Public relations adviser to the United Grand Lodge of England, Jessica Bondy, explains how to change the minds of 117 million people about Freemasonry
The core of the Freemason’s public relations strategy is to dispel myths. But why bother? After all, we know that as the oldest fraternal organisation in the world, masonic principles have never changed and its timeless values are as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago.
As modern Freemasons, there are two reasons in particular why you should bother. If we take as a given that the Freemasons want good press, then the first reason is that, by dispelling the myths it will help with both retention and recruitment. Secondly, it will reduce – potentially eradicate – discrimination against you.
For a communication strategy to work, it is essential to have support at the highest level in an organisation. We are at the first stage of our journey with a clear objective to both increase understanding of, and support for, Freemasonry. Critical to building a positive reputation for the organisation will be highlighting masonic openness and relevance in society today. And rather than just talking about it we have taken action to demonstrate change.
We have open websites, the highly acclaimed Freemasonry Today magazine, and a mentoring scheme that helps you to talk about Freemasonry openly. All of this will be further helped by a new leaflet designed to give people a good feeling about Freemasonry.
But more importantly, and for the first time ever, we approached a non-masonic body to produce a report for the media on the future of Freemasonry, written by an independent third party. This was a bold move, but it was essential for the media to both see this as a neutral, outsider’s perspective for credibility’s sake, as well as act as the catalyst for them to want to talk to us.
evidence not ideOlogy
The Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in Oxford was selected competitively. It offered not only anthropological expertise, which forms much of the report’s backdrop, but also their research criteria are based on evidence and not ideology. In their words: ‘We needed to test Freemasonry’s claims for openness and transparency.’ SIRC set about compiling the views and opinions of a cross-section of Freemasons and non-masons alike. They examined the presence of, as well as need for, an element of ritual in all our lives, our need to belong, the ways we express our generosity to others, and the extent to which our everyday lives involve ritual behaviours. The result is a truly insightful and timely commentary, not just on this organisation, but also fascinatingly on the complex interactions, perceptions and values of modern society itself.
So with the report published and in our hands, and the knowledge that people really do want to know more, we took the Grand Secretary on a highly successful media tour, which was another first. We felt it important for the Grand Secretary to be on the road and truly show openness by meeting people face-to-face.
Nationally, we have also made waves. A story on BBC Online was the third most popular. The interview on one of the leading radio stations, LBC, quite literally jammed the switchboard. Combining all the media and press interviews, the reach has been to a potential audience of more than 117 million.
The report and media tour have presented a major opportunity for Freemasonry. We have to harness and build on the interest now in order to achieve the impact we deserve in 2017. If we can convert people from negative to neutral at the very least, I believe we will be making huge progress.
You can read the Future of Freemasonry report by clicking here.
"The Future of Freemasonry" report is the first ever independent study conducted by a non-Masonic body, and was commissioned as part of the build-up to the United Grand Lodge of England's tercentenary in 2017.