Reaching Clarity in the Midst of Controversy and Confusion
Communications often is a misunderstood art. Sometimes too much energy is spent on what to say or how to say it. Significant investment is made in crafting just the right message, and strategizing what is perceived as the perfect platform. The first task for successful communications is not determining what to say, but predicting how what you say will be heard.
Listen to Your Audience
How can those responsible for diocesan communications advise leadership searching for ways to reach out to their Catholic audiences in light of the most recent revelations about clergy sexual abuse and cover up?
Four Pitfalls to Overcome to Reach Clarity
1. Thinking your Catholic audience is homogeneous.
Catholics are a diverse group. There are clearly ethnic and socio-economic differences. There are also weekly worshippers, infrequent churchgoers, single parent families, young and old, and everyone in between. This requires careful message management so that people feel like you are speaking to them. Know your audiences.
2. Appearing to be even a bit oblivious to the severity of the situation.
Internal work groups managing communications can often lose perspective. Institutional communications, by nature, sound institutional – people within the organization are talking to themselves, about themselves. Sometimes someone needs to stand up and ask, “Who are we speaking to and what do they care about most?”
3. Speaking before listening.
It is much easier to answer concerns and address anger if you listen first. Before setting about on a communications platform, talk with a few people in the pews, their pastors or even non-Catholic neighbors. Your messages will be grounded much better.
4. Working without a plan.
The time for crisis communications and legal briefs has passed. Now is the time for a pastoral communications plan that addresses the heart and soul of the issue, with heart and soul! Editorial features in the diocesan paper or homily talking points are good, but having a plan is better. This way, communications can be proactive instead of reactive, especially when the next unforeseen turn in the road presents itself.