Danny Rogers on PR: How to detoxify the CofE brand?


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The Independent Online

Gambling, misogyny, homosexuality were the themes around a major appointment last week. But this wasn't about an England football captain. It was a new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Justin Welby's appointment on Friday was preceded by an insider gambling scandal with betting on the next head of the Church of England suspended on Tuesday, after large sums were suddenly placed on Welby.

Later, once it was clear that the Bishop of Durham indeed had it in the bag, debate moved on to Welby's established opposition to gay marriage. Then speculation built that he may shortly take the brave move of consecrating the first woman bishop.

There were also rumours that one of Welby's rivals, the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, had queered his own pitch (so to speak) by writing for Rupert Murdoch's The Sun on Sunday earlier this year.

Such controversy sets the picture for the challenge now facing Welby. The Times said his job was to "detoxify the Church's public image". In other words he faces a formidable PR challenge. The first part of this is establishing himself as a modern, credible and relevant leader of the Church. He got off to a good start with many senior religious figures attesting to his "simple" style (the subtext being that he wasn't as obscure and intellectual as predecessor Rowan Williams). But it didn't help his populist positioning that he was noted as the latest Old Etonian to take a senior role in the establishment, alongside the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and half the Cabinet.

In his quest he is ably assisted by the Reverend Arun Arora, who was named as the Church's director of communications in April. Arora, 40, is at least an enthusiast for social media.

As he pointed out, "When we announced the last appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury 10 years ago, Twitter didn't even exist. Now it is giving people all over the world the chance to connect with their faiths in exciting and inspiring ways."

However it will take more than pithy tweets to mend some fundamental schisms among the clergy. 

Danny Rogers is editor of PR Week