PR: WHAT CHURCHES NEED TO LEARN QUICKLY


By Uduak Umo
- What Should Church PR Be?
- What Churches Are Yet To Explore
- Is Pastor the Graphic Artist?

Evangelism and mainstream corporate Communication have strong similarities in strategies that I will attempt to establish here. The principles of both are the same, as are the effects and the expectations.

Handbill sharing is direct marketing; Bulk SMS is direct mailing; Billboards: That’s Outdoor advertising; Saturday Door-to-door is personal selling; Jingles on radio count towards broadcast advertising; The TV and Radio sermons are in between personal selling and product tasting. Street Rallies are marketing events.

Except for personal selling, the above are all essential for awareness, basically. They ‘talk at’ the target audience. If properly engaged, they may ‘talk to’. But they still don’t provide an efficient PR solution. None can be regarded by a PR practitioner as Public Relations. They are all either marketing or advertising.
With PR, you will be making use of next-to-free communication procedures. You will spend some, but in PR, you will get ‘Earned’ publicity, which means that whatever you pay for is nothing compared to a run-of-the-mill budget for marketing/advertising.
There are 5-star churches in Africa that practice Public Relations, some big, some small churches. But they are all administered corporate management style; and they demonstrate strong commitment to societal values.  A good number of others are as uncultivated as they come from a PR perspective. I’d say they spot a wild public image, but for politeness. [See the figure above].

WHAT Should Church PR Be?
PR is tested to work efficiently for Corporate organizations, Personality brands, merchandise, politicians, whole industries and even not-for-profit organizations; why should it not work for you, church? Why does God’s wisdom keep inspiring tools that everyone but God’s church is using?
PR, unlike sister Communication programmes, will use a 2-way communication model. The reality of this feels like a no-no for many a church leadership. But it shouldn’t be so. As long as you will speak the language of man, and you’re sent by God to man, you must hear from God, and hear from man too.
You will not just hear from men, but adjust your style based on feedback - Your style, not your message. That is what we refer to as 2-way symmetric model of communication. As an individual in PR and who has been a church leader, my most effective tactic has been listening.

PR That Churches Are Yet to Explore
Press Conferences – To the best of my knowledge, churches in Africa began to use Press Conferences in Lagos and South Africa. It still isn’t a widely used strategy. Wrong, unless what you offer is not newsworthy. If it is, then call a press conference; engage a PR professional to plan that for you.

2-Way Communication – This is a model, not a strategy per se. We lose the world because we are only interested in talking at them. But Jesus sought feedback clearly, in Luke 9:20. The scriptures also charge us to pause and learn from our environment; “…look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two” (Proverbs 6:6 Message Translation). Dear Church leader, you need to both receive feedback from around you, and learn from it.
Research – The greatest undoing of organizations that offer sound products is their lack of PR research. Find out what trends; carry out sentiment analyses on relevant topics. Using a socio-scientific survey, you can measure the temperature of Spirituality in your town. You cannot bring a ‘Word in season’ when you have no grasp of the Season. For churches who do not want to spend a part of their budget on this, do you really want to depend on evangelism with untrained church workers to gather statistical data for you?
Budgeting – This is a fundamental part of PR programmes. A budget is a plan. Churches must plan before embarking on projects. While budgeting is not a PR tool, it is a PR plan to contend with, along with other PR plan ingredients like SMART* objectives, audience identified, media etc.
CSR – Churches in Africa have hardly demonstrated social responsibility. I don’t know much about what obtains in western nations. However, lately, church medical departments have organized medical outreaches and so on. But these programmes have not been tagged CSR, either because the organizers don’t know the name or the programmes are of insignificant effect. But, imagine your church organizing an annual nationwide campaign against Genetically modified foods, Breast cancer, HIV spread, Stigmatization of suspected witches etc. And they brand all campaign assets, events, souvenir, activities with the Church identity. Imagine the level of positive support they would be able to acquire.
Sponsorships – How many projects related and unrelated to your church vision has your church sponsored? How do you partner with other churches or corporate organizations for social causes? How many church logos do you find on the same sponsorship page as UNESCO, USAID, Amnesty International, Transparency International and the likes? If any, how many times?
Endorsement – The issue of getting endorsement for Church will be subject to yet more debate. Firstly, I will not subscribe to anybody who is not a good role model of character to endorse a Church brand publicly. But how about church begins to learn the skill of growing its own individual prospects and talents? Learn to spot a prospect when it is yet in children church; invest any amount in developing the individual. When they become celebrity, chances of them becoming horrible role influences will be slim. The command to Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6), was not for parents alone. In Africa, for example, back in the day, the community raised the child. Western civilization bastardizes this principle today. These ones, discovered, trained, provided for, sponsored, guided and marketed, would make the most reliable celebrity to endorse your Church brand tomorrow. They will do so gladly, and at no fee. 

Ask Christ Embassy what they benefit from Frank Edwards, Sinach, Joe Praise and the likes.

Events – How do you package your events? How excellent is your protocol? How structured or fluid is the sequence of programmes? You don’t need to spend millions to get the best events. Spend time fine-tuning the planning and test-runs. Call in a creative event manager, whether he/she is a member or not. A lot of people do not know that an event manager should have PR training. It adds to the failures in getting an ‘encore’.

New Media - While it is more cost-saving to make Church workers man your Internet media communications, I'll strongly recommend you keep an option of a trusted consultant on the side. New media is eating away at dependence on traditional media real fast. But, hand New media into the hands of just anybody and you pay for it as damaging as it would have been efficient if a Pro was engaged.

There's a Church in Nigeria that trend their services on Twitter every single Sunday. As a result, the words Worship, Praise, Prayer automatically trend along. I encourage other Churches to consider similar initiatives. New media has come to open up the field for creative evangelism. Make use of it. How much does it cost to trend your messages? Less than 20,000 daily. But how much do you gain? Far more visibility than what 20k can achieve in 'old media'.

Who Is The Graphic Artiste, Pastor Or Professional?
A second look at Advertising 
Of course, churches advertise. The problem is that what comes out, just like the figure above, is in most cases, strictly an inspiration of top leadership. What I mean is, the media unit can only design what the man of God wants, admires, and approves, not what is right. What is right will definitely draw approval and admiration from the broader society – that’s how to know what is right. 

And please don’t tell me it is what God put in your heart. If it’s the God Who designed heaven and earth, the inspiration should be popular, artistic, appealing, captivating and inspiring in itself, because; 1. He is the author of order (1 Cor. 14:33). 2. His’ is the Spirit of Excellence (Dan 5:12). 

Your graphics, TV Commercials, Jingles etc should look as divine as Nature – if God inspired it. If you cannot get the skill-set to achieve this, at least get the mindset first.
This is not to say men of God should be left out of what their media churns out. No. God has patterns for everything He builds. But He may show the pattern to the Pastor or to any other person He chooses. But most likely, it’ll be the Pastor if you follow Biblical examples. So, there is room for men of God to see a vision, but if they’re not skilled in the relevant vocation, they better find skilful people who can interpret that vision.
This applies also to all entrepreneurs, whether in commodity business, music, movies, publishing, banking, manufacturing or processing industries. You may know what you want, but not how to get it.

Note this: what you design will not be judged by you, but by your target audience. Design what they understand, not what you like. Get a professional, get a professional. PR is not a common sense affair.

My Pastor at Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Pst. Emeka Ukpai is an example of one Church leader who knows what his media should be and how to get it there. Added to His being anointed, He’s talented, smart, creative and trained. His method is to paint the picture He wants, sitting next to the artiste. At the end of each production, the media comes out ultra-excellent. He’s so good that even his graphic artistes improve in creativity, working with him.

As a PR practitioner working for church or any other organisation, you should be an authority in understanding the differences between your PR, Advertising and Marketing. In my opinion, when you conquer this point, you are well on your way to being a PR specialist. 

Finally, it is up to Church leadership to choose what pattern of ministry they would build to. Your pastor is ultimately answerable to God with respect to his God-given mission on earth. But when it comes to the technicalities of communicating your message to the world, God’s Wisdom has inspired the development of a set of skills to help you achieve your mission. You use it, you shun it or you abuse it.

Uduak Umo is a chartered PR professional, based in Nigeria. Find him on Twitter @UdyUmo
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