PR success is never easy but at least the pathways to gain coverage are well-trodden, every PR professional is familiar with them. A deal, a merger, a product launch, a book launch, a futuristic building project, the appointment of a revolutionising, eccentric CEO, all these are stories that can be made into comment pieces and news splashes.
I work for an array of religious organisations and faith groups, supporting them with media engagement and advocacy. The path to successful PR for any of these religious organisations, in contrast, is far from straightforward, entailing extensive, niche expertise. One is often confronted with cultures and lifestyles that are distinct from society at large, even at odds with them in some respects. Yet I believe that PR for the faith sector is not a curious, small corner of the industry, rather it encapsulates what PR is truly about.
People often have no understanding of how these organisations, operating in smaller communities so different from their own, work. Yet they have strong, loud, and deeply held views. Faith groups have a relevant and vital tale to tell themselves, values that can enrich our society and can broaden our perspectives. Religious institutions or leaders matter to the British public.
To explain that, first, I need to have a deep understanding of these communities, appreciating the cultural nuances of each client. They often position themselves carefully and deliberately along a spectrum of religiosity within their communities, which, to an outsider, is almost indiscernible. A deep, intimate understanding of these faith communities is needed. Additionally, the coverage I attain must always consider both the members of their community as well as wider society, a tight balance of audiences, juggling insiders with totally unfamiliar onlookers.
Crisis communications feature heavily in this work, with faith groups beholding a curious yet contentious allure to journalists. Faith stories often highlight the ideological or philosophical fault lines that exist within our society. I prefer to position these groups in promotion rather than in defence, in positivity rather than in defending perceived negativity. I build transparent and proud messaging of their unique set-ups, explaining to the press how some communities can have an equally valid yet wholly different view on much of life. It is an enlightening, self-reflective experience.
Working for faith groups is a complicated path, translating intimate and community-minded stories to an unfamiliar public, and broadcasting issues that appear far less in our feeds or that can raise debate. Precisely because of this, I believe, it embodies best what our work as PR professionals is all about.
PR for faith groups has taught me that we often take the way we see the world for granted. Achieving positive coverage is a success not just for these organisations but for our society as a whole. It shows that we can appreciate difference and allow other voices and values to be heard, considered, and respected. Less trodden perhaps, but certainly, a PR path worth travelling.
Gav is a Senior Account Executive at the PR Office.