“What does the calling of public communications director entail?” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 23
Gerry Pond, Manager, Domestic Operations, Public Communications Department of the Church. Basically the public communications director (PCD) is the public media information specialist for his or her local priesthood leader and often acts as the press secretary to help communicate accurate information about the Church to local media. Ward PCDs also function very effectively as sources of information to stake or region PCDs, who then, with priesthood approval, release the stories to the local media.
Public communications directors (PCDs) also assist the chairmen of special programs like open houses, fairs, and exhibits in creating publicity and in setting up actual exhibits. In addition, they help train other PCDs for whom they are responsible.
PCDs may belong to a public communications council. On a region or a stake level, this involves local specialists in areas of print, electronic media (radio and television), photography, speakers bureau, and sensitive issues; a secretary; and a representative from any missions included in that geographic area. The local priesthood leader is the chairman of the council.
Many councils use a “news bureau” approach, writing and sending priesthood-approved news tips and releases to local media (and adapting Church headquarters releases for local use). Some of these councils also use a “clipping service,” which clips all newspaper articles mentioning the Church in a particular geographic area. Some PCDs simply clip articles themselves and forward them to Church headquarters. Council members are always concerned about developing good working relationships with individuals in the media.
Ward, stake, and region public communications directors can have a powerful impact on missionary work and community perception of the Church. We’ve seen PCDs under a priesthood directed program help eliminate misperceptions about our people and our beliefs by developing friendly working relations with local media, providing the media with accurate information, and publishing positive articles about the Church.
Part of the calling of a PCD is to be aware of major media interest concerning the Church and issues that local priesthood leaders might address, using First Presidency statements as their guide. For example, one stake president took a stand against an indecent billboard in his city, and the public communications director worked with the media to report the Church’s stand against pornography. The billboard was removed within days.
In this regard, PCDs also welcome input from other Church members. Many members have brought to the attention of local PCDs interesting, positive stories about Latter-day Saint people or events that, with priesthood approval, have been passed on to local media.
Local members have also called the attention of PCDs to inaccuracies they have seen or heard reported about the Church. In one area, for example, a member brought to the attention of the PCD incorrect information reported in the local media. The PCD, in turn, worked with his priesthood leader to issue a statement to the press to correct the inaccuracies. The paper was more than willing to print an entirely new, correct story. In this case, inaccurate reporting became an opportunity for dedicated Church members to present the correct teachings of the Church.
We have found that an effective public communications program in a ward, stake, or region requires strong priesthood support as well as initiative on the part of the public communications director. If the priesthood leader and the PCD work together to set goals and a budget for the program, some very exciting and helpful things can happen in their efforts to spread the gospel.