Bishop G. E. Patterson died on March 20, 2007. As the Presiding Bishop of the Church Of God In Christ, Inc. (COGIC), he was the Pentecostal religious leader to more than 6.5 million members worldwide. Bishop Patterson still handled the day-to-day operations of the National Church even though he was being treated for prostate cancer.
The Carter Malone Group, LLC (CMG) was hired by Bishop Patterson to represent COGIC in 2004. We were the first public relations firm for the denomination. During Bishop Patterson’s administration, we worked directly with him or his Chief Operating Officer (COO) Bishop Jerry Maynard.
On that Tuesday afternoon, a television news producer called the CMG office and asked if Bishop Patterson had died, and he was told not to our knowledge. The CMG President Deidre Malone immediately called Bishop Maynard to obtain the status of Bishop Patterson’s health. Bishop Maynard confirmed the passing of Bishop Patterson, and CMG started creating the public relations plan to handle an international story, the death of a well-respected religious leader.
We were in the process of creating a crisis communications plan for this incident, but it was not complete. His death was sudden, and we had to manage the media chaos that went with the departure of an international leader and prepare for the upcoming events over the next two weeks.
Our major resources for protocol on the death of a COGIC leader were the First Assistant Presiding Bishop Charles Blake, COO Bishop Maynard and General Secretary Joseph Lyles. CMG learned about the order and number of services and the protocol associated with those programs. Since we were the first public relations firm hired by the denomination, we were able to quickly gain access to individuals who were able to share information with us relative to planning.
Planning/Goals & Objectives
Planning was a day-to-day process. Due to the stature of Bishop Patterson in the international community, there was a high level of media interest and prominent figures made plans to attend the funeral services, CMG developed media opportunities daily, a credentialing letter, scheduled interviews and news conferences during the 12-day period.
Our goals and objectives were to make sure the media received relevant information in an adequate time frame, the international church leadership was pleased with the media coverage and Mrs. Louise Patterson, the widow of Bishop Patterson, was apprised and happy with the manner in which we managed the public relations process.
Our audiences were the general public and the religious community.
Bishop Patterson passed at 4 p.m. right before the prime time news period. CMG learned of his death from a television news producer. After receiving confirmation of his death, CMG recommended having a news conference at 6 p.m. at the hospital and issuing a media statement officially announcing Bishop’s passing. All the media outlets and The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper, attended the news conference. COO Bishop Maynard read the prepared statement and answered questions.
After the news conference, the CMG staff met to create a general public relations strategy. We began writing the daily media opportunities and the final news release and incorporating Interim Presiding Bishop Blake into all interview requests. We started working with various media outlets on photo or video requests for special programming or special editions.
CMG created a media credentialing letter and distributed it to national, regional and local religious reporters. We started receiving requests for credentials immediately. All the local television stations covered this story daily from the Bishop lying-in-state at Mason Temple COGIC to the final funeral service at Temple of Deliverance COGIC. The Word Network and all the local stations carried the final service live on their stations. The final service was also streamed live via the Internet.
CMG worked with the staff of President Bill Clinton to coordinate his quote in the final news release and his visit to the funeral. We also worked with staffs of President George W. Bush, the Secretary of HUD Alphonso Jackson and Mrs. Michelle Obama to coordinate their visit to the international funeral and a presidential proclamation.
There were three funeral services, one for local church members, the second for members of the jurisdiction and the third was the international service for the general public. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick attended the local church service and President Bush and religious leaders from other denominations attended the international funeral.
This was a very emotional project for our staff because we were under the impression that he was actually doing well. The passing of Bishop Patterson was sudden, and we were not prepared for his death. Our goals and objectives were met and surpassed. We were able to coordinate all interview requests, create and distribute media credentials and escort all media outlets during the various services for their video or photographic needs.
The homegoing of Bishop Patterson received more than 31.7 million media impressions. COGIC has churches in 58 different countries. Many international, national and local newspapers and web sites posted stories daily about the late Bishop Patterson.