|March 16, 2009|
|Mormons Have No 'Big Love' for PR, HBO|
|By Greg Hazley|
|The first time I heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was as a kid in the 1980s. The church was running an advertising campaign that aired in the after-school slot subtly extolling good works and humanity with a tagline at the end calling it a message from the LDS church. |
So when did the Mormons get so shy?
It seemed like the LDS church couldn't run away fast enough when a member of their congregation entered the ring as a candidate for President of the U.S. for the first time in 2006.
What was a huge PR opportunity to ride (even distantly) on the PR coattails of a savvy contender in Mitt Romney became a strange act of shyness when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hired Edelman in D.C. to get the message across that it is apolitical and essentially wanted nothing to do with Romney.
The chance to explain a religion that few Americans understand -- and some roll their eyes at -- was lost to the church, which claims 13.5M worshippers worldwide.
Fast-forward to this week and the LDS' are blowing another opportunity with a press-shy policy of PR. Its latest missetep is an opaque response to the HBO drama "Big Love," which centers on a polygamous family in Utah on the fringe of the church.
LDS church leaders are fuming at the network for an upcoming episode which will apparently depict an endowment ceremony, a sacred and secret ritual of the church.
But the official response from the church is an odd statement criticizing Hollywood, political pundits, and Cailfornia Pro 8 supporters under the headline "The Publicity Dilemma."
The statement suggests that HBO executives and show creators are going back on early assurances that the series wouldn't be about Mormons. It includes a veiled boycott threat among members angry at HBO, but also notes that the church itself says it doesn't do boycotts because that would generate "the the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences for the series."
So issuing a statement doesn't have that same effect?
A much more PR-savvy HBO knew a good opportunity when it was presented and issued an apology to the LDS church when it got wind of the unhappiness. That move, of course, generated plenty of coverage for the upcoming episode of "Big Love" and made the network look sympathetic before millions of fans.
"If the Church allowed critics and opponents to choose the ground on which its battles are fought, it would risk being distracted from the focus and mission it has pursued successfully for nearly 180 years," the church said in its statement. "Instead, the Church itself will determine its own course as it continues to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world."
But in shying away from attention and not engaging audiences, the LDS church is letting other forces shape its image.
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