CAMPAIGNS: Church Opening - Big church has big opening

Client: The First Cathedral (Bloomfield, CT)

Client: The First Cathedral (Bloomfield, CT)

Client: The First Cathedral (Bloomfield, CT)



PR Team: Andreas Obston Marketing Communications (Bloomfield, CT)



Campaign: New church opening



Time Frame: June to September 1999



Budget: Under dollars 15,000





A new church in the neighborhood isn’t usually a source of

controversy.



But when the First Baptist Church of Hartford announced it would move to

Bloomfield (pop. 25,000) and build a 3,400-seat cathedral - and The New

York Times covered the announcement of the ’largest church in New

England’ - the Bloomfield community worried about parking, traffic,

zoning and scale (most churches are 500 seats or fewer). At the same

time, the religious community worried about poaching congregations, and

Hartford wondered if it was being abandoned.



Just two months before the Labor Day weekend opening, pastor LeRoy

Bailey Jr. asked Andreas Obston Marketing Communications to promote the

church opening and prevent negative press - or at least neutralize the

coverage.





Strategy



Research found that ’mega-churches’ in the South had faced similar

issues, and the agency prepared a strategy that would create a sense of

mystery.



’We never sent a photo in any of our materials,’ says Chris Watts, who

led the team. The materials described an ’architectural marvel’ with

computer screens to display verses and hymns, and stained glass windows

and carpet inserts designed by congregants. Not until the ribbon-cutting

on opening day would the public see inside.



The cathedral was positioned as the spiritual center for all of Greater

Hartford, a message that was reinforced through the church’s selection

of media targets, press materials and guests for the opening event.

Organizers invited state and community leaders to demonstrate how the

church wanted to be active area-wide, Watts says.





Tactics



Aggressive media relations and media training drove the campaign. Prior

to the opening, print and broadcast news and religion editors in the

region received announcements and a feature story on the construction.

Four news outlets took a pre-opening tour of the church, though pictures

were forbidden until the official opening.



The pre-event publicity yielded coverage in The Hartford

Journal-Inquirer the morning of the opening, while the Hartford

Courant’s religion reporter ran a column the week before. On the day of

the unveiling, the outreach continued with releases to state and

national media, while on-site agency staff helped the half-dozen media

attendees interview the pastor and congregation, and then toured the

church with them.





Results



Despite the Labor Day weekend, 3,000 people attended the ceremony,

including Bloomfield and Hartford city leaders, who came to show that

Hartford did not feel abandoned by the church. The state treasurer, the

attorney general and the district’s congressman also appeared, while

letters from both of the state’s US senators, the governor and President

Clinton were read to the assembly.



In addition to the traditional minority press and college radio, all the

network affiliates covered the opening. The CBS affiliate ran it as the

lead story that night; The Hartford Courant ran a front-page,

full-color, above-the-fold article in its Sunday edition. The AP and

Metro Networks (a radio wire service) put the story on their state

wires. Several local newspapers and two local radio stations also

covered the event.



Church leaders said many community groups have asked to partner with the

church for community activities. They also noted that in all the

coverage they received, there was no negative press regarding the

church’s size or location.



The biggest surprise? ’The Hartford Business Journal,’ says Watts. ’They

came after the opening. And why not? The church cost dollars 13 million

to build. When your client is God, the church is a business.’





Future



The agency will continue to promote special events like inspirational

speakers and ecumenical concerts for the cathedral, and church

leadership is considering launching an ongoing campaign to position the

church and its pastor as community leaders.



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