Hollywood, Crisis & The Church: Interview with Phil Cooke (Part I)


Part I of IV

This is part one of a four part series based on an interview, conducted by Dr. Richard (Rick) J. Goossen, Chairman, ELO Network, with Phil Cooke, Co-Founder & President, Cooke Media Group. The entire interview can be watched below through YouTube.

Rick Goossen (RG): What are the services of your company today?

Phil Cooke (PC): We do two things. First, we produce programs of all kinds, including television specials and documentaries. We've worked for companies such as ESPN and PBS. We've done projects for a wide variety of studios like Disney and Warner Brothers and others here in Los Angeles. I've got a team filming right now at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. We have shot in about 70 countries around the world.

Second, we also consult, which is the real burden on my heart: to help Christians tell their story to this very, very challenging culture that we live in today. We work with churches, ministry organizations, and non-profits to help them use media more effectively. We also do a lot of advising, coaching, and consulting with leaders who want to express their story more effectively.


RG: How do churches communicate their message in a time of crisis? 

PC: You're talking about my next book! I get calls when a church goes through something like this or a ministry organization because they don't know how to deal with it. They are unsure how to communicate with their congregation. I tell churches and pastors, even business leaders, that it's not if you'll have a crisis, it's when. The fact is we should be ready for anything at any given time because we live in a social media world. There is a high likelihood of someone saying inappropriate things on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. You just never know.

What about a drunk driving charge you got in college? You thought everybody had forgotten about it. Guess what? That'll show up in a Google search. So we need to be living more transparent lives than ever because there are so many opportunities for people to make mistakes, go off the rails, and a church can be devastated.

My goal is to go in and help right the ship. I'm not the spiritual guy very often. If it's a pastor that's failed, I'll recommend we bring in a pastor or spiritual leader to help guide that part of the process. However, the question is, do we report it? How do we report it? Do we need an attorney? How do we want to talk to the media about this? All those are important questions that need to be asked. And most churches just have no idea how to respond. I think it is critical that we just understand it's the day and age we live in.


RG: What are some principles that churches should adopt when communicating with the media? 

PC: First, call an attorney. I recommend you get an attorney that has dealt with these kinds of issues, but get the attorney’s advice first thing, simply because even reporting issues is critical today. Nowadays, if you don't report it, you can go to jail. So, there are legal issues that are more important than ever.

Second, you need to tell the truth all the time. But that doesn't mean you tell everything. So, if a reporter calls you or if someone from the general public calls you about the situation, always be honest, because that will come back to bite you if you aren’t, even if you're trying to be noble and protect someone. However, that doesn't mean you have to blurt out everything. It doesn't mean you have to give out details, but always be honest in what you do share.

Third, before anything happens, start now to create a small crisis communication team in your church. It could involve the pastor, the executive pastor, a couple of elders, maybe a communications director at the church if you have one. Or, just a small group of people that you meet with ahead of time and decide, OK, if a crisis happens of any kind, this is how we'll respond, we will immediately get together and work this thing out.

Fourth, I also recommend you get professional communications counsel, which is different than the role of an attorney. A communications professional will also help you keep your reputation intact, and they'll know how to tell the story. They've become very important in this social media world that we live in.

The entire interview can be viewed here: