Speaking Faith Religion Communicators Handbook

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Speaking Faith: The Essential Handbook for Religion Communicators

Reviewed by Peter M. Paulsen (formerly of the Candler School of Theology, Emory University)

The eternal verities of communication don’t change. We must have a compelling story. We must care for and about our audience. We must use media strategically. Whether we are new in the field or grizzled veterans, the new edition of the Religion Communicators Council (RCC) handbook, Speaking Faith: The Essential Handbook for Religion Communicators, reminds us of the basics. Lead articles by Kimberly Pace, communications officer of United Methodist General Board of Discipleship and M. Garlinda Burton, United Methodist communicator and interim executive of the United Methodist Commission of the Status and Role of Women, rehearse the need for careful planning and personal attention.

It is, however, also a new age for the communication of religion in North America. What always worked must now work in new situations. Old assumptions no longer necessarily support effective work. Representatives of faith groups are seldom privileged with access to mass media. No longer is a faith group granted the benefit of the doubt when it comes to some crisis. In this new age established practices need new corollaries and fresh interpretations. Here Speaking Faith makes its best contribution.

Divided into three sections, the handbook gives greatest space to Section II with its focus on the tools of communicating. A chapter on graphic identity by Nancy Fisher and Jay Sidebotham of the Church Pension Group not only discusses the theory, it also offers wonderful graphics showing how established visual symbols can be reconfigured to more contemporary form. Jeanean D. Merkel, Principal of Illumicon, gives a clear and compelling introduction to web planning, launch, and evaluation. Other chapters break new ground with informed surveys of PowerPoint and a return to the basics of good photography.

The text is peppered with the graphic symbol of a CD. One of the extra benefits of this edition of the handbook is an accompanying CD that provides the various worksheets, forms, and guideline materials found throughout the text. Now it is possible to print one or more copies of a planning guide or a group evaluation sheet without having to cut the handbook or wrestle it into a copier.

Section III points to the future and provides a hint about what will be central in the next handbook edition. Daniel R. Gangler, communication specialist for the Indiana area of the United Methodist Church, hooks our interest with a rehearsal of some of the crises the Church has faced in recent years and then goes on to remind us that crises stimulate media coverage. His advice—be prepared, have a crisis team ready to go, appoint one spokesperson, take action, show concern, tell the truth, don’t say more than you know—is all common sense, but he puts together what we know in various parts of our experience and lays out an argument for good crisis management that ought to send us to a planning meeting today.

Anuttama Dasa, director of communications and governing body commissioner for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, reminds us that America is increasingly an interfaith community. It is, in fact, that reality that has changed so much for us as communicators in religious organizations. Rather than bemoaning the loss of control that communicators for Christian organizations used to have, Dasa points to the creative opportunities before us for life-changing and world-changing dialogue. Quoting extensively from policy papers produced across the interfaith spectrum, he calls on communicators to make true dialogue possible by avoiding stereotypes and speaking our version of the truth in love.

Gary R. Rowe, an independent consultant and media producer, brings the handbook to a climactic finish by asking the ‘what if’ questions. Taking the statistics we have all heard about the generations following us (no matter now old or young we are), he weaves a picture of a new reality in which information is shared collaboratively rather than from expert to client, a new age in which the consumer will create from a variety of information and entertainment sources a personal viewing/interacting schedule, a new world in which the perceived barriers among media will disappear in a broadband cosmos.

Rowe makes the point that you must have something to say. “Are your messages good stories?” So we come back to where we started. We’ve got to have a compelling story, appropriate for the audience we want to serve, and we must deliver that story in an accessible way. The old truths stand, but around them is a new set of questions and understandings. Speaking Faith: The Essential Handbook for Religion Communicators does a most helpful job of honoring the old and engaging the new.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Discover Your Mission

  • Preparing a mission statement
    • Core competency
    • Served market
    • Brand promise
  • Identify communication needs
    • Target market
    • Media alternatives
    • Media mix
    • Research
  • Establish a strategic communication plan
    • Get organized
    • Assess current reality
    • Set a vision for the future
    • Develop specific action plans
  • Implement a communications audit
    • Establish goals and objectives
    • Interview key leaders
    • Establish focus groups
    • Conduct surveys
    • Report findings
  • Evaluate

Chapter Two: The Communicator is a Person, Not a Phone

  • Communications
    • Caring
    • Accessibility
    • Tailored
    • Feedback-friendly
  • Golden rules for professional communicator

Chapter Three: Getting Out The News

  • What is news?
  • Finding the story angle
  • The press release
  • Where to send your release
  • Talking to journalists

Chapter Four: Graphic Identity

  • What is graphic identity?
    • Strategy
    • Appropriate for market
    • New, interesting
    • Executed with excellence
  • How to evaluate your graphic identity
    • Self-discovery process
  • Creating an updated identity
    • Graphic analysis
    • Logos

Chapter Five: Get the Picture?

  • Selecting and using photographs
    • Digital Photography
    • Art files, graphics, scans
    • Using graphics from the Web
    • Evaluating the use of your images

Chapter Six: Design

  • Layout Basics
    • Font, typestyle, size
    • Things to avoid
    • Benefits of white space
  • Proofreading
  • Sending your publication to press

Chapter Seven: Hiring a Communications Consultant

  • Choosing the right consultant
  • Preparing to hire a consultant
  • Interviewing potential consultants
  • Questions to ask

Chapter Eight: Didn't I See You on TV?

  • Broadcasting your worship service
  • Tips for broadcasting on radio
  • Tips for broadcasting on television
  • Special events
  • Spot announcements and ads
  • Talk shows
  • Distributing your program
  • Evaluating your broadcasts

Chapter Nine: Building a Presence on the World Wide Web

  • Four steps to an online presence
  • Research
    • purpose
    • goals
    • audience
    • maintenance
    • stakeholders
  • Plan
    • creative presentation
    • photos and images
    • write content
  • Execute
    • theme
    • using templates
    • using interactive elements
  • Evaluate
    • user reports
    • maintenance
    • goals

Chapter Ten: Electronic Presentations

  • PowerPoint pros and cons
  • Sample outline
  • Do’s and dont’s
  • Know your message and audience
  • Lifelong learning and evaluation

Chapter Eleven: Other Electronic Tools of Communication

  • Telephones and telephone trees
  • Automated voice phones
  • Cell phones and their uses
  • Pagers and their uses
  • PDAs and their uses
  • Keeping current

Chapter Twelve: Strategic Communication - Promoting Your Faith Community in Good Faith

  • Public Relations
  • Planning
  • Media relations
  • Signs
  • Special events
  • Advertising

Chapter Thirteen: Crisis Communication

  • Recruiting a crisis communication team
  • Taking action
  • Preparing the statement
  • The interview
  • The press conference

Chapter Fourteen: America is Interfaith

  • Seeing the other
  • Guidelines for meeting people of another faith
  • Dialogue
  • Forms of Dialogue
  • Interfaith options
  • A code for interfaith conduct
  • Resources

Chapter Fifteen: A Crash Course in Copyrights

  • What is a copyright?
  • Questions and answers
  • Sample letter requesting permission

Chapter Sixteen: What’s Beyond: The Communication Future

  • Imagination and dreaming
  • Electronic space and time
  • Mass media dissolution
  • The reality of appearance
  • Digital intimacy
  • Making meaning in media
  • Bringing the future nearer

Bonus CD

  • Worksheets
  • Samples
  • Extra resources
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