I’ve said it before in this blog: public relations is something that the Church still needs to learn to a major extent. The main reason for that is that it often seems that high-ranking prelates and other officials often don’t seem to realise how statements will be picked up and presented by the media. Case in point is Cardinal Bertone’s recent statement in Chile. Similar cases can be found throughout recent years.
Public relations consultant Richard Weiner gives some free advice to the Church. His three cardinal rules of crisis management sound like a very good approach right about now.
Tell the truth
Get out all information
Do not attack the media
Points one and two speak for themselves, but I’m not sure everyone has kept them. Especially point two may have proven to be tricky. It’s so tempting to make a selection of the facts that you make public, in order to present the case as less serious than it is. Don’t do that. Be open, honest, because modern media will find out. We live in a society that has learned to speak out, that knows how to share information. No one has a monopoly on facts.
As for point three: the (secular) media remains the main source of information for the vast majority of the population. Don’t attack it, use it. Attacking the media will give aforementioned vast majority that you’re distracting them from the facts, that you’re trying to save yourself.
I think Weiner is correct in his assessment. He has experience in this area, since he dealt with the 2001-2002 abuse crisis in the United States, and so he knows what did and did not work.
So we, meaning all Catholics, not just the prelates, must try to follow the three rules Weiner lists. Does that mean not being critical? No, I don’t think it does. If the media evidently spreads faulty information, we should correct it. That is not the same as attacking the media. That may be very tempting sometimes. It certainly is for me. But there is nothing to gain at this time.
We must all learn to use it, not only when it comes to the current crisis, but also in everything we do as Catholics. We are all part of the Church, and we all carry a responsibility to be open, honest and kind. I’ll certainly do my best to reflect those three virtues in my blog.