“1977 Awards Given For … Telling the World about the Church,” Ensign, Feb. 1978, 79–80
In Denmark, the Church is now listed as a Christian church—for the first time in history.
In British Columbia, hard work and fast photography earned front-page coverage for Church events.
In Ecuador, 6 million people hear regularly about the Church through the national news media.
These successes are only a part of the outstanding work being done by public communications councils in every part of the Church. Dedicated Latter-day Saints, many with professional training in communications, have made great strides in helping millions of people who know little about the Church to get a correct and positive view of what the Church is and what Latter-day Saint life is like.
Some of the most outstanding achievements in Church public communications are honored every year by the Brigham Young University Communications Department. The 1977 awards were given to Virginia Bee of the Los Angeles California Santa Monica Stake; David W. Ferrel of the Ecuador Quito Mission; Jerry Jacobs of the Wichita (Kansas) Public Communications Council; William A. “Bert” Perry of the British Columbia Vernon Stake; and Jorgen W. Schmidt of the Copenhagen Public Communications Council.
Why were they given these awards?
Take Brother Schmidt of Denmark, for example: When he was called to head the Copenhagen Public Communications Council, the official decimal system in the Danish public library system listed all books about Mormons in the section devoted to non-Christian religions! This meant that anyone looking up the Mormon Church in the library got the firm impression that the Church was not Christ-centered. After much careful work on the part of Brother Schmidt, the government changed the listing and since that time, several other European countries have done likewise.
Also, for many years a very influential book on world religions had contained derogatory, incorrect statements about the Church. Brother Schmidt asked for a chance to correct some of the errors about the Church and most of the changes he suggested were made in the newest edition.
When Brother Schmidt began his public communications work, there was a virtual vacuum in his area—the Copenhagen Denmark Stake had not yet been organized, and there were only a few thousand active Latter-day Saints. Also, some negative feelings toward the United States because of the Vietnam War also extended to the young American missionaries going door-to-door in Denmark. Now, though public relations success is hard to measure, there is a growing, positive awareness of the Church, and many negative impressions from earlier years have been done away with.
Part of the recipe for success in Church public communications is recognizing an opportunity—and using it. Jerry Jacobs was coordinator of the Wichita, Kansas, public communications council when the Mid-America All-Indian Center was ready to be dedicated. A Wichita city project, the arrowhead-shaped building was planned to provide facilities for Indians of every tribe.
Since the Church has always been vitally concerned with Indian affairs, Brother Jacobs moved quickly. Indian, a film by Oscar-winning Latter-day Saint film director Kieth Merrill, had its world premier at the Mid-America All-Indian Center. President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve visited the center and presented a free copy of a BYU film on alcoholism. And the center’s administrators permitted the missionaries to be at the dedication ceremonies.
Another opportunity came when Brother Jacobs was coordinator of the Mid-America public communications council. The Ray County Museum was to be dedicated in Richmond, Missouri a town very important in Church history. Local people discovered the connection with the Mormon Church, and when nonmember Claire Chenault found derogatory references to the Church in the Ray County History, she just didn’t believe what was said—and so drove out to Utah to talk to BYU professor Richard L. Anderson, who wrote a four-page history of the Mormons in Ray County.
With local interest already sparked, Brother Jacobs leaped into action again. The Independence Stake choir offered its services for the museum’s dedication—and the offer was accepted. They sang three songs, including “Come, Come Ye Saints,” and Independence Missouri Stake President Melvin James Bennion told the history of the song.
Enough? No! Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve gave the dedicatory address, and the dedicatory prayer was given by Missouri Independence Mission President Edwin C. Johnson. At the dedication Elder Haight told the people gathered there, “I bring you greetings from President Spencer W. Kimball of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no animosity between the Mormon Church and the people of Missouri. We love you.”
And the editor of the daily newspaper, who had met the missionaries in England while he was in the military, wrote an editorial urging the people of Richmond to invite the missionaries into their homes.
The opportunity had not been wasted.
“What many people don’t realize,” says Bert Perry of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, “is that local media people are eager for news.” Especially local news after all, any paper can carry wire service stories to get national and international news, but local news can only come from hard work. What kind of news are editors and programming directors looking for? “Human interest local people doing interesting things.”
So Brother Perry personally visited with local newsmen and editors and sounded them out—what were they looking for? What form did they want stories to take? And soon Brother Perry was back with pictures of a prominent local Latter-day Saint holding a family home evening. And photos of a Latter-day Saint doctor digging up potatoes in the fall with his family. The accompanying story mentioned that he was preparing for a rainy day because the prophet had instructed Latter-day Saints to do so.
What happened? The newspaper editor wrote an editorial, saying that such preparedness was good advice.
One of the things Brother Perry found most helpful was that he did his own photography and darkroom work. It could make the difference between running a story on the front page and having it buried in the back of the paper. Once he asked for coverage of the Church’s Festival of Song in the local paper, and was told yes if he had pictures. He dashed around, took the pictures, developed them and printed them, and got them to the newspaper by the 4:00 P.M. deadline. The reward for his labor was the front page of the entertainment section. And the editor was happy, too: he had an interesting local story, with photos, for free—the fulfillment of a busy editor’s dream.
“I found that timing is very important,” Brother Perry says. “For instance, the suggested release on the Polynesian Cultural Center arrived in the summer, when practically no one from this resort area is interested in Hawaii. So I waited until November, and then phoned one of the local travel agencies. They told me that about 400 people from Vernon would travel to Hawaii during the coming winter months. This was our ‘in,’ and I was able to localize the story to make it interesting to readers in our area.”
With a nice big picture of a BYU-Hawaii Campus student performing one of the Polynesian dances, Brother Perry reports, “I was able to get in the whole story of the Church’s involvement in the Center, the student scholarship program and of course I invited prospective travelers to visit the Center.”
When a local genealogy library opened, Brother Perry was able to submit a companion article with a picture of the records storage vaults east of Salt Lake City, with details about the fantastic number of names microfilmed and the importance of genealogical work to Latter-day Saints.
Sister Eva Fry, the Vernon Ward public communications director, heeded a suggestion and organized a group of interested people from many churches in the city into the “Citizens Against Pornography,” which has conducted a very successful campaign.
The purpose of the public communications program is not just to help people understand the Church better it is also to help make the communities where Latter-day Saints reside better places for all the residents to live and raise their families. And as a result, as dedicated public communications workers serve the Church without pay throughout the world, they also serve their neighbors, their communities, and their nations.