Initial training for Church PIO

Today, I want to share a 45 minute long video created by the Christian Emergency Network. Let me plainly state that this is a resource, not information that Saving Lives and Souls produced or created. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we thought we would share this vital information. For that reason, today’s blog will only be the link for the PIO Basic (free) online course. You, and your team, can learn much of what you need to know about the PIO duties and responsibilities from this video. Thanks, … Mark

 

PIO Team or Individual?

We have been talking about the Public Information Officer (PIO) in a church this week. One thing that most churches do not realize is that while there is usually one individual that deals with the media, who gives interviews, and who essentially is the face of the church, a whole team should be incorporated to handle the Public Information as a whole. The reason is the same as why we have a public safety committee, many heads are better than one.

In day to day PIO duties, everyone can take care of a little piece of the overall pie, then come together once per week, or even once per month, to plan what should be released (and when) and review what is planned to be released. They can look at editing, finding things that may be offensive and might drive away non-Christians, or something that might make the church a target.

In a crisis situation (active shooter, sexual misconduct, etc.), the team can share the work so that the face of the church appears to be frazzled. They can help write the script, help stay on point, provide press releases and more. While I hate to state this, a team also provides several back-ups in  instances where the person that would normally take the lead is a victim.

When looking at the PIO Team, you will want to choose the criteria that would provide similar types of people that was used to choose the PIO. To some churches, especially the small country church, this may seem like overkill, or they may be even think that they do not have the people to have a committee. I say, you can’t afford to not have a PIO committee. It only takes three to five people. Please strongly consider implementing a PIO Team in your church.

Tomorrow we will provide a link to some amazing free training that every church PIO and their committee, and many church members should watch. Until then, … Mark

Choosing the church media representative

We all watched in horror when the shooting happened at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. Much like waiting for a train wreck, many of us were glued to the television.  I found myself desperately hoping a spokesperson for the church would come forward and tell the media that God was still in power, and to not give glory or recognition to the evil person who committed this crime.  Perhaps this was not the perfect train of thought, but they were my thoughts nonetheless.

As I mentioned yesterday, a media relations person can help send the churches message, rather than the media’s message. In the public safety world, we call this person a Public Information Officer, or PIO.  This term and acronym can also be attached to the church. When choosing a PIO, you want to carefully choose the person (or persons) who will best represent the church.  Let me plainly state, you should avoid using the Pastor as the PIO for multiple reasons! One key reason is that in the event of a disaster, whether natural or man-made, they will have their hands full dealing with those that were affected by the incident. They will likely be needed elsewhere, rather than standing in front of microphones, appeasing the general public. They will probably be busy providing compassion, solace, and direction to those in the church. Depending on the circumstances, they may even be accompanying law enforcement to the homes of family members to provide notification of death. As I said, there are numerous reasons the Pastor should not be the PIO, and I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. This is not to say that they cannot give a statement (eventually), but their first priority is taking care of the flock!

When looking for a PIO, some attributes that you may want to look for include:

  • Someone who speaks well
  • Someone who dresses appropriately
  • Someone who can stay calm under pressure
  • Someone who is familiar with the congregants
  • Some who can speak with authority
  • Someone familiar with the Bible

While most of these are common sense, I still want to discuss the reasoning behind each. When you choose someone who speaks well and dresses appropriately, you are making sure that you portray your church in a positive light. If it is going to be a national news story, this is extremely important that we represent God in a positive light! In choosing someone who stays calm under pressure, it will be important that the person representing your church is not hysterical or babbling nonsense. They should in all likelihood be able to remain calm and focused even in the worst of situations. In knowing the congregants, you want someone who can give effectively generalizations (e.g. three people of a family of four, the parents of two children, the only child), but they can also provide specific details without releasing names or violating privacy. You also want someone who speaks with authority because you do not want the message being given to sound wishy-washy or weak; you want the information being given to sound like the person, and the church, stand firm on Gods healing, love, and promises. Finally, you want someone who knows the Bible so they can provide scripture that meets the situation.

Imagine a church PIO on national television that gave a press release that started like this:

“Hello, my name is Joe Davies, and I am the public relations representative for ABC Church. Let me start by quoting scripture: In  Matthew 10:28, Jesus told his disciples “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. ” Today, several bodies were destroyed in this act of violence, but we are sure their souls are in heaven! …” Another fine example is this YouTube video of the Pastor and his wife speaking in Sutherland Springs.

Let me close today’s blog by saying the information I shared with you today is basic information. I will get more in-depth in the coming days. Of course, I will discuss what happens if the PIO is not capable of doing their job, where to learn how to be an effective PIO, and a whole host of other issues, as I said, in the coming days. Until then, please make sure that you keep Gods flock safe, … Mark

Ya’ll shoulda see’d it!

Please forgive my title, but how many times have you seen the news reporter interviewing someone, and thought to yourself “Couldn’t they find anyone better to talk to?”. Think of the person standing in front of the camera that has a (not so nice) saying, or someone that swears when they get excited. Well, that is something that the church needs to consider as well. No matter what the size of the church, an incident can happen at any time, and you need to consider what image you want your church to have prior to an incident ever happening.

A media relations person is a positive for any church, and should not only be considered useful for times of crisis. If they can develop media contacts, they can l help the church to share God’s message and to create a positive message for your house of worship. After developing relationships with individuals in the media, they have an inside source that can help the church for in outreach for a special event. By simply asking, they may be able to advertise for the event, or even get the news agency to possibly cover it. How encouraging would it be when the church is having a revival, for it to be standing room only? How wonderful would it be to have Vacation Bible school so packed that you had to ask for more help? How exciting would it be to have hundreds, or even thousands (depending on the market), of people show up for your next fundraiser or food drive? A media relations person, if they are good, may be able to help your church do this, and it can help provide you with direct contact to people that need the Lord!

Similarly, should there be an active shooting in your church, the media relations person will already have a relationship with the media, and in most instances by simply asking, they may be able to convince the media not to show certain things. Some of those “things”  could be body bags being removed, people being loaded into an ambulance, talking with already stunned parishioners, or showing children. They may also be able to reduce false rumors just by having a working relationship with the media person. The media relations person can do more for your church than you can imagine.

Active shootings are not the only crisis that a church could face. They could face a fire, a flood, sexual misconduct, theft or armed robbery, or other types of violence in the church. Your media relations person will be there to guide the way the church is presented and viewed. This can be very important! There are some (albeit few), media outlets that will spread rumors that are not verified, and in some instances, they may even make up stories. While these instances are rare, they do happen.

Over the next few days, I will provide guidance of on how to choose a media relations person, who should be the media relations person (hint, normally not the Pastor), when there should be an assistant for the media relations person, where to get training (some of it free) and much more. Until then, may God bless you, … Mark