Phil Cooke - Media expert
Across Pacific Magazine
Media expert with a theology degree
helps Christians hone their message and tell their stories of faith
By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
GARDEN GROVE, CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- According to former CNN journalist Paula Zahn, filmmaker and media activist Phil Cooke is a rare individual -- he's a working producer in Hollywood with a Ph.D. in Theology. Christianity Today magazine has called him a "media guru" and his blog at www.philcooke.com is considered one of the most insightful resources on the web on issues of faith, culture, and media.
International journalist and broadcaster Dan Wooding caught up with Phil at the recent Rethinking Media Conference at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
Dan Wooding interviews media guru Phil Cooke at the Rethink Conference at the Crystal Cathedral.
Cooke explained that the event was a re-thinking conference at which he was invited to speak about how, as Christians, we need to re-think the media, how we use it and its influence in our lives.
"So how do we need to re-think the media?" Wooding asked.
"It's interesting (how) the media has unparalleled influence on our lives today. Researchers tell us we're being bombarded with three-thousand advertising messages a day. The average American family watches TV between five and seven hours a day. In fact, by the time most teen-agers are eighteen, they've seen over a hundred-thousand beer commercials alone on television. So in that kind of culture who's influencing you? So I think Christians need to understand that there's an enormous amount of media influence out there, and then I think we need to turn the tables and learn how to use the media to reach this generation.," Cook said.
"Many people think that we should just withdraw from the media -- that it's all disgusting, it's evil, and they seem to spend so much time throwing out that it's all Hollywood's fault, but on the other side there are people who think that the media is so destructive that it causes violence and things like this. Is there a middle way here Phil?" Wooding asked.
"Actually, I've met a lot of very vile used car salesmen, but I still drive a car. So I think we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Yeah (in) the movies there's a lot of things going on in Hollywood that we don't like, but what's interesting is when Mel Gibson produced the Passion of the Christ film it got Hollywood's attention. They realized for the first time that there's a significant audience of people out there that take their faith seriously. So today, seven major studios have faith-based divisions. They're actually looking to produce things for the faith-based market. So I think we're in an interesting time now. This is not the time to turn our back on Hollywood and say we're not gonna watch that stuff. We need to get Christians into positions of influence and power in the industry and start creating projects that would celebrate our faith and share our faith with the culture." Cooke replied.
Wooding wanted to know if Cooke thought there are many Christians that have a persecution complex?
Some people out there look at Christians as the people who are against everything. We boycott, we complain, we protest. But what we tell is the greatest story ever told. We should be the people that are known to be 'for' something. So I want to turn the tables and stop boycotting, stop criticizing and (stop) complaining. Certainly there are things that happen out there that we don't like, that we disagree with, but if we're going to change the culture we're never going to change a person by calling them names on television or on the radio. So we have to start a conversation with the culture; let's find out who they are. It's interesting, missionaries don't go to a third world country and go to a tribe and protest or complain or criticize them. What do they do? They develop a trust relationship with them they get to know them. So why do we think that protesting Hollywood is going to get them to change? So I think if we can change that conversation and start something positive it can make a real impact."
Wooding asked Cooke about his new book called Branding Faith. "Tell us a about this. What do you mean by Branding Faith?"
"It's interesting; I've worked with churches and ministries for about thirty years and found out that we don't tell our story very well. The fact is, most people misunderstand branding. Branding is simply the story that surrounds a product or person or organization. Just like a Volvo has a brand, Starbucks has a brand, Nike has a brand -- it's essentially what do people think of when they think of you? The church started that because we've been sharing our story with the culture for two-thousand years. Well recently businesses have figured that out and businesses are starting to use compelling stories to surround their product and make them stand out. It's really about choice. You know it's interesting is that my grandmother went to a grocery store in the twenties and thirties in the South in the US and they had one brand of flower, one brand of sugar and I know your family probably did the same years ago. Today the average grocery store has thirty-thousand items. In a world of choice, what makes one product different from anoth er? It's about telling a compelling story. So my book is about branding faith; it's about going back and looking at some branding techniques that churches and ministries could use to get our story heard in this incredibly media-driven culture out there."
Is Cooke getting much of a response to the book?
"Yeah well, some. I'm getting a little controversy; there's some stuff on the web right now (that) some people don't like it, but the fact is we live in a culture where the media messages are bombarding us, so how does a local church get their message heard? How does a local ministry get its message heard? So that's what my book is about. Ultimately it's about how we can get the story told to the culture. What separates you from every other church in town, what separates you from every other ministry that does what you do? How do you get your message heard? That's what the book is about."
"You're also involved in making movies and you have a Ph.D. Is that pretty unusual in Hollywood?"
"I think I may be one of the few if any working producers in Hollywood with a PhD in theology. Cooke Pictures, our company, consults with a lot of churches and ministries helping them raise the bar in the quality and effectiveness of what they do in the media. So because I work so much with churches -- I'm fascinated by the Christian faith -- I went and got my Ph.D and I just enjoy that I am never going to teach probably, but I really enjoy doing it. We're actively involved with some of the largest churches and ministries helping them really reach the culture more effectively with the media. So it's kind of fun."
"You're advice to Christians is 'don't withdraw from the world (but) get involved?'"
"Jump in -- you know the being in the world but not of the world; sometimes we get that kind of messed up and confused and the fact is, look at the disciples, the apostles, they were a part of the world -- they had real jobs. They were interacting with real people. That's OK. We just have to understand how to share our story with them because our story can change other people's lives, just like it changed ours."
Cooke said the book is available on www.Amazon.com right now. "It becomes available March 1 so we're real excited about that. You can (also) pre-order Branding faith on www.brandingfaith.com and the website will tell you a little bit more about it. I encourage your viewers --whether you're a pastor or a ministry leader or just a regular Christian like me -- it'll help you share your faith more effectively."
**ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael's involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of ACT International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International. His weblog appears at: Michael Ireland Media Missionary. ASSIST News Service (ANS)
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