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How Much Should You Invest in Marketing?
By: Charles R. Leib

In more densely populated urban and suburban areas where there are a multitude of parishes, many of the same denomination, marketing is key not to just growth, but survival.

How often do parishioners receive their Sunday bulletin when entering their church for services, which most times includes a page or so of upcoming events and opportunities sponsored by the parish, but only for it to be left behind when services are over? What good does that do unless they have a photographic memory and the parish does not market its events much more than this?

Times are changing, and a plethora of marketing opportunities are available for a plethora of messages to keep most everyone "in the know" 24/7, not just for a few minutes on Sunday while waiting for the service to begin, or during coffee hour where a couple signs are taped up in hopes someone will notice them.

How Do You Get Started?

Today, there are so many means to reach both current and potential parishioners, as well as "customers." Some are at no charge. Others may have a price tag attached.

For those with little to no marketing budget, there are some wonderful "free" marketing opportunities for parishes in the digital realm, such as faithstreet.com and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Sometimes you have to market your marketing. I do so by asking our parishioners to "Like" our Facebook page in the Sunday bulletin, on our website, on our Facebook page itself (where I post to at least twice a week with upcoming news and events), and even when just speaking with them one-on-one. I also ask them to ask their friends to "Like" us, as well, so that our message spiders out beyond our church family.

Recently, I attended our Diocesan Convention and attended a couple marketing workshops. I've taken one of their ideas even further with our parish's Vestry and have implemented partner parishes that our Vestry members have a connection with nationwide. The idea is so we can spitball marketing ideas with one another in order to help each partner parish grow with marketing ideas that have worked for us so that the other who may never have thought of such an idea can institute and benefit from it themselves. Again, there is no cost.

How Can You Market to Potential New Parish Family Members?

Press releases and announcements on upcoming events can be distributed to local media digitally at no cost. More often than not, the local newspaper will post your event, such as a rummage sale or holiday boutique, on its calendar (either in print, online, or both). Some local media outlets even offer free ads from non-profits (if space allows) if the event is for a charitable cause. This is something to definitely look into.

A parish website is also a great tool as it is a basic foundation for marketing your parish, and almost mandatory these days, as it can outline everything your parish has to offer. It has displaced the Yellow Pages as an information source in most homes. Many basic sites can be free to design, but generally there is a minimal cost to have it hosted. Also, hopefully, someone in the parish has enough technical skill who can update the site on a monthly basis, especially if the site has a calendar for services and events that need routine maintenance.

Marketing Both Faith & Non-Faith Opportunities

Earlier, I mentioned "customers" of a church. One must continually think of new ways to keep funds flowing into the coffers to keep the parish healthy and flourishing. However, marketing one's parish to those who may not be looking for a new church, but are instead seeking a venue for a wedding, concert, or other function can mean added revenue to your parish's bottom line. Others seeking a more permanent location, such as a Montessori school if your campus has a room or a building not being used, can become a great ongoing revenue stream, and investing in an agent or broker to market rentable space for something like this  can pay big dividends.

Small or large marketing tools such as digital signage, depending on the size of your campus and budget, can make a big difference in how your church spreads the word of opportunities it offers to both parishioners and the community at large once on campus.

Adding a flat panel display (with connected computer) in the narthex that connects to the parish's website or Facebook page, or displays upcoming events, is a great way to grab the attention and inform parishioners. Scrolling pictures of the recent teen fundraiser or holiday boutique also shows off what successful events have just passed and what's coming up.

Also, when hosting a wedding or other event, such flat panel displays can announce the event to provide those non-members with vital details of the occasion, such as time and location on the campus once they arrive. Digital pictures of the soon-to-be-wedded-couple are also a nice touch, and will keep your parish in the mind of attendees for their future needs.

Outdoor signage, such as digital scrolling billboards, are also great ways of attracting the attention of passing motorists of upcoming events, or even a simple message of greetings or welcome. Obviously, this can be an expensive. However, it may become a necessity at some point if your campus is tucked away and not easily seen from the street, such as mine is that's in a residential neighborhood bordered by a freeway access road, and can be used as both informative signage as well as a marker.

One must be careful of state codes before attempting any installation. Your best bet is to first contact a locally trusted and licensed A/V installation professional for a quote before attempting your own AV install. Better to spend a little money up front and have it done correctly, than have an unforeseen issue arise from a non-professional install that may cause a serious problem in the future.

Also, it is strongly recommended that before using the names and images of any youths under the age of 18 in your marketing efforts that one should seek guidance by the parish's Diocese on legalities and its own guidelines on using such information in a marketing agenda. It is also a good idea to get one-time or per-project written permission from the youths' parents allowing the parish to use their children's names and/or images in its marketing efforts.

Charles R. Leib is owner/operator of CRL Public Relations, based in Mesa, Arizona, www.crl-pr.com.

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