Client: Bible Society
PR Team: In-house and Diamond Communications
Campaign: Launch of Contemporary English Version Bible
Timing: January - March 1996
Budget: pounds 15,000
Dubbed the ‘soap opera bible’ by the Press Association, the Bible
Society’s Contemporary English Version (CEV) went back to original
sources to bring ancient storylines bang up to date. American Baptist
translator Barclay Newman and his 100-strong team pored over texts for
ten years to create an accurate interpretation of the Bible with a
‘In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of
Judea’ from the Authorised Version, Matt 3i, is replaced by ‘John the
Baptist showed up in the desert’.
Dawn Prosser media relations officer at the Swindon-based Bible Society,
says that the CEV is as much in tune with end of 20th century feelings,
as AV was in tune with the times at the beginning of the 17th.
CEV is entering a crowded market, with over 1,000 different versions of
the Bible currently available according to figures from the Baptist
To distinguish CEV in the bible book market and sell, or give away at
evangelical rallies, 10 million copies over the next ten years.
The Bible Society hired one woman Christian PR outfit Gilly Swan of
Diamond Communications to handle an integrated campaign, including
events management, direct mailing and marketing assistance. Swan sent
copies of CEV to 150 key players in the evangelical movement inviting
Prosser worked alongside the marketing campaign, using endorsements as
they came in to prompt media coverage. A media pack and a copy of the
Bible was sent to national secular and religious press and broadcast
media, inviting them to ‘Sharing the Vision’ presentations by Barclay
Newman from January to March throughout the UK.
As media interest grew, Newman was also available to conduct radio
interviews using the Bible Society’s own studio and ISDN link.
On the back of demand created by religious media coverage, Swan extended
her direct mailing operation to cover 350 booksellers and churches.
‘There’s a lot of interest in the word of God,’ says Prosser modestly.
Sales of CEV in Britain are 100 per cent ahead of targets, and media
coverage has been immense on a regional and national level. Broadsheets
and local radio stations in particular picked up on the scriptures in a
That said, the broadsheets had a lot of fun comparing 20th and 16th
century biblical phrases. All were condescending about replacing
‘crucified’ with ‘nailed to a cross’ and reported piously that ‘manger’
had become ‘bed of hay’ and only narrowly missed being ‘feedbox’.
George Austin, the Archdeacon of York branded the CEV as the ‘soppy’
language of Enid Blyton.
The UK launch achieved far more coverage than the bible’s launch in the
US, with a fraction of the publicity budget. There is no doubt that the
Press Association’s commentary on ‘the soap opera Bible’ did wonders for
levels of awareness.
But any new translation is open to critics sneeering at the choice of
modern words and the Contemporary English Version was no exception