[Editor’s Note: Matt Salisbury is the managing partner of Pesch, a media company specializing in helping faith-based organizations. He has led dozens of marketing and communications campaigns, and also provided thought leadership and crisis communications counsel to several large nonprofits and their executives. He holds a master’s degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from Georgetown University, and sits on the U.S. board of Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice. He spoke to Charles Camosy.]
Camosy: Before getting into your work, I hope you don’t mind if we spend some time with your personal life. You spent a few early years in the seminary considering the priesthood, yes? But now you are husband and father. Can you tell us a bit about your vocational journey?
Salisbury: Yes, as an eighth grader I entered a boarding school for boys considering the priesthood and went through high school there. After I graduated, I was given a celebratory shot of schnapps and sent to do my novitiate up in French Canada. I lasted a year and a half in the novitiate before realizing that the priesthood wasn’t my vocation. It was a very austere environment, and I wanted a more creatively productive path in life; I was also feeling called to marriage. So I left the cassock behind a few months before I would have professed my first vows. I am glad I had the space to discern that vocation early on.
What about this journey pushed you to consider PR and communications?
I have always been enamored by language, and by the ways the words we use carry weight. We had a rigorous curriculum in high school and were exposed to really good English and American poetry, and we had to translate lots of Virgil from Latin and St. John from Greek.
Movements start with words. There’s that quote about Demosthenes, that when he spoke men said, “Let us march.” It’s a lot more than vocabulary. I was also interested in visual storytelling. As a dorky middle schooler, I’d gotten into calligraphy. My superiors in the minor seminary said I “wrote like a computer,” so they started having me design simple brochures and flyers for use in the community. I realized that combining the right words and the right visuals was powerful.
And then what led you to start Pesch Digital?
When I moved to Washington, DC, with my wife, Bridget, I entered a network of very expert PR pros working at the intersection of public policy, advocacy, and communications. There seemed to be a severe lack of good communications work, both national media relations and smart digital, for worthy nonprofits and faith-based organizations. Coca-Cola does not have an objectively better story to tell than your average Catholic archdiocese, but it does usually have more effective communicators. So I wanted to help fix this inverse relationship between organizations with profoundly good stories, and their ability, or inability, to tell those stories effectively.
At the time I was with a social media agency based in California that I’d started with two partners back in 2011. Our client mix was broadly split between consumer brands and nonprofits. I felt this need to help address the broader strategic communications gap for faith-based and cause-driven organizations. I launched Pesch in January 2019.
How are things going? Does it seem like you’re filling a need?
Business has been absolutely booming. We have an office on K Street in Washington now, with a few team members working there full time. Our deal sizes and campaigns have grown with our team. We’ve been fortunate to build and retain a sizable set of smart, savvy clients. And every one of the people we work with is a good human being. You don’t get to say that all the time when you’re in a consulting business, but we do. I’m very glad for that.
Alongside the business growth, we’ve seen increased impact, which is why I started this firm in the first place. We’ve put op-eds from the country’s leading pro-life medical association into The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek while reaching thousands of Ob-Gyns with their messages online. We’ve helped the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative land pieces in USA Today and other national outlets, and we have a robust web video program coming for them soon. We worked with the Orthodox Church’s charity arm to help launch a really interesting emotional and spiritual care program as the COVID pandemic took off. I could go down our list of clients: Every one could be a case study. We are really proud of the client work we are doing.
Let me finish with another personal question. You and I are both adoptive parents. Can you tell us about your becoming Phoebe’s father?
Fatherhood has been the greatest gift I’ve received from God in my life. My wife has five siblings, all adopted, so she grew up with that reality. I had not. Going into the adoption process meant putting our family and future in God’s hands. You wonder about things: “Will I bond with her?” “Will she bond with me?” “Will her birth mom think we’re worthy?” And then we met our glorious girl. I learned that these things were outside of reality for us. They were just non-issues.
I did have to learn to give up control. My wife and I had a whole birth plan, all sorts of little details we sweated over for who should be where when, doing what. And then the baby came a week early while we were in the bowels of the Marine Corps Museum on the wrong coast. We took the red eye out. After we jumped through California’s legal hoops and got baby Phoebe home, I learned what being bone tired really felt like. We’ve been rolling with things for over two years since then. It’s been great.
We were very fortunate to work with some wonderful agencies: Siena Adoption Services in Northern Virginia, and Lamb of God Maternity Home in San Diego. I cannot say enough good things about the women who lead those organizations. They are strong and good people. You may have had this experience too: there are some really noble people working in this field.
If anyone is considering adoption, my advice is to pray, meet with a few agencies, and then just do the home study and the profile. It’s not about you. It’s about letting God open the right door in your life.