In September 2004, representatives from The Carter Malone Group, LLC (CMG) met with Church Of God In Christ, Inc. (COGIC) Presiding Bishop G. E. Patterson to propose hiring our firm to handle public relations for the denomination. A week later, the leader of one of the largest religious denominations in the world, accepted our proposal.
COGIC is a 97 –year-old Pentecostal international religious denomination headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. COGIC has more than 6 million members. The CMG is the first public relations firm to represent COGIC in the history of the denomination.
Our research showed that COGIC had somewhat of a negative image in the Mid-South region. This was primarily due to hotel rate disputes during previous convocations and a lawsuit from a splinter group trying to use the name the “Church Of God In Christ” in the name of their new denomination. It didn’t help that during the annual COGIC Convocation, the media would customarily write stories about female delegates wearing large hats and mink coats, as well as problems with hotel rooms and how much money the annual meeting brings to the city of Memphis.
Every Holy Convocation for the denomination has been held in Memphis and in the last few years, COGIC leadership has threatened to take the annual meeting to another city to obtain better hotel rates and a higher level of respect from a potential host city.
In the early 2004, Presiding Bishop G. E. Patterson filed a lawsuit against an offset group wanting to call itself Church Of God In Christ New Day. This story ran on every local television news program, newspaper and local talk shows prompting conversation that couched COGIC as being heavy handed.
Planning/Goals and Objectives
CMG was retained in September 2004. Bishop Patterson observed the coverage the National Baptist Congress for Christian Education in June and wanted to receive that same level of positive press.
Our goal for the COGIC 97th Holy Convocation was to educate the Mid-South on the denomination that was born in Memphis. CMG thought it was important to share with the community the history of the denomination, the current programs and the true flavor of an African-American religious convention.
Also, during this convocation an election was held for the board of directors and the leader of the denomination. The previous elections were mired in controversy with a presiding bishop winning an election by one vote and the challenger, the current presiding bishop, letting the vote stand. Some of the delegates were not happy with the selection and let their voices be heard.
During our planning, we realized it was going to be important to let the community know how important it really is to have the denomination hold their annual convocation in Memphis. We also wanted to let the community know how much COGIC appreciates Memphis.
CMG started the process by setting up meetings with key media influencers to discuss COGIC’s past and future media coverage. CMG coordinated meetings with Otis Sanford, Deputy Editor for The Commercial Appeal and the Presiding Bishop. CMG met with the news directors of 3 of the local television stations regarding past and present coverage. CMG asked them to think their past coverage that has been so stereotypical of African-Americans and consider covering stories that actually educate their viewers/readers on COGIC, their history and what COGIC is involved in today.
The Commercial Appeal committed to running a guest column by Presiding Bishop Patterson. The column ran the week of the convocation. CMG told the television and radio stations that we would provide some story ideas for them to consider. The stations loved the idea of having an agency provide them story ideas. All of the stations selected stories from our recommended list.
CMG created a media kit which included a news release, a fact sheet; bios, photographs of the Presiding Bishop, the Presidium and the media policy. The kits were delivered to each media outlet and were also sent to the Associated Press reporter and key religious reporters in the top media markets.
CMG started receiving calls a week before the convocation for interviews, and we worked non-stop throughout the nine day event. This was the first time COGIC had a media room and the media was thrilled to have someone at all times to go to for assistance.
The convocation started officially with a day of prayer on November 8 and wrapped up the day of the election on November 16, 2004.
The results were very impressive. The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper, ran positive stories almost every day on the Presiding Bishop and the convocation. Reporter James Dowd did an incredible job of getting to know the delegates and featuring some of the story ideas that we recommended. Associated Press reporter Woody Baird interviewed Bishop Patterson during the convocation and reported the Bishop’s opinion on issues regarding the Black Church, President George W. Bush and the Evangelical church. This story ran in newspapers across the country.
The local television stations reported primarily on Bishop Patterson and his term as Presiding Bishop, What is the Holy Convocation, Why it is important to have the Holy Convocation in Memphis, the media also interviewed long term delegates, first time participants and the election.
Newspapers from across the country ran a story about Bishop Patterson and the convocation. Potentially close to 12 million readers or viewers had an opportunity to learn more about the COGIC.
A major result from this experience is having the local media recognize your client as an approachable resource for national stories of importance.