On the Raison D’etre of the Public Affairs Department of the Church of Jesus Christ, on the Purpose of Such Departments More Generally, and on the Allegation that Public Relations/PR People “Spin”
By Ken K. Gourdin
Hat-tip to Mark L. Petersen, former Public Relations Director at Dixie College (now Dixie State University) and current President of Enterprise Mentors International, who taught me virtually everything I know about effective public relations during my intership in his office in 1992-93.
On a thread at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion in which the public response of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Kate Kelly and her erstwhile organization, Ordain Women (as well as its response to other dissidents, perhaps) was being discussed (“PR” stands, of course, for public relations), I wrote the following (please don’t miss the irony!):
No, no … Budweiser employs PR-savvy [public-relations-savvy] people … RJR/Nabisco/Philip Morris employs PR-savvy people … The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? It employs hacks and bumpkins who occasionally shoot off their mouths/keyboards half-cocked without checking with the higher-ups regarding content that should (but, inexplicably, apparently does not) embarrass their employer. The Church of Jesus Christ often puts out ill-conceived, ill-considered, poorly-coordinated content.
It’s embarrassing for a fifteen-million-member, worldwide Church, really.
P.S.: Yet, on the other hand, people complain about correlation. [Correlation is the process of simplifying and standardizing Church administration, operations, teaching, curriculum, and other Church content and processes. For more on the efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this regard, see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “Correlation,” available at the following address, this and all other links last accessed March 4, 2017:
So when the Church puts out curriculum, it’s too careful, but when it puts out other (allegedly-“official”) content, it’s not careful enough.
For a superb examination of the lengths to which those in the Public Affairs Department of the Church of Jesus Christ go to do their jobs well and of the care they exercise in doing so, see the address of the former head of the department, Brother Michael Otterson, “On the Record,” to the 2015 annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, otherwise known as FAIRMormon. The text and video of of Brother Otterson’s remarks are available here:
In a related vein, on another thread regarding the allegedly-embarrassing response of the Public Affairs Department of Church of Jesus Christ to something-or-other, another poster’s explanation of Public Affairs’ response is that public relations people spin. The thread originator’s thesis is that Public Affairs was “less than candid,” but he spelled it “candied”; my response to that included posting pictures of several candy bars. Often, many PR people do spin. Several of former Secretary of State and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s people spun like tops in an effort to get her elected. As TV psychologist “Dr. Phil” McGraw might ask, “How did that work out for ya?” Whatever else it may have accomplished, it didn’t win Secretary Clinton the presidency.
In the long run, “spinning” is not a good PR strategy—for the Church of Jesus Christ or for any organization. I responded:
Do some (perhaps many) public relations people spin? Do they see it as part of the job? Yes. (I don’t concede that’s what’s going on here: your mileage may vary, but I’m willing to give those involved the benefit of an enormous doubt.) But the professionals in the field whom I know understand that any design to obfuscate, whatever its seeming benefits in the short run, [is] not worth the cost of credibility to them and to the entities they represent in the long run. As far as hearing directly from the [leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ] themselves, as opposed to hearing from Public Affairs, is concerned, one of the reasons why such people and departments exist is to give the organization a unified, consistent voice. As hard as that may seem to be for a Church that does have a Public Affairs apparatus, it would be even harder for one without such an apparatus.