Meet Carl Apple, WMPRSA's 2014 Newcomer of the Year

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At the 2014 PRoof Awards, the Newcomer of the Year title was awarded to Carl Apple, Director of the office of communication for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Before transitioning into this current public relations career nearly two years ago, Carl was a reporter at FOX 17 for a decade. He also worked as an adjunct instructor at GVSU and has held numerous media titles over the years including print reporter, radio DJ, production assistant, photojournalist, editor—you name it. He's also a four-year Army veteran. Carl graduated with a master of science in communication and a bachelor of science in broadcasting from Grand Valley State University. We asked Carl a few questions about his career transition, what it's like being the new guy in PR and his goals for the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Tell us about your transition from being a news reporter in the spotlight to a behind-the-scenes public relations role?  

It’s something I’ve taken to more than I expected. I try to boil every job down to the core elements that make me feel happy and fulfilled. I enjoy telling stories, being creative, using video and pictures and influencing opinions. I got to do all that in television, but I felt I had spent enough time in the cold, knocking on doors and lugging cables. I wasn’t sure if I could find the same outlet, but my job at the diocese has been a nice fit. I’m able to help produce fund raising and marketing videos, edit a high quality magazine, manage a website and control organizational messaging for about 80 parishes and 30 schools. All of this I get to do while working in a family, faith-filled environment. I’m very lucky.

What are some of the unique challenges your organization faces? 

While West Michigan is largely a Christian community and Catholicism is the predominant organized religion, national research shows that the fastest growing religious group in the country is ex-Christians—people who were raised in the faith, but don’t really associate with any organized religion. Combine that with the horrific abuse scandal in the Catholic Church a decade ago and I often feel we’re swimming upstream. Considering this, I understand how important good public relations is and enjoy the challenge of turning that around.

What has been your proudest PR moment so far? 

I often see a challenge as an opportunity. One month after I was hired in 2012, one of our largest churches burned down in the early morning hours on a holiday weekend. There was understandably a lot of media coverage and with very little experience I was taking media calls, writing press releases, organizing press conferences and briefing the pastor on talking points. At first he was terrified, but after a few days he was solid in front of the camera. The coverage of the parish was extremely positive and much of it featured the beauty of our faith. I even worked with the police to communicate an important message about fireworks safety, organizing a presser in front of the church days after the fire.  

Do you have any big plans that you can share? 

We’re planning to continue our “Always Welcome” campaign that we started over the holidays. With video and print in English and Spanish, we’ve been working to share with the community that we are always here and you are always welcome—Catholic or not. It sounds simple, but for many it’s a branding issue. People don’t dare walk into a Catholic church unless they are “part of the club.” That misconception really needs to change.

As Newcomer of the Year, what advice do you have for other new public relations practitioners? 

Listen to people around you and get help. You can’t do it all on your own—especially at first. You also need to have good relationships with the people whose message you are communicating so that they feel free to share ideas and information constantly.