INSP puts faith into its comms strategies

In the changing media landscape, the faith-based TV network's PR team believes in its messaging

Its evolution alongside the cable industry during the last 25 years was one challenge for The Inspiration
Network (INSP), a worldwide cable TV network. But maintaining a leadership position in the cable industry, as well as retaining its faith-based roots has present-ed another large obstacle for the nonprofit organization.

The network's main goal and strategy is to communicate the topic of faith through different audiences, says Kristina Hill, media relations manager for INSP. That's always been the ultimate message, but as it expands, the in-house PR team has discovered that strategies must vary to achieve its diverse communication goals.

"Ministry, technology - each has its own strategy," says John Roos, SVP of corporate communications and research at INSP. "There's a program for each network strategy."

Once a cable network that supplied faith-based TV shows, INSP has now expanded into online media - though still biblically based - that reaches out to various demographics. The organization was founded in 1990 when it acquired the assets of the bankrupt Praise the Lord TV network.

INSP owns four district networks with a subscriber base of 22 million households. According to its current data, more than 8.6 million watch its programming each week, which is distributed to 2,440 cable systems. About 55% of its viewers are men, and 42.6% are over the age of 50. Another 35.6% are ages 30 to 49, and 33.6% are ages 18 to 34.

The expansion has presented its own set of communications challenges, not unlike what mainstream cable TV networks are facing. The cable industry is not covered as much by the media, compared with 25 years ago, when there were more mom-and-pop cable operators, Roos says.

"We have to stay up with the market," he notes. "And line up what we do with the industry... We have to shift with
the marketplace."

With INSP's move into online media, the organization began to promote itself by all of its faith-based brands, whether it was a Southern gospel program or a Christian rap series. Programs include a range of lively titles, like Bedbug Bible Gang, a children's program where bed bugs share Bible stories with humor and song, and Discovery Jones Expedition, where viewers follow adventure sports, like hang-gliding while learning lessons from the Bible.

INSP was able to obtain mainstream news coverage of Steelroots, an online youth network aimed at the youth surf and skate communities, with its everyday use social media and targeting of the niche community. Steelroots resonates with the media, Hills says.

"We want to communicate the topic of faith to different audiences," she adds. "The faith-based message is still sort of taboo."

For other programs, the network began to promote its brand through events, like home and garden shows and music festivals, to reach other targeted audiences. After moving its headquarters from South Carolina to North Carolina in February 2008, the PR team saw an opportunity to reach out to new regional media and establish relationships with the community and business publications in North Carolina.

For outreach, both local and nationwide, the team created an online pressroom, electronic media kits, and a specific PR strategy that sought to provide information to the media about what the network means to the community, and how the move can better serve viewers. With the media landscape changing, in general, Hill notes that there are many new tools being introduced.

"For us, it's a balancing act, and we're really anxious to get going," Roos says. "We have ways to tell our story to our market [about] the kind of content we can deliver."

The hardest part in communicating to a more mainstream media audience is the fact that the organization is faith-based, a topic that Hill reiterates is still taboo, despite the success of films like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. When pitching stories, she says that it has to be solid, with all the facts behind it - maybe more so than what other media organizations might face.

"We're always honing it," Hill says. "We have to... sharpen the craft."

At A Glance

Chairman and CEO:
David Cerullo

Headquarters: Charlotte, NC

Key trade titles: Multichannel News, Broadcasting & Cable, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, Singing News

Budget: Undisclosed

Communications team: John Roos, SVP of corporate communications and research; Kristina Hill, media relations manager; and Melissa Prince, PR account executive.

Agency: A. Larry Ross Communications (project basis)

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