CAMPAIGNS: Hetrick answers nuns' PR prayers - Media relations

Client: The Carmelite nuns of Indianapolis
PR Team: Hetrick Communications (Indianapolis)
Campaign: Praythenews.com
Time Frame: March 2001 - present
Budget: less than $10,000

Like many Catholic religious orders, the Carmelite nuns of Indianapolis are facing a major problem in recruiting new members. With an average age of 71 for the 13 nuns left in the group, a real concern emerged that the order might not be able to sustain itself much longer without a major infusion of new members. A typical year saw only six inquiries about joining the order.

The sisters, knowing that other Catholic orders had turned to advertising and internet marketing to find new members, began to investigate how they might do the same.

They initially worked with a local ad agency, Young & Laramore, to create a website and some small ads, but the firm suggested bringing in PR help to gain more attention for the sisters, their mission, and what they had to offer prospective members.

Strategy

The Carmelite nuns normally have little to no contact with the world outside their convent. They devote their days to selecting world events, and praying over those. The website created by the ad agency, PrayTheNews.

com, featured the sisters writing about the world events over which they prayed. A different topic is discussed each week. The site went live in March 2001.

"A lot of people are creating websites, but they forget they have to get traffic to them, says Bruce Hetrick, president of the PR firm that bears his name.

Hetrick sought a way to draw more attention to the site, and turn the sisters into sources the media could turn to on topics ranging from capital punishment to pedophilia.

Tactics

Hetrick began a weekly e-mail tip sheet to selected media outlets, detailing what the nuns would discuss on the site. He also conducted media training for the nuns who began doing interviews. His firm pitched major media on doing a feature story on the nuns and their way of life.

Hetrick is also on a local advisory committee for the nuns, engaging in community outreach efforts to raise the nuns' profile in the Indianapolis area. The campaign looked to show women age 30 to 45 what the nuns were all about, and get them to consider joining the order.

Results

Media coverage of the sisters has appeared in outlets such as BusinessWeek, Newsday, The Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, and the Chicago Tribune.

NBC's Today also ran a five-minute segment on the nuns in February.

More importantly, the nuns have received 48 requests for information from women interested in joining their order. Seven are scheduled to visit the convent in the coming months.

"I knew that articulating a contemplative lifestyle would be very difficult. I now think more has been accomplished than we could have imagined, says Linda Hegeman, director of communications and development for the nuns. "We are very hopeful that we are planting the seeds, and they are starting to pop."

Future

The nuns next want to expand recruitment efforts to women in the 20-30 age category. Hetrick has begun reaching out to high school and college counselors and chaplains for what he calls "Nun Camp - the chance to visit the convent for a week to see how the sisters live.

Hetrick continues to work in the local community on fund-raising needed for projects at the convent.

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