A Good Lesson for Schools: Portsmouth Abbey Monks Outreach Using Social Media

| April 19, 2011

“If this is the way the younger generation are looking things up and are communicating, then this is the place to be,” Abbot Caedmon Holmes. (Monks Embrace Web to Reach Recruits, NYT)
The Portsmouth Abbey Monastery monks know they aren't getting any younger and their ranks aren't growing fast enough to keep the order vibrant.

So to some degree, what looks like a forward leap- adopting social media to spread the message- the Monks are turning back the clock and adopting the communication technologies of their day.

Now, instead of keeping libraries and transcribing, the Portsmouth Abbey monks use social media to spread the word.

They've even hired an ad agency.

Working with the Simmons Agency in Boston, the monks and account executives settled on web based strategy to promote the monastery, the monks, and the mission.
“Once at the planning table, cultural differences faded and the agency and abbey quickly agreed to focus their efforts on the Web. “We knew from the outset that this wasn’t going to be solved through traditional marketing,” he said.

Partners and Simons collaborated with BPI, a film production company, to create online videos of the monks. The interviews were the building blocks of the campaign, Mr. Simons said, focusing on how the monks heard the call, what monastic life is like and inviting newcomers to visit. The goal was to capture “their warmth, their sincerity, their gentleness,” he said.”(NYT)
Brother Havill, a Portsmouth Abbey School art teacher, is the subject of one of the campaign's early profiles.
“Brother Havill’s story, which revolves around a pastrami and Swiss cheese sandwich, plays a prominent role in the campaign both in print and in video. One of the print ads tells the story of a day 10 years ago when, while waiting for his sandwich to warm up in the microwave, Brother Havill says he heard the call to ‘go to Portsmouth.’

Having dabbled in genealogy, Brother Havill thought the Portsmouth in question was the port in England that many of his ancestors had traveled through on their way to the United States. But when he woke up the next morning, he said, he realized the message was for the Benedictine monastery at Portsmouth Abby.

‘I didn’t have any plans to become a monk or anything like that,’ said Brother Havill, who at the time was an art teacher and sculptor living alone in Cromwell, Conn.” (NYT)
“‘If 500 years ago, blogging existed, the monks would have found a way to make use of it,’” Abbot Holmes told The New York Times.