Archdiocese of Toronto launches online campaign for Catholic awareness

By  Neil Maccarthy, Catholic Register Special
  • April 14, 2009
{mosimage}What can you do in 30 seconds? A quick phone call, send an e-mail, have a brief conversation with a colleague or friend? Our staff at the archdiocese of Toronto ’s Office of Public Relations and Communications decided we’d try to reach one million people.

On the Monday of Holy Week, we launched “We Are Catholic ”, a campaign that attempts something a little different: using secular radio to speak to a diverse audience — active Catholics, lapsed Catholics and people of other faiths, or no faith at all.

Radio advertising is not a traditional evangelization tool of the archdiocese. But the idea for it sprang from a casual conversation with a local bishop. He recalled hearing radio advertisements from the Jewish community around their holiest times of year and wondered why we couldn’t do something similar. That prompted us to examine the possibility.

To do it all on a shoestring budget, we called on our partners — my talented colleagues in the communications office, our friends at Salt + Light Television along with John Dawson, a gifted musician working for the Office of Catholic Youth .

The strategy for the wearecatholic.ca campaign was threefold:

  • Welcome back those Catholics who may have strayed from the church;

  • Affirm those who continue to practise their faith across the archdiocese;

  • Effectively utilize a time of great significance (Holy Week) to raise awareness throughout the entire community about the extensive work that Catholic organizations are involved in every day.

Mention the church and most think of the physical buildings. Of course, we know them best as they are home to our spiritual services, sacramental preparation and countless activities that strengthen the parish community.

Yet many people are unaware that the Catholic Church is involved in so much more: educating children at more than 500 elementary and secondary Catholic schools; reaching out to the sick, elderly and handicapped through 29 Catholic health care and support organizations; supporting families, the dispossessed and the poor through dozens of social service agencies. All this work is done humbly and with little fanfare.

The archdiocese of Toronto extends from Toronto to Orillia, and from Mississauga to Oshawa. Almost two million Catholics live within those boundaries, vast numbers of whom are active members at 225 parishes.

The wearecatholic.ca campaign allowed Archbishop Thomas Collins a chance to speak to those practising Catholics, and also to invite back those who have been away from the church and introduce our “family” to listeners of all faiths.

The ads ran for one week on 680 News, a Toronto radio station with a weekly reach of more than one million listeners. Our office also created a micro web site, wearecatholic.ca, to webcast a video message from the archbishop and to provide additional information and links to “all things Catholic” within our community. It’s worth a look.

We hope this modest effort will lead to expanded campaigns at Christmas and other times of the year when faith is top of mind, particularly among those who are no longer regular members at our parishes.

But it’s not just about reaching those who have strayed. The ads are intended to speak to active churchgoers and to invite them to get involved. We like to think of them as our marketing team that is on the ground and positioned to help implement the campaign.

Their role is essential: to make everyone who walks through the door of a Catholic church feel welcome. That can be done as simply as offering a warm greeting, or yes, it may mean giving up your favourite pew or parking spot.

Yet a welcoming smile, a kind word after Mass, a “have a great week” in the church parking lot can make all the difference between someone walking away from the church or becoming an active member of our faith community for years to come.

You don’t have to worry about reaching one million people — that’s our job. Just start with one or two people.

So as you enter the church doors this weekend, take a moment to consider: What can I do in 30 seconds?

(MacCarthy is the Director of Public Relations and Communications for the archdiocese of Toronto.)

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