The Church may seem inept in PR terms, but there are no quick fixes for
its communication needs, says Rev Peter Owen-Jones
In the 1980s there was a television advertisement which featured a
horribly suave 30-something bloke. We saw him down a couple of beers,
then go to a nightclub where he was eyed up by a series of attractive
women. I think he even ended up with the regulation, end-of-the-night
chicken vindaloo. I’m not sure.
Anyway, it transpires in the closing seconds that he is, in fact, a bank
manager, and lo and behold he’s the sort of bloke we can all trust
because he’s just like us.
The trouble is, I don’t want a bank manager who goes out on the pull
after a couple of pints. I want someone who wears round glasses, has a
bath after the news, and wears ironed pyjamas in bed.
The latest advertisement from the Church of England sets out to
challenge the stereotypical image from which it clearly suffers.
The subsequent media coverage which has followed the ‘bad hair day’ ad
hasn’t been surprising. The response has gone along the lines of
‘misjudged’ and ‘inappropriate’.
On a broader platform, as far as the national media re concerned, the
Church far too often comes across as dithering and dowdy. That is not a
fair reflection of the Church of England, but it is the fault of the
Church for allowing that image to persist.
The Church has some very sound reasons for not really indulging in the
professional gloss of PR. They are surely right to uphold the principle
that substance is more important than style and that one’s appearance
shouldn’t really matter. They are however quite wrong if they believe
that it doesn’t matter.
There can also be little doubt that the apparently endless internal
squabbling and lack of cohesive communications approach is proving very
damaging to the Church.
Protestantism allows huge breadth for an individual relationship with
God - a relationship that has its boundaries only loosely defined by the
Disagreeing with each other is an accepted part of our tradition. We
don’t hide behind the company line. We can’t, we don’t have one. From a
PR perspective this clearly comes across as ineptitude. The Church
doesn’t have any smart-lipped people to roll out in front of the cameras
to play the game, simply because we are not playing it.
That may be very inconvenient for a world that increasingly defines its
consciousness via its reflection in the media mirror. The Church uses a
different yardstick. The real fear I think the Church perhaps has about
PR is that it doesn’t see itself as an institution like any other. But
viewed from a Christian perspective, it is the spin doctor that needs
the Church, not the Church that needs the spin doctor.
The root of the problem in terms of communication isn’t how the outside
world sees the Church, it is much more to do with how the Church sees
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this constant chipping away of
the credibility on a national level is having a considerable effect on
every parish church in the country.
Some PR wouldn’t be difficult to organise. What are we talking about
here? A budget, an office, and a few people who know what they are
doing. That might be what the Church and the outside world expects, but
not necessarily what people need.
It might also be what the Church needs, but at the moment it doesn’t
seem to be what we want.
Rev. Peter Owen-Jones is the curate of Wisbech St Mary, and a former
advertising agency creative director