The Office of Communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness launched its brand new website, communications.iskcon.org, on January 3rd.
The site was conceived by Anuttama Das, the International GBC Minister of Communications, and Keshava Das, the North American Director of Communications. It was created by Murari Das and Devaprastha Das.
According to Keshava, the website will help to remind devotees that “as a movement, we play a role in a much larger world.”
“We want to encourage our leaders to think of ourselves as not an insular religious group, but as playing a bigger role in the communities that are temples and centers are in,” he says.
The site’s main purpose, though, is to serve as an initial touchpoint for outside parties. It allows groups such as the media, academics, neighbors and the interfaith community to find contact details for their local ISKCON communications liaison, and to get some basic information about what ISKCON is and what it does.
The website is simple, clean, and elegant, built as one page that you can jump to different parts of by clicking menu links.
The homepage offers a two-paragraph summary of ISKCON Communications’ mission and ISKCON itself. “About Us” gives a more in-depth, yet still brief and easy to read, explanation of the history and philosophy behind ISKCON, as well as a bio of founder Srila Prabhupada and a list of the seven purposes he intended for his society.
“The idea is that it won’t bombard visitors with everything we have,” says Keshava. “It gives just the straight facts about who we are, and what we’re all about.”
Meanwhile “News” tells readers where to find reliable, balanced, and timely news about ISKCON around the world -- right here, at news.iskcon.org. Under “Documents,” a number of scholarly publications can be read, including the ISKCON Interfaith Statement, the Journal of Vaishnava studies, and archival issues of the now defunct ISKCON Communications Journal.
“Media” offers a collection of high resolution photos of Hare Krishna people and events, as well as an ‘official media kit” containing the kind of basic info and statistics on ISKCON that would give a media professional good grounding for any piece. In the future, the website will also add stock video footage, while the photo library will continue to grow.
“Right now, if a major network comes knocking, wanting to do a piece on ISKCON and asks, ‘Do you guys have any stock footage?” we often struggle,” says Keshava. “So we want to develop a repository of really solid stock photos and video footage that highlights the history and current state of ISKCON.”
The ISKCON Communications website also has a “communications starter kit,” accessible only to ISKCON temple presidents and other leaders, with several two-page PDF documents, each advising how to build relationships with a different audience.
“These include the media, interfaith and yoga communities, and our neighbors,” says Keshava. “But perhaps the most important of all audiences is internal -- our very own devotee community. A lot of our temples struggle with getting a clear and cohesive message to their own congregations as to what the management is doing and why they’re doing it. So we have strong communications methodologies our leaders can adopt so that their communities feel they have some faith in their leadership.”
The last resource the new website has to offer is the “Contact Us” page, which shows a map of the world with contact details for ISKCON Communications Directors in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, India, Russia, and Australia.
“Our plan is to eventually list down to cities and local temples,” Keshava says. “Right now we have regional leaders of countries or continents, but we want it to be so the media, government officials or academics can find a communications liaison in their local area right away.”
As well as making it easy for people to get in touch with ISKCON, it’s also important for ISKCON temples to build relationships with their local community. Keshava, a second generation devotee who also works as a marketing consultant, says encouraging temples to do this while they’re just trying to get by day to day is one of his biggest challenges as North American Communications Director.
“A lot of our temples are just trying to keep themselves going, what to speak of trying to build these relationships outside,” he explains. “So admittedly, it’s a struggle, because a lot of our temples might not see it as a priority -- it’s more like a ‘nice to have.’ But our message is that when an emergency comes, you want to be prepared.”
For instance, if the temple or devotees were victims of a crime, leaders could quickly get their local police chief, who knows them personally, on the phone; or get support from their local city councilman or representative, who has visited their temple many times; or their neighbors, whom they have been very considerate with and have helped on neighborhood cleanups or other endeavors.
On the other side of the coin, if the temple was experiencing internal difficulties or a self-caused issue, leaders could contact journalists they know personally to make sure ISKCON’s side of the story was accurately portrayed.
In the future, ISKCON Communications plans to continue inspiring this kind of work by further developing its website into a more dynamic and detailed presentation, adding more resources for temple presidents such as templates for media releases, and being there for temples when they need help.
Ultimately, ISKCON Communications’ aim in all this is summed up by its mission statement on the website’s homepage: “to create and sustain favorable environments for advancing the goals of the Krishna consciousness movement – by establishing and maintaining confidence and faith in the integrity of the movement’s members and its religious and cultural organization.”
“As such,” the statement reads, “We are committed to helping ISKCON be a respected and influential religious organization all over the world.”
“Ours is a humble effort,” Keshava says, “But a sincere one.”
Visit the new website at: http://iskconcommunications.com