Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
107: Joseph Peterson – Talking Church Public Relations

107: Joseph Peterson – Talking Church Public Relations

LDS Church Public Relations have played a central role over the last few years in shaping Mormon public discourse and responding to institutional crises.  They have come under some criticism because of how their Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 5.52.11 PMobvious management of church communications seems to have eclipsed the role of our ecclesiastical leaders in steering the church’s public affairs.  Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen but one thing for sure is that those of with an interest in public relations  have often been left scratching our heads.

Joseph Peterson is one such PR specialist who has been observing the corporate church’s attempts to curry favour with internal and external stakeholders.  He  joins ATF to generously offer some very fine tips and some constructive feedback for  LDS PR – pro bono!



  1. J. Reuben Clerk

    “Do what is right, let the [press coverage] follow.” The church spending billions on a mall and downtown development in Salt Lake City sure gets the press coverage. I think the challenge is that the church is not investing enough resources in charitable spending to merit similar press coverage.

    The church is thus left with two choices (1) tout their own charitable efforts that ordinarily wouldn’t merit press coverage or (2) increase their charitable efforts and expect the press coverage to follow. I think what we’re seeing is that the church is not willing to go for option (2). So when they drum up press coverage for efforts that ordinarily wouldn’t get attention because they don’t want to seem like the church isn’t doing anything in the local or world community. The downside is that, when people view the press coverage, these efforts can seem paltry.

    1. Joseph

      Well, I think you summarized what I tried to express in an hour into 2 succinct little paragraphs. Perfect. Thank you.

      I would only add that while the church seems to be choosing option 1 in most cases, there is still a lot of charity they do that remains totally unknown to most people and to the membership at large: that of Fast Offerings. Having been in a small branch, and privileged to see the amount of rent, medical expenses, transportation and groceries our small branch provided for those in our congregation, it’s humbling to multiply that across the whole organization. Week in, week out, it’s truly remarkable. And perhaps it’s as it should be, and it’s better that it isn’t touted, lauded or otherwise praised.

  2. A Happy Hubby

    Joseph and Gina – thanks for having this chat.

    A lot of it really rang true to me. I work in a large corporation and I have to admit that it feels my company does a much better job on PR. I feel that the church does not even realize how (maybe it is different where I live outside of Utah) bad they come across. As you mention it seems like they are preaching to the choir. Even where I live most of the members just think it is fine and we just need more of the same and we would have tons more baptisms. I am not so sure.

    I am also really feeling that the missionary program needs to focus more on giving “no strings attached” (no PR involved) service. I have a son on a mission and the thought of him knocking on doors like a nice neighborhood like mine and him really wasting his time. I think in the longer run we could interact with people better if we had the missionaries spending even half their time working through local volunteer organizations. When you sit by someone for hours helping, people will be more inclined to even listening to a few minutes of the message than when knocking on their door.

    1. Gina Colvin

      Couldn’t agree more A Happy Hubby! And how much better would it be for our young missionaries to have spent two years in physical as well as religious service? I was thinking about what a luxury it is to have young people in your wards with little to do other than church work- not even the bishop has that opportunity – and yet we can’t use them to their full service capacity because they are busy recruiting.

  3. Sallie Shanahan

    While listening to this pod cast It reminded me on my own mission. We used what we called the “Ammon Model.” We did not spend time “tracting” If we did not have an appointment to teach, we found a way to serve. Doing the word of Christ is the best way to share it.

    1. A Happy Hubby

      Wow Sallie. In my mission (several decades ago) we were allotted only 4 hours a month to give “Christ-like service”. Looking back, some of the few best memories I have on my mission are those very few hours of service given.

      I would like to see the limit of 4 hours, but for that to be 4 hours PER DAY in some missions. Each mission is different and some are kept busy teaching almost all the time. But in my mission it was a baptism about every 2 or 3 months. I can recall in one area that I stayed a while, I could tell you each of the 4 times we had tracted each house and what the response was on each of the 4 times (my memory was MUCH better back then!!). The last few years I am not looking back at my mission as a totally wonderful thing. I am thinking what a waste of time much of it was. It was total “work hard, keep the rules, and you WILL be blessed”. Looking back I can’t help but think, “So if I keep all the rules and work hard, God is going to take away the freeagency of some non-member and force them to be interested.” Just does not make sense.

      1. Sallie and Happy Hubby:

        In my mission 30 years ago there was nothing like service hours. We were expected to tract if we didn’t have appointments, and it got to be depressing sometimes. How much better if would have been, I realize now, if we’d been encouraged to find ways to provide service. THAT’s how authentic discussions about the gospel will eventually be started.

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