Lessons in Shortsightedness: Cutting the Marketing Budget

February 9, 2006 by

Last week my church had the infamous church business meeting (which I credit with pushing my wife into labor). Before we got to the real issues, we took care of typical business: update on the building project, welcoming new vestry members, thanking departing members, and a presentation of the 2006 budget.

Like many Episcopal churches, we’ve seen a drop in offerings thanks to the ordination of a gay bishop in 2003. While church leadership continues to struggle with that enormous issue, the reality of it is reflected in the budget as line after line sees cuts from 2005.

One of the cuts I noticed was publicity.

Despite writing for Church Marketing Sucks, I’ve shied away from single-handedly trying to make my church a communications powerhouse. I do what one man can do (produce my youth group’s newsletter) and hope change will come in time. So publicity is not a huge line item in our budget. But it went from a three figure sum to $0.

And at that point I decided to speak up. A small publicity budget is one thing, but no budget? It turns out that small publicity budget was spent entirely on a phone book ad, which we were now forsaking. Since painful cuts were being made everywhere, it wasn’t feasible to reinstate the publicity budget. My mind flooded with unique ideas, but there just wasn’t room in the budget. I sat back and shook my head.

As the night went on two people mentioned that they came to this church thanks to a phone book ad. Two out of more than 140 people at the meeting isn’t much, though you can imagine more didn’t speak up, and a cross section of a Sunday morning service and not a Monday evening business meeting might find more people who joined our congregation thanks to the phone book.

From a cold-hearted and purely numbers perspective, getting even two new members from a phone book ad would more than pay for the ad itself, assuming the members tithed even a small percent. And that’s ignoring the eternal motivating factors, which are what we should really be looking at.

That shortsightedness pains me. I understand the difficulty of decreasing income and the hard choices that must be made. We’ve seen our youth budget cut several years in a row, and have seen the direct fallout on our teens. But there’s only so much cash to go around.

But publicity—even the meager line item we had—seems like such a no-brainer. Alas, I guess not all stories are good.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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9 Responses to “Lessons in Shortsightedness: Cutting the Marketing Budget”

  • joe
    February 9, 2006

    interesting topic. as a church employee i’ve often wondered what would happen if we would handle budget differently. if instead of everyone giving into a big pool of money people were asked to give to specific needs i think you would see someone stepping up and saying, “i think that the phonebook ad is important and i’m going to pay for it myself” rather than relying on church budgets to be spent in the same way. i understand that not all of the needs of the church could be handled that way, but i wonder how many of them actually could; and would make people feel more involved in the unique ministries of the church. just a thought.

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  • RC
    February 9, 2006

    I think that it sounds like your church is not in desperate need of a marketing budget but aligning the church body with a real understanding of its goals and objectives.
    Hopefully the biggest thing that attracts people in the community and honesty in the body. And if having money for publicity is a priority according to those objectives…even if the church isn’t realizing it, hopefully other people will and you’ll figure out how to get the money to do the projects.
    If it’s important, people will make it happen.
    I should know, I ran a youth group for a year and a half with no budget…now, there’s a budget…and it’s not the same deal it was before.
    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

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  • Dan
    February 9, 2006

    I have been the defacto marketing czar in our church for more than five years. But no longer. There has been no budget. Oh, there has been an “evangelism” budget that mainly pays for ads in the local weekly newspaper each Christmas and Easter. But that’s it.
    A few years ago, when I was (volunteer) head of evangelism for our church, I convinced the church council to spend $1,500 on a 10,000-piece postcard invitation campaign for Easter. We got about 75 newcomers to attend as a direct result of the outreach. We put some quick and dirty follow-up practices into place and by summer we had about 20 of those people attending fairly regularly.
    Then we decided to hire an associate pastor of evangelism of discipleship. I was all for it. Problem was, that was the end of any mass outreach/marketing efforts. So I went back to no budget. To get around that I on a weekly basis and completely on my own, put out press releases about our church every week to the local media and began a weekly e-mail newsletter that went out to everyone in our church with an e-mail address and to anyone who was interested in what our church was doing, such as missionaries we support. I gleaned new e-mail addresses from visitor cards that newcomers filled out. Or I did that until the pastors decided those cards were too expensive to continue printing. I often went into the church to do these tasks and would find that the computer I used had been disconnected or that files had been wiped out. Or there would be comments that made it clear that the pastors didn;t know how the press releases were getting into the paper or that the e-mail newsletter actually existed. By my count, at least a dozen people began attending our church in the past year having first been attracted to press releases that appeared in the local paper.
    Just after Christmas I quit and now I’m focusing on schoolwork at Moody Bible Institute, my (paying) job and spending time with my family. No one has stepped into take my place. I am much happier now.
    On budgeting, our church is in the process of going toward a ministry-based budget process instead of paying for everything out of a general fund. I think it was in response to increased giving by people to specific projects.

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  • A.B. Dada
    February 9, 2006

    The entire budget issue hits close to home because I know I have been lazy in meeting my weekly tithes often in the past.
    I recently “retired” from my businesses to focus on the ministry of marketing and communications for my small church (~300 regular attenders at the most). I took a 100% cut in salary and income, and am putting my own money in to try new ministry directions to see what God will make happen.
    Once a marketing idea is in motion, we’ll see how it works, and when it works I know I’ll be able to approach others in the congregation for funding. If you’re in the ministry of marketing, you can’t be afraid to ask for volunteers to help you as well as volunteers who can’t help physically but can help financially, above and beyond their tithing.
    Nothing will just fall into place — I know I will have to cut my food and fun budget in order to fund the ministry I’m working on, but the message is what matters.

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  • Rob Ketterling
    February 9, 2006

    We have a budget of $1,200,000. and I am wondering what you think would be a good dollar figure to spend on publicity? As a follow up question, how would you spend it?

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  • RC
    February 10, 2006

    Dan…I really appreciated your post…and I think that the work you did is incredibly valuable for reaching people.
    I think sometimes the good things churches try to do…hire a new person, build a new yada yada, can end up causing smaller things to be cut in order to make the “whatever” happen.
    I’m sorry your smaller thing was cut, and great dilegence in making it happen.
    It’s great that you’re doing something different now for this new season and maybe you’ll find new ways to serve, even as a family.
    Have heart…do not ley church budgets and politics keep you from doing whay you, Dan, are supposed to do.
    –RC of strangeculutre.blogspot.com

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  • Dan
    February 10, 2006

    Thanks RC. I appreciate your kind words. I did sort of let it gush out there.

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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    February 10, 2006

    Well, this is turning into an interesting discussion on budgets I really didn’t expect.
    A few of the comments make it sound like some churches have much more ‘general fund’ budgets where they don’t have specific line items for everything. That baffles me. My mom said her church works like that, and I’m just amazed a church could plan for anything with a system like that. (for my mom’s church she says the rationale is that the ‘old guard’ don’t want to be hindered by a plan)
    Dan, hearing what you were doing sounds really cool. That’s what the church needs more of. But what worries me a bit is that it sounds like the church leadership didn’t know what you were doing. I don’t know if that’s really the case, so ignore me if it isn’t, but I think for a marketing plan to work everybody really needs to be on board. That doesn’t mean they’re all involved, but they should at least give a thumbs up. Of course a lot of pastors/church leadership probably want too much control to let a volunteer just run with it.
    And Rob, yours is an interesting question. I think part of it depends on how you define publicity. There are all kinds of expenses at my church that could be considered publicity but weren’t in that line item. Things like bulletins, newsletters, fliers, banners. A lot of those fell under different ministries (youth, children, Alpha) or just fell under the general postage/office budget.
    So the answer depends on what else you already have. It also depends on what would be the best fit for your church. I don’t think a phone book ad is the best solution for every church. It’s going to depend on your area and the type of people you’re trying to reach. Maybe Google ads would be better. Maybe printing invite cards to give to your congregation to invite their friends. Maybe T-shirts. It’s pretty hard to say exactly what you should spend the money on. I guess the best I could say is that you should spend a lot of time thinking through what you hope to accomplish. Do the foundational work first.

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  • Gene Mason
    February 12, 2006

    We are in a senior pastor transition and cut our church budget this year by $1.5 million, including a 70% cut in discretionary spending on advertising. Hey, “I feel your pain.” But it is a simple reality for us in this season, and I am not worried in the least.
    I still have a website, a copy machine, and access to 4,000 potential volunteers. We live in the age of incredibly cheap communication, so I’m good to go.
    Never forget that people are your greatest resource. Promoting the church may be easier with a budget, but it can be just as effective and creative without one. Never let money stand between you and sharing the Gospel. Dollars are great, I admit, but I also wholeheartedly believe that God is never going to call us to a task for which He will not equip us fully–and often much of that equipping is not going to come as a line item. Food for thought…

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