Be nice if the CofE could do some proper brand advertising

It concerns me that the Church of England for whom I work sometimes equates the transfer of text based information with communication. A word written or read out loud is not the same as a word received.

The written or spoken word in a religious context is often a kind of legal transaction which establishes the terms of membership. The words are a statement of what we are signed up to. We are connected in a formal sense but it requires creative expression to bring the meaning to life. I wish we could be more like the advertisers, or at least learn from them.growing-younger-header.png.576x260_q100


In fact, I spoke too soon! Birmingham diocese has grasped the advertising thing with both hands in this message – “we’re growing younger”. In an unconventional move the diocese wants to install significant numbers of young people in positions of leadership.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.
Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.  An accessible and creative brand. A live product demonstration.

It has been said that St Francis of Assisi urged his followers to preach the Gospel, “use words if you have to”, but maybe he never said those words, I don’t know. The point is that it’s the stories that make the communication – every colourful detail of how we live our lives becomes our sermon.

We are compelled to tell our story by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is no use saying that words are better than pictures or any other medium for that matter.

What matters is the connection. The famous theme at the start of EM Forsters Howards End is “only connect”. That’s just it – THE CONNECTION. We live in fragments searching for a connection and in the end that’s what we strive to achieve.

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds
Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds positioning banking as part of your life story and values. It takes no time at all to read.

I think it is fair to say that we live in a time where the captured image is the medium of choice when it comes to communicating stories; from films to magazines, to websites.  The power of the photograph to connect with people is extremely powerful.  But we must remember that according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. I understand from this that the words on the printed page can be spoken, and that the voice may convey images, and that the images can embody the stories.

Pictures have always been engaging and in our busy, mobile world pictures are now also extremely convenient.  An image can communicate an idea far more quickly than a paragraph of text. It is this convenience in our speeded up world that is the important thing to remember. This surge of interest in photography is not to diminish the power of words at all, it is simply to say that in our busy lives we need to keep it short. In fact pictures can assume tremendous power when accompanied by a few words of text. Poetry is a wonderful form. This leads me on the Twitter.

Twitter is a social media channel that restricts posts to 140 characters with the option of accompanying image, as you may know. The two most striking observations we can make is firstly that brevity (both in expressing and reading) is important and secondly that the message does not persist, by which I mean that it is designed to be visible only for a short time.

iPhone 6
The on-screen image is the message of this iPhone ad. Design and creativity.

So, the way we consume messages today is in the fleeting moments available to us.

As a society we are expected to be in sync with the conversations going on around us as they happen. These fragments of conversation are connected to other fragments of conversation and eventually coalesce into coherent ideas. We must be alert to the conversation.

The ideas are forming collectively with many voices participating. There is a flow and a rhythm to the dialogue which can be a beautiful thing. The connectedness of these conversations is a step towards being connected as humans and so here lies a wonderful prospect.

Yes I love photography and I love advertising because those who excel in these arts have understood that communication is about connection and  relationship not simply the transfer of information.

Discussion about church and corporate communications

Many thanks to All Saint’s Church in Otley for their hospitality last night. We were talking about communications and in particular social media. The church would like to reach out to the local community. They are planning a church re-ordering programme which will involve architectural changes and more importantly a re-invigorating of church life.

In this post I want to capture a few thoughts about the need for the organisation to become comfortable and confident about its own identity, to understand the needs and perceptions of those they want to reach, and to organise opportunities for response. 

Communications is a complex topic and so I think it is important to pin down what the purpose of the communications from the outset. Social media can build relationships between individuals across the community in a very organic way, and/or can be used to support a single corporate identity? Communications can be a functional exchange of information in the short term or a highly creative crafting of perceptions over time, maybe through story telling.

I think the communications challenge we were discussing was to help form a clear identity for the church, to challenge perceptions of what church is about and to encourage participation and membership.

I think these three things come in a logical order. Firstly we need to be clear about who we are as an organisation. If we don’t have that clarity then we can’t hope to connect with the outside world. Once we are comfortable and confident about our identity only then can we embark on the task of changing perceptions. Having changed perceptions and won the argument for belonging we then have to make opportunities for people to actually participate. This last step is where the more functional aspects of communications kick in – creating events, offering invitations and managing the volunteers. But it all starts with confidence of identity and common purpose.

Once we have been through this cycle we begin to generate stories which then help to support our corporate identity and the cycle then begins to feed itself. I repeat that without clarity of identity and purpose we won’t ever get off the starting block.

In the world of corporate identity and brand building, in which I was absorbed at the BBC, single mindedness is very important. There is frankly no point in shooting off in all directions when we are dealing with communications. The way to have impact (or any impact) is to focus a single most powerful message and on an audience you can clearly identify.

To this end we discussed four questions which I think show promise. The four questions come in two pairs. The paired questions are related to each other.

The first two questions are as follows:

1. What is the most outstanding thing we do and have achieved? (part of identity)
2. What single thing are we bursting to tell the world? (our most important message)

The second pair is:

3. To whom must we deliver our single most important message? (specific target audience)
4. How will we reach them? (medium appropriate for audience)

Then when we have the answers we are then able to set out the challenge in a couple of sentences:

We want… (audience),
to believe that… (message),
by showing them… (evidence to support message).

We will do this by…(creative ideas for reaching them).

So for example you may end up with: We want young parents to believe that our church is a safe place to bring up children by meeting our trained and caring staff and seeing what they do. We will arrange a special children’s event at which they can talk to parents and show them our activities. This event will be advertised on the popular local parenting website.

If all this sounds like hard work then so it should be. It may also sound a bit corporate and like running a business but I think we should reflect on some of this.  The task of maintaining a consistent and focused identity is something which the whole community should share and get behind. This requires vision, leadership and organisation. In my experience vision and leadership can be found but the organisational aspects are where it often comes unstuck.

I will reflect more on this, but organising creativity is something which less about control and more about framework and boundaries – much too difficult to reflect on here.