By Robert Kravitz
There is going to be a lot of unfortunate fallout as a result of COVID-19. For some brick-and-mortar retailers, this may be the last straw. Without safety nets from banks and the government, some will not survive.
The same is true in other industries. For instance, some of the largest janitorial companies in Silicon Valley, many multi-million-dollar companies, have essentially shut down, just like their clients. With no end in sight, many fear they won’t make it.
But the virus is going to impact churches around the country, as well. It already has. Because most, if not all, are closed, there is no passing the plate. Fundraisers, another significant funds generator, are also put on hold.
Some churches and synagogues are fortunate that they have well-heeled members to help them along with endowment income. However, with the stock market crash, those members are holding what cash they have close to the chest, and endowment income is drying up.
While most churches are focused on helping their members get through this pandemic, it cannot be denied that many are concerned about their own well-being. Much depends on their reserves. According to a 2016 study by LifeWay Research, however, only one in four Protestant churches has enough cash to cover operating expenses for two or more months.
So, what should churches struggling or concerned about struggling do as quickly as possible to survive this situation, and even more, thrive when it is over? The answer is marketing. While some readers may be raising their eyebrows right now, we need to know there are different forms of marketing, some more costly than others.
But what is most important is, “don’t go dark.” Keep the light on so your members and prospective members know about your church. If there was ever a time a church needs to operate like a well-oiled business machine, it’s now.
Learning from Post and Kellogg’s
Here is what is considered the most famous example of why marketing is so crucial in a downturn.
In the 1930s, at the height of the Depression, Post cereals was by far the leading breakfast cereal company. Most of the cereal companies were not only smaller, but many were moms-and-pops. Post assumed those companies would fail during the Depression, and their former customers would start selecting Post cereal products.
Kellogg’s was not a mom-and-pop, but it certainly was not the size of Post. However, they took a different path. With whatever funds they had, they increased marketing, primarily advertising.
It started to pay off. By the end of the 1930s, Kellogg’s was the leading breakfast cereal maker in the U.S. What’s more, Post has never caught up.
There are many other stories like this. Whenever we have had an economic downturn in the past, C-suite executives huddle and decide what to cut. All too often, it’s marketing, a decision that months or years later they typically regret.
So, now that we have a better idea of why we should keep marketing, what options do churches have? Here are some to consider:
Do what works best
It is important to know how most of your congregants find out about your church. Churches with older members or that cater to families might find advertising is most beneficial. However, a spiritual center in Chicago encourages its young congregants to always bring their phones to their Sunday services. Why? Using them to post images and videos of the services has brought more young people to their Center. And by the way, this does not cost the spiritual Center any money.
Other no money options
Marketers are always asking for feedback – hopefully, positive feedback – from their customers. Why can’t churches? Many people vi church and spirituality as very private matters; however, others are happy to post comments about how important a church has proven to be in their lives.
These can be very powerful. Church administrators that are comfortable asking their congregants to post comments on social media platforms should do so.
We all get newsletters filling our inboxes. Have you ever wondered why we get so many? While newsletters have lost some of the power and luster they had a decade ago, they are still proving to be a useful marketing tool. Further, newsletters typically do not cost that much to produce.
Often, a good idea is to have a designer develop an attractive template – a one-time charge – that can be filled with content by church staff. Once they get the hang of it, an hour is about all it should take.
PR, getting news placed in local publications about your church, is a moderate-priced option. I have had the opportunity to work with two church organizations over the years. What I found was that most publications serving a community are happy to publish a small blurb about a special presenter coming to your church or an upcoming church event.
However, to get “meaty” placements in a local publication that can really highlight your church, publishers and editors are looking for content that will help serve and educate their readers. Remember, their concern is providing value to their readers, not promoting your church.
What I found effective is to get to know church editors. Ask them what types of content would most interest them and their readers. That way, you have an idea of what they are looking for.
Oh, and by the way, if you can tell them what a great job they are doing serving the community, such praise is always welcome.
We touched on advertising earlier. What we need to know is that some forms of advertising can be more costly than others. While it varies, advertising on a publication’s website may be less costly than advertising in print. There may also be more options to choose from when advertising online.
It’s important to investigate all the options, but we must refer back to what was discussed earlier. While you can always test different advertising formats, if one, such as print advertising, remains the most effective, stick with it. Then it is no longer a cost, it’s an investment.
Robert Kravitz is president of AlturaSolutions, an 18-year old PR and communications firm located in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.