CLIENT PROFILE: Episcopal Church has faith in PR credibility - The Episcopal Church is working hard to counter negative publicity and has just hired its first director of communications to help

The Episcopal Church's first director of communications, Dan England, turns to an authoritative source for his PR philosophy. 'John (the apostle and gospel writer) sets us straight,' says England. 'In the beginning was the word. And the word was God.'

The Episcopal Church's first director of communications, Dan England, turns to an authoritative source for his PR philosophy. 'John (the apostle and gospel writer) sets us straight,' says England. 'In the beginning was the word. And the word was God.'

The Episcopal Church's first director of communications, Dan England, turns to an authoritative source for his PR philosophy. 'John (the apostle and gospel writer) sets us straight,' says England. 'In the beginning was the word. And the word was God.'

According to England, one of the greatest challenges facing the church's PR division is attracting new churchgoers. 'People who don't go to church think it's a place where they would be unwelcome because it's for deeply religious people,' he says. 'But there are people at church who are very much like them. We need to do a better job of delivering this message.'

In his new role, England faces the challenge of moving the church's communications team through programs designed to boost membership and tackle social issues such as racism. The Episcopal Church is trying to change the perception that its membership is exclusively white and middle class.

It also has launched a campaign called '20/20' designed to double membership across the country over the next 20 years. This entails an enormous outreach to dioceses by helping them work in their communities to expand the profile of individual congregations.

The effort also includes a certain amount of branding, which involves keeping the logo consistent throughout the organization and helping churches organize their Web sites.

England, an ordained Baptist minister, has a great deal of PR experience.

Before entering his current position in September, he worked for Ogilvy PR Worldwide, and prior to that for Texaco's internal communications department in the UK.

His appointment follows adverse publicity surrounding the church's General Convention in Denver in July where protesters demanded full ordination and marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Also dominating headlines were three dioceses that continually refused to ordain women. From these and earlier controversies, including a clergyman on trial for heresy and an embezzling treasurer, the church learned that responsiveness and transparency are crucial to legitimizing its message. England's appointment is only the latest example of the church's ongoing PR strategy overhaul.

England is still learning his role in a communications department that not only conducts media relations, but oversees the church's Web site (www.ecusa.anglican.org), its newspaper, an information desk and a religious news service - all without an agency of record.

The Episcopal Church has around 2.5 million US members and is headed by Bishop Frank Griswold. England is part of the management team, which he says is a sign that Griswold recognizes the importance of communications to the church's mission.

Working with England is Jim Solheim, the church's veteran director of news and information. Solheim runs the Episcopal News Service (ENS), which feeds national and international news to the dioceses, as well as the so-called 'secular media'.

The service is accessible through the church's main Web site, which includes recent news items about a clergy member arrested for selling drugs, a bishop charged with immorality, as well as more positive stories about missionary and community work.

Despite the church's highly publicized problems, the communications department still manages to enjoy a great deal of respect. 'Our deepest satisfaction is that the church and secular media find us accessible and credible,' says Solheim. 'Even the harshest critics of the church trust us.'

Once every three years the church holds a national convention, but Solheim claims communication there had a reputation for being poor. Referring to the Detroit meeting in 1988, he says, 'Some said it was the worst press operation of any church in America.'

But things have changed since then. At the 1991 convention, Solheim held twice-daily press briefings, published a daily paper with news from the previous session's events, and made sure he and his deputy were available to the media at all times. 'Reporters loved it,' he says. 'One told me the only improvement he could think of was an open bar.'

Restructuring the convention operation has continued right up to the most recent meeting in Denver. For the first time, all news was available electronically from terminals in the press room. Paper copies were only given out on request, in order to save time and money.

LA Times' Larry Stammer, who covers religion says: 'Once you learned the ropes it was good. You could call up background papers on whatever you were interested in.'

Stammer covered a 1995 trial against a retired bishop in the Episcopal court for ordaining a homosexual man. While he praised the office for putting the issue in historical context, once a verdict was reached, he was unable to find many of the conservatives who brought the case to trial. 'It's not the church's fault, but some effort could have been made by PR people to arrange for the media to talk to both sides,' he says.

David O'Reilly covers religion for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He considers the Episcopal PR team 'a standout' in general. But the trial coverage troubled him. He says the PR office initially called the court case a heresy trial. 'The whole concept of heresy is difficult to explain to the press,' Solheim says. 'It was such a titillating topic.'

The term, which means to go against established religious doctrine, was a headline grabber that characterized the conservative leaders as old-fashioned. 'That was the liberal bias coming through,' O'Reilly says of the PR team.

A deeper crisis occurred in 1995 when the church's former treasurer was arrested and charged with embezzling dollars 1.5 million. Ellen Cooke was sentenced to five years in prison.

Solheim's relationship with the media, which he had so carefully cultivated, was strained by lawyers' interference. 'The frustration was very high because everyone wanted the facts,' he says. 'Secular writers were afraid we were stonewalling them.'

One of the church's most important communications tools is its monthly newspaper Episcopal Life. Edited by Jerrold Hames, its distribution is around 253,000.

The title does not avoid thought-provoking material. 'One of the things that we believe in is to provide a forum for people to express their views,' Hames says. The paper recently provoked a barrage of letters with an editorial promoting gun control that made conservative members uneasy.

England is anxious to tell people about the church's cohesiveness despite disagreements. 'The spirit coming out of the convention was one of overwhelming unity,' he says. 'And people are interested in finding areas where they agree rather than disagree.'



The Episcopal Church

Communications Director: Daniel England

News & Info. Director: Jim Solheim

News & Info. Deputy Director: Rev. Jan Nunley

Editor, Episcopal Life: Jerrold Hames

Media Services Director: Rev. Clement Lee

Agency of Record: None.

Episcopal Life Budget: dollars 6 million (operational budget)

Media Services Budget: dollars 5.4 million (includes PR division and Web site costs)

Source: Triennium Budgetary Income Statement

2001-2003 Proposed Budget.



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