evangelistic events, you can target people who aren’t Christians to welcome them to your area with the offer of a welcome pack if they like your page, you can target engaged or married people in your area to offer pre-marriage counselling or to advertise a marriage course. Facebook advertising is fairly powerful stuff – which is why it can be insidious when used by unscrupulous people. I read someone I respect greatly who said that the low quality of advertising on Facebook was enough to drive him away from spending advertising dollars, and someone yesterday suggested the inappropriate ads he was receiving were causing a rethink about Facebook’s values – but it’s not Facebook that does this, beyond an algorithm, it’s people using the data and likes you’ve supplied to target you – the key to improving the standard of ads on Facebook is liking more particular stuff (the ads I get are almost exclusively coffee related), and for advertisers – the key is producing relevant ads that might cut through some of the noise of weightloss ads, dating service spruiking, and whatever else you get coming up on your profile.
It’s interesting too that the emphasis on social media success seem to fall around characteristics that are emphasised by Paul as either parts of his ministry, so he has a fairly cross-shaped approach to ministry that emphasises ethos and substance over flashy and impressive stuff, or the modern equivalent. Authenticity. Loving others. Being selfless. Responding to situations that emerge with humility, integrity, generosity, and grace… the guy who wrote this book is basically the most successful social networking consultant going round – and he’s essentially advocating that people behave sacrificially in what they give out online, though he’s doing it with the expectation that it will eventually produce material returns, and we’re expecting that it will build goodwill that will get the gospel a hearing.
There are some great ideas in the book about what sort of content makes good Facebook content and boosts engagement – the ultimate goal is being likeable, and getting people to share the stuff you’re putting out there, which I guess raises a question about how we get people in our churches on board with this and thinking about themselves as ambassadors when they’re online, which probably taps into a bigger issue regarding how we get people to think about ambassadors when they’re offline. Part of authenticity is making sure that the experience people get of our church family is consistent both in the virtual world and the real world.
The Salvos better be looking out… though I maintain that part of the reason Jephthah went through with his vow in Judges 11 was that his daughter was dancing to timbrels.
“34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.”
Just a hint – that’s not why you want your church to be in the news.
As I continue to think through the place of PR in Christian ministry I keep trying to find a balance between Matthew 6:1-4:
” 1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
And 1 Peter 2:12…
“12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
… John 13:34-35…
” 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
… Philippians 2:1-4, 12-15
“1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others… 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky “
I’m wary of prooftexting to justify a particular behaviour – but it seems to me that there’s a balance in the New Testament, which in some sense follows the model of “mission” I think operates in the Old, where the way Christians live, and particularly, the way they love others, is the basis of our testimony, or at least our being noticed as different, and getting a hearing for the gospel.
I think the tension in Matthew 6 is there, but as I think I’ve said elsewhere, what seems to be the focus in that passage is when you’re doing loving things just to be noticed. Just when the spotlight is on. Just for the goodwill. And just for your own reputation. It seems to me that if we’re doing loving things that are consistent with our character, and more importantly, consistent with the gospel, and consistent with considering others better than ourselves, then some sort of interaction with the media may be part of participating in the modern “public sphere.”
Part of my understanding of both the media, and the internet, is that it has in a sense supplanted the marketplace of Acts 17, where Paul took his preaching of the gospel. And participating in the media, or the marketplace, means having a story, and good public relations means this story should be something that is closely tied to the gospel.
There’s nothing more closely tied to the gospel than selfless sacrifice for the sake of others in response to the love of Jesus. It’s also very hard to criticise that sort of behaviour. This is a pretty long preamble to draw your attention to this incredible story published in the SMH’s weekend magazine, and reproduced online.
This is the kind of story that gets noticed.
It’s a fair bet that if Jesus Christ were around today, he’d be doing what the Owens are doing in Mount Druitt. They feed the poor and house the homeless. They lead the lost and counsel the conflicted.
Experts at unconditional love
They’re experts at unconditional love: alcoholic mums, runaway kids, petty thieves, everyone’s welcome at the Owens’ home, a four-bedroom brick house that for the past five years has been equal parts street kitchen and safe house, as well as a home for their daughters Kshama, 8, and Kiera, 7.
“The most we’ve had here is 13 people,” Jon says, showing me around the cramped, single-storey home, the floors of which are strewn with sheets and sleeping bags. “They crash on the couches, on the floor. It’s busy, but it’s fun, too, especially at dinner time.”
To make space, Kiera sleeps in Jon and Lisa’s room. Kshama is in an adjoining space, which is really just her parents’ walk-in wardrobe. Jaz, an 18-year-old girl whom the Owens unofficially adopted last year, recently got her own room, so she could study for the HSC.
“I grew up in a family where following God was just another part of the Aussie dream, where you have a house in the suburbs, make enough money to relax, mow your lawn and cook your roast on Sunday.” As part of the theology course, however, Jon studied a section of the Bible called The Prophets, with one book, Amos, striking a chord. “At one point God says, ‘Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.’ I remember thinking, ‘That’s all I do; I go to church and sing songs.’ ”…
His father had always stressed career and professional success. “But Jesus was not about material wealth,” Jon says. “The guy was all about intentional downward mobility! And I realised that what I really wanted was to do something significant in this world, not just piss around at the edges.”These days, however, they live without all that, without fancy food or flash cars or overseas holidays. They relax by watching TV, by listening to Leonard Cohen – Jon is also partial to Sarah Blasko – by cooking or going to the park with their kids. (Monday is “family day”, when Kshama and Kiera get their undivided attention. “Monday is sacred,” Jon says. “That and eating together as a family.”)
Jon allows himself one cigarette on the back porch at night. Neither of them drinks, because they don’t want to support an industry they believe causes so much damage. And yet they are ridiculously, implausibly happy. “Life’s good,” Jon likes to say.
“We’re driven by our faith,” Lisa explains. “I believe that as I respond to people I’m responding to Jesus, because I believe that Jesus is in all of us.”
The full story is heaps bigger. I’m not sure I completely agree with some of the stuff they say, or do. But it’s pretty radical. Noticable. And incredibly hard to criticise.
Ok, ok. I’ve bagged out the ACL in the last few months for being morally conservative rather than “Christian” in their dealings with the media, starting with the premise that a Christian presence in the media should involve mentioning how Jesus helps us to arrive at a particular position with response to social issues.
I’ve singled Jim Wallace out for criticism, perhaps fairly, perhaps not. But the ACL, and Jim Wallace, got it right on Sunrise this week. This is, in my mind, the best and most cohesive presentation the ACL has put forward on the gay marriage question. He starts with the premise that Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and that Jesus shapes the lives of believers, and moves to natural law arguments… if this is a sign of a new approach to the issue from the ACL then I’m a big fan.
I miss Peter Costello, and it seems being out of politics has freed him up a little bit in terms of speaking about his faith and dishing out advice to church leaders. This talk he gave to Anglican Ministers in Melbourne last week looks like a cracker.
He’s still funny.
“If I had been to church 40 weeks a year, I have probably listened to 1000 sermons and tonight could be payback time.”
Here’s the substance from a story with the Melbourne Anglican…
“You only get a good media coverage if you agree with the media’s views.”
“The media has its own view of the world… and if you fall in with that, you will get a good press but if you want to promote the Christian Gospel, you will not.”
“The first thing I would say to the Church is, don’t measure your relevance by the amount of media coverage you get.”
“I actually think that media and celebrity is one of the great false idols of the modern age.”
“If the Church is going to speak on the issues of the day, it should be a distinctive contribution,” he said.
“The historic message of the Church, the Gospel, is a timeless message. It’s for every age. It does not have its relevance defined by what preoccupies us for the moment.”
“My message to you is that you have a wonderful calling and a timeless message and we look to you to keep us in faith.
“Don’t ever overlook the fact that no matter how high you are in Australia, you still need nourishment for your soul.”
Some have suggested that “positive interactions” is a better way to frame this than “gimmicks” (which I used previously) but thinking in a PR/branding framework is a blessing, and a curse, that I am unfortunate enough to carry.
Mikey has posted a great post pondering about how such gimmicks, or “goodwill exercises” can be used on campus to promote his AFES group at a university market day (when everybody is giving out stuff).
He shared in the comments that he’s started reading blogs about how to stand out at trade-shows to think through the issue. Here are a couple of the tips he picked up.
“1. “Market outside of what you paid for: A big mistake that many exhibitors make at tradeshows is sticking to what they believe they have paid for. This means only marketing from a booth, following all the rules of the event and not venturing out. This is the easy path, and one that is often taken because the staff at a booth is not incentivized to do more. If you think about the tradeshows that you have been to, the brands that stand out most are the ones that are wandering the halls, attending and asking questions at sessions, and generally taking a more proactive and guerilla approach to marketing.”
2 “Spend on the giveaways, not the booth. Everyone knows that nothing spreads faster at the tradeshow than a brand with a really big or valuable giveaway. ”
Both are good advice in my experience helping brainstorm trade show presence (and presents). But it’s not just about picking a big or valuable giveaway – the big or valuable giveaway needs to tie in to your key message, or your brand, in some way. The tradeshow idea is brilliant. We used to try to come up with really memorable tradeshow gifts that tied into our messages – you don’t just want it to be good. You want it to be good and relevant.
A few years ago, when we were marketing North Queensland in Brisbane I wanted to give people compasses and tell them to follow their way to paradise (but getting them to stop in Townsville would have involved purchasing a massive magnet (which, incidentally, is how Magnetic Island got its name)). Then, when water restrictions were biting I wanted to give people empty shower egg timers and water pistols (which would have been fun at trade shows). We ended up going with water bottles with North Queensland’s average annual rainfall printed on the label.
I think there’s something to thinking about how we can use a good gimmick as a hook for our message, not just in the university context but in the work of promoting our churches.