CAMPAIGNS: Recruitment PR - Monastic recruiter sees the PR light

Clients: Abbey of Gethsemani (Trappist, KY); St. Bernard's Abbey

(Cullman, AL); Holy Trinity Abbey (Huntsville, UT); Holy Spirit

Monastery (Conyers, GA), New Melleray Abbey (Peosta, IA)

PR Team: Vocations Placement Service (Coral Springs, FL)

Campaign: The Live-In Experience

Time Frame: April 2000 - ongoing

Budget: dollars 1,000 per month

Monasteries have found it increasingly difficult to recruit new members,

prompting cynics to suggest that 3am wake-up calls and intense spiritual

devotion might not be the preferred 21st century lifestyle for most

adult males. But Natalie Smith, the woman behind the fledgling Vocations

Placement Service, believes the reason for the downturn in the number of

people pursuing religious careers is far more simple: they don't know

where to sign up.

Due to decentralization of the Roman Catholic Church, there is no single

source of information for people interested in religious vocations.

"It's hard to believe that there's no networking source for jobs as a

nun, priest or monk," says Smith. "You can't look up religious careers

in the phone book. There are tons of available positions, but people

can't find out about them."

Her solution? A one-woman PR crusade to get people to attend weekend

retreats at five US monasteries, with the hope that attendees will

eventually choose to pursue a religious calling.


Smith wanted to spotlight the simple, spiritual existence of a monk,

while dispelling misperceptions about life at a monastery. For instance,

prayers are no longer chanted exclusively in Latin. To this end, she

attempted to position the retreats as a "live-in experience" at a

"spiritual resort," rather than as a vocational retreat.

"I wanted to make them sound appealing but not too heavy," she explains.

Smith had another major concern: convincing the monks that her PR muscle

was needed. Brother Gerlac of the Abbey of Gethsemani was initially

skeptical. "I wondered about the imposition that the visitors would have

on our community," he says.

Acknowledging the need for what he calls "a higher quality of

candidates," however, he eventually relented. "After hearing her out, we

decided that it couldn't hurt," he explains.


Smith was limited by the fact that she works alone and essentially for

free (she only accepts donations).

Given her limited resources, the PR tactics she employed were decidedly

rudimentary - she wrote a simple press release, which did little more

than pass along the dates of the retreats, a general description and a

toll-free phone number for those who wanted more information. Volunteers

assisted her in distributing the release by faxing it to churches,

Catholic colleges and local newspapers.

"It was little more than 'volume, volume, volume,'" Smith explains. "I

didn't get hung up on trying to woo people who wouldn't be interested."

Smith also established a Web site,, to offer

additional information.


The press releases were picked up by nearly 100 local newspapers. Smith

approximates that the placements garnered about dollars 70,000 in ad


But Smith's crowning accomplishment is a front-page story in the January

13 issue of The New York Times. The story detailed the difficulties in

finding candidates for the monastic life, as well as the marketing

techniques that Smith's five monasteries and other religious groups are

using to locate quality recruits. "I was astonished," Smith admits. "You

can't buy the front page of The New York Times."

The net result of the campaign was an increase in interest in the

weekend retreats. More than 250 people have attended since Smith started

her marketing crusade.


Smith hopes her efforts are only the first step towards better

publicizing career paths in the Catholic Church. "It's time that someone

removed the mystery," she says.

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