PRWeek can reveal that St Paul’s is being advised on the handling of the protest outside the church by Yorkshire-based PR agency 33rpm, whose owner Rob Marshall is working alongside St Pauls’ press and comms officer Hannah Talbot.
Marshall is an Anglican priest and was formerly press secretary to the Archbishop of York.
The church’s chancellor, the Rev. Giles Fraser, yesterday resigned over plans to forcibly remove the protesters.
George Pitcher, who until September was secretary for public affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: ‘The comms handling has been disastrous. Clearly no-one has offered the basic comms advice, which is: "If you embark on this strategy, you will lose Giles Fraser. You will have pictures of violent eviction all over the press. Do you really want that to happen?"
‘They’ve grasped a PR disaster from the jaws of everyday life.’
The Occupy London tented protest, which has been camped outside St Paul’s since 15 October, has led to increasing tensions between the church and the anti-capitalist movement.
The church closed its doors last Friday, blaming health and safety fears. However, after losing an estimated £120,000 in revenue over six days, it is expected to reopen today.
Media House International executive chairman Jack Irvine said: ‘It was a business disaster, but they’ve completed it with silly PR, by giving a misleading impression of what the situation really was. Then they have to swallow their own words to say it will reopen.
‘The whole media handling has made them look incredibly stupid. In fact, there was no media handling.’
The church initially supported the protesters, but asked them to leave last week when their camp engulfed the square in front of St Paul’s main entrance.
Marshall responded to the comments by saying: 'These people are extremely ill-informed. We've been dealing with hundreds of media calls a day. The problem we have is we're in a post-Christian culture. A lot of people don't understand the issues with running a world-renowned building like St. Paul's.
'The biggest problem we've had was in the health and safety issue. When you're told there's a liability for all these people in the cathedral, and outside you've got people with Calor Gas stoves and cigarettes and so on - a lot of our guys were not prepared to take that risk.'
Marshall explained that the church has reopened after spending hours adapting the site, although the dome will remain closed.
'PR has difficulties with the nuances of injunction and eviction,' added Marshall. 'We've been saying that we want them to go peacefully, but you've got to start the process somewhere. Eviction is a long way down the line.
'There was no need for Giles to resign at this point. We want a peaceful resolution.'