It seems clear that TEC has decided to focus its communications on “marketing and branding” instead of honest journalism and communications with Episcopalians. That was the point of Herb Gunn’s fine essay.
Many of us are concerned about this new and unfortunate direction within TEC. So was Elizabeth Kaeton. With Elizabeth’s permission, I am publishing the comment she posted on the HoBD listserv in response to Herb Gunn’s essay. Hers is a cautionary tale. I hope the remaining communicators at TEC will heed her words.
Elizabeth Kaeton on TEC Communications
Hmmm . . .
About four years ago, some of the marketing folks in my congregation launched a series of "focus groups" in the parish and community, with an eye toward "branding, marketing, messaging and public relations."
Some of the folks who had experience in the corporate world with "marketing strategists" pulled me over and whispered in my ear, "Careful, Skywalker. One misstep and you'll be on the Dark Side."
I laughed and tried to be a good "non anxious presence."
I made the translations from secular to religious language:
Branding = the uniqueness of our character as a Body of Christ.
Marketing, etc. = Evangelism.
No big deal. No problem.
Besides, people were talking about what really mattered to them about church in general and St. Paul's in particular. This is not a Bad Thing, thought their rector and pastor. Indeed, this is a Very Good thing, she thought. And, so it was.
After months of discussion and conversation, consuming more tea and "Lemon Delights" and "Death by Chocolate Cupcakes" than absolutely necessary, and lots of analysis and strategic marketing sessions, we got our 'logo' ("Logos" - get it?).
Ta Da!: A cruciform tree, in movement (some say it looks like a 'dancing tree'), with "The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham" over the top and a leaf strategically placed in the midst of the word 'Chatham', breaking beyond the word Chatham. (Evangelism - Get it?)
Colors: Red, White and Blue (Get it? - I mean, this town is not known as 'Republicanville' for nothin')
Building on the National Church's slogan: "Come. Grow." We took those two words and added: "Celebrate!" (We're Eucharistic and a Very Fun Place to Be - Get it?)
Applause! Applause! Huzzah! Huzzah! You listened to us, you really listened to us!
We got the stationery and business cards. We got the new sign. We buffed up our web page. We got a parish blog. We'll soon be on FaceBook. We moved from a monthly to a quarterly print newsletter.
Stop me if any of this is beginning to sound familiar.
It was smooth sailing for a time. "Ain't we smart?," we thought. "Ain't we clever?"
The first bump in the road came at the second Christmas Bazaar. I heard some of the organizers talking about some of the proposed vendors, and stopped dead in my tracks when I heard, "Oh, definitely not THAT one - or THAT one. Doesn't fit in with our 'brand.'"
"Why?" I asked. No one would look me in the eye. Through stammering and shuffling of feet I heard words like, "quality of product," and "not the market for that product."
"Who are they?" I asked. More stammering. More shuffling of feet. So, I looked at the list. Interesting. These were the vendors from communities with higher "minority populations" whose crafts benefited AIDS projects in Africa and women in domestic shelters.
"We have the word, 'Celebrate!' in our brand," they said. "AIDS is a real downer. It's not . . . [I swear to God this was said] . . . sexy."
I'll spare you the details and fast forward to the finish line: Those vendors WERE invited to be part of our Christmas Bazaar and did quite well, in fact. As I recall, they were one of a few who completely sold out.
That being said, I suddenly understood the earlier warning about "one misstep."
It's a different verse of the "branding, marketing, messaging and public relations" song, but Herb Gunn's essay raises some important questions.
He asks: "What is the role of objective reporting within the Episcopal Church, or any organization that strives to reveal itself? How do we report on the institution to which we not only belong, but consider beloved?"
He also makes an important point:
"Communication is a trust relationship based on honesty; communication is always, at least, two-way; a sharp distinction is to be made between communication and promotion; and the communicator's ultimate responsibility is to the people served.My grandmother used to say, "Wishes don't wash dishes," but I really wish Herb's questions and points had been allowed to surface and be discussed thoroughly - maybe a few focus groups in a few strategically considered dioceses - before top-down decisions were made.
"In fact, it is the very ethos of Anglicanism to eschew a dogmatic approach to almost anything, to trust scholarship and to allow and encourage the freedom to continue asking questions."
I'm not saying the final decision is, necessarily, a bad thing. In fact, there are lots of good things about the process of discovering "branding, marketing, messaging and public relations." But, it IS a process that requires being in constant contact with your consumer / market base, which,
apparently, didn't happen.
All I'm saying is this: Careful, Skywalkers at 815. Even with the best of processes and the best of intentions and the smartest kids in the class in the driver's seat, all it takes is one misstep over the line between communication and promotion, between branding and exclusion. . . .
I echo Elizabeth's counsel to our Church Center staff: "Careful, Skywalker. One misstep, and you'll be on the Dark Side." We might lose our souls in TEC's effort to "market and brand" our church. We have truly Good News to share. It would be sad to lose that Good News in the midst of marketing and branding.