Church seizes upon unpredicted publicity

NEW YORK: The United Church of Christ stumbled upon a windfall of publicity last week after its TV commercial was rejected by most of the major networks.

NEW YORK: The United Church of Christ stumbled upon a windfall of publicity last week after its TV commercial was rejected by most of the major networks.

The advertisement, which featured bouncers rejecting people on line behind a velvet rope -- including two men assumed by many to be a gay couple, was rejected by CBS, ABC, and NBC. All three networks have released statements and granted interviews as to why they declined the advertisements.

In a press release regarding the advertisement, the church said, "In stark contrast to prevailing rhetoric about moral values, the United Church of Christ's message offers an edgy allegory in a campaign targeted to Americans who feel alienated from church."

"I don't think there's a major media outlet in the country that hasn't asked us about it," said Barb Powell, chief information officer for the church, adding that she had not been home at a reasonable hour in the past three days.

"We didn't do this on purpose," Powell said. "We thought we would buy the network ad and things would be wonderful."

When it became apparent that the networks would not run the ad, Powell said she and a small group got together to figure out the next step. The UCC issued a press release explaining this situation, and CNN was one of the first major news outlets to come calling. Also on the forefront of media requests were two ABC shows, Good Morning America and ABC News, as well as MSNBC. Stories have also appeared on Salon, Atlanta Journal Constitution, The New York Times, NPR, Guardian, Reuters, and an editorial in the Detroit Free Press, among other outlets.

The story has appeared on multiple news outlets, which have shown either excerpts or the entire ad. Powell praised the media for its objectivity in showing both sides of the argument.

The controversy, while unplanned, has provided the church with unprecedented publicity.

Yesterday, the church received 95,000 visitors to the web site for the advertising campaign, stillspeaking.com, and 17,000 people used the search engine to find a local church.

"These numbers blow the roof off of anything we ever had," Powell said.

"Obviously, this has increased our exposure tremendously over what it would have been if the networks ran the ads, which I suppose is a good thing," Powell said, adding that she has received approximately 1,5000 e-mails since the ad ran, and could only recount three negative e-mails. She also said she received correspondences from local affiliates that said they would run the ads regardless of the network's decision.

If the media attention persists, Powell said, the church is considering hiring external PR help.

The Cleveland-based UCC, with 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members, is a rare Christian denomination that allows openly gay and lesbian people to serve as clergy. It website reached unprecedented numbers because of the advertising campaign.

The church said the ad has been accepted on a number of other networks, including ABC Family, BET Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, TBS, and TNT. It can be viewed at www.stillspeaking.com.

The advertisement was part of a $1.7 million ad buy, for December 1 through December 26. The church plans to go ahead with its March lent-theme ad buy, which features what Powell called a less-controversial ad. The campaign is set to expire in 2007, coinciding with the church's 50th anniversary.

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