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July 21, 2010
Appealing to the Faithful
An all-out public relations campaign is being launched by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston aimed at bringing lapsed Catholics back to the church. Boston.com (The Boston Globe) reports the campaign will include "television ads, parish events, and personal invitations to urge inactive Catholics to 'come home' to their faith."

As we've said before, we don't normally venture into religion, but this is a campaign based on what intensive, full-scale PR efforts can accomplish, and it will be interesting to follow, as best we can, its impact in the Boston area. Apparently, the campaign's Web site, CatholicsComeHome.org, is a national site. (From its telephone area code -- 678 -- the organization appears to be based in Georgia.)

That's especially so because the bedrock principle of public relations -- trust -- is involved. A number of observers and former church members quoted by The Boston Globe note that the trust factor has been weakened by the church's clergy sexual abuse scandals.

There's also a tide of secularism to contend with. Notes The Boston Globe: "The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found in 2007 that Catholics are leaving their church four times as fast as people are joining it. The overall size of the Catholic population has remained constant in the last few decades, because immigrants coming into the United States are disproportionately Catholic, said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the forum."

In the Boston Archdiocese, weekly attendance at Mass fell from 376,2382 in 2000 to 286,951 last year.  

So an effective PR campaign would appear to be a tall order for the Boston Archdiocese. They appear to recognize that and are adding an ultimate note -- one that other organizations with PR crises can't resort to. One TV spot "shows a dreamlike sequence of people watching movie scenes from their lives, weeping over their sins and rejoicing over their kindnesses.

"'When our transition to eternity begins, there won't be a chance for any do-overs,' a narrator warns."

This is truly a campaign aimed at high stakes. It will be interesting to gauge its impact. Again, it will be largely about trust.

"You've go to start with the very basics, rebuilding the trust with the people," says Mara Einstein, a professor of media studies at Queen's College at the City University of New York and author of "Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age."

"Whether or not people stay is another issue."

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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