The Church is having a bad hair week. Not only has the former Archbishop
of Canterbury Robert Runcie found his unguarded remarks about Prince
Charles broadcast to the world, but its latest ad campaign has met with
scorn, even from within its own ranks.
If ever there were an organisation crying out for public relations help
it is the Church. Its attempts at modernising its image consistently
fall flat, mainly because it has not understood the fundamental PR
principle that the product must live up to the message you are trying to
Simply sticking ‘yoof’ culture slogans on a 48- sheet poster will not
make the Church more appealing. On the contrary, it makes it look
ridiculous because the image is apparently so at odds with reality. What
next - replacing the goblet of communion wine with a gobbet of
At the same time it consistently fails to successfully manage its media
relations, with the result that most of its coverage concerns bad news -
its own internal wranglings, loose cannon bishops, rave ‘9 o’clock’
services, or yet another duff advertising campaign.
The Church’s PR problems are that it has no clearly defined and
centrally organised PR strategy, and that its position - as part of the
establishment, yet without power - has apparently robbed its leaders of
the ability to speak out, except in the most anodyne terms.
Yet, given a client with a wide ranging remit to comment on almost any
issue in the news, most PR people would think it easy to score a
The opportunity is certainly there. Research from the Henley Centre’s
Planning for Social Change surveys has identified a trend which it calls
the ‘death of deference’ - whereby public confidence in institutions
such as government, the judiciary and the monarchy has sharply declined
over the last decade.
What better chance for the Church to provide some leadership, or at
least offer something tangible for people to react against. In other
words, it needs to become relevant by expressing its philosoply through
topical commentary, not by tarting itself up in fashionable slogans.
Yet on almost every occasion when the Church is presented with an
opportunity to take a lead, it flunks it. Dr Runcie’s off-the-record
remarks are probably the most significant utterances a senior cleric has
made throughout the long drawn out death of the Wales’ marriage.
One thing is certain. If the Church continues to fail to address its PR
problems and goes on sitting on the fence, the public will soon not much
care on which side it eventually falls.