Client: The College of Preachers
Campaign: Preacher of the Year Award
Team: Phoenix Public Relations
Timescale: July to October 1996
Budget: pounds 5,000
The Preacher of the Year Award, now in its second year, was set up by
The College of Preachers to promote a higher standard among the
estimated 70,000 ordained and lay preachers in the UK.
Sponsored by the Times, the award invites all preachers, of any
denomination, to put their talent for communication to the test.
The College provides courses wherever they are needed around the
country, however it is constantly battling against funds shortages and
the success of the awards event is seen as vital to its future.
To raise awareness of the College and interest in preaching among the
general public by attracting nationwide media coverage of the Preacher
of the Year Award.
The Times announced the award in the early spring and invited preachers
to submit a written sermon for adjudication. Entrants were shortlisted
before the main thrust for publicity for the event began in July. The 30
semi-finalists were anonymously visited throughout summer and
adjudicators watched them in action, before the five finalists were
The final, on 30 October, was held in the context of a church service at
London’s Southwark Cathedral, which provided a public stage for the
final while maintaining necessary dignity. Leigh Mendelsohn, a partner
at Phoenix Public Relations says: ‘We had to handle the event very
carefully. For instance there were Methodists who feel that the
competition is bad. So we had to deal with everything in a fairly
Phoenix initially targeted local media working up to a national press
campaign around the time of the finals. The regional publicity campaign
primarily revolved around putting the award candidates forward as a
focus of their local communities. Candidates were also fielded for
topical radio discussions - one local station, for example, invited a
preacher to contribute to its discussion about communicating and the use
Throughout the four months of the campaign, regional and local media
focused on their shortlisted entrants. As well as coverage by the Church
press, the finals attracted TV news coverage from ITN, Channel 4 News
and BBC TV News.
The Independent and the Guardian sent photographers and reporters to the
finals, as did the Scotsman and the Western Mail. The event achieved a
total of 25 minutes of TV coverage on 30 October and 56 minutes of news
coverage the following day plus extensive column inches. A Dutch
television company is now making a programme about the College and
international press coverage extended to USA Today and the Herald
By concentrating on community involvement and promoting the award
candidates as local personalities, Phoenix succeeded in generating
massive regional coverage. The College of Preachers was delighted by the
coverage and the fact that the story was picked up by so many regional
newspapers successfully highlighted the event as ‘national’ as opposed
British press interest in religion is said to be at an all-time high.
And with recent coverage of some Church stories verging on the
distasteful, even if the tabloids failed to take the bait, the award
provided an opportunity for the Church to redress the balance.