Lessons from Political Marketing

Lessons from Political Marketing

November 1, 2010 by

Tomorrow is election day in the United States (go vote).

Hallelujah! It’s nearly safe to turn on the TV again and not be browbeaten by political attack ads of every stripe.

One thing you won’t see in all those ads is an attempt to honestly and respectfully discuss issues. There’s no attempt to reach out to voters, no attempt to change minds. It’s all appealing to the already convinced, using lingo that hits the right buttons and touches the right issues, instead of actually engaging in productive conversation.

Politics and religion have a lot in common. They’re the two subjects you’re not supposed to bring up at a dinner party.

But as much as politics and religion have in common, one thing they definitely shouldn’t have in common is marketing tactics.

  • Political marketing is about scoring points. Try that with your church and potential visitors will run for the door. Engage in conversation and relationship, not debate.
  • Politicians seem to only care about your vote and your money. If churches only care about your soul and your money we’ll likewise be reviled (and often are). Care about people, families, communities.
  • Political campaigns almost always go negative (or find a third party group to do it for them). If churches only attack wrong beliefs then we’re never offering anything to believe in. Offer a positive message.
  • Admitting mistakes is anathema in politics (“Mistakes were made”). Unfortunately, people make mistakes. Rather than sidestep responsibility and fault like the politicians, the church should own up to it. Isn’t that what grace and forgiveness are all about?

So if you want to know how to do church marketing, take a look at the last gasp of political advertising before tomorrow’s election. And don’t do that.

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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4 Responses to “Lessons from Political Marketing”

  • Barry
    November 1, 2010

    totally agree with the the thought, – it’s all about building meaningful relationships with real people. Unfortunately churches get caught in the trap of counting money and souls as the benchmark of success.

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  • Chris Syme
    November 3, 2010

    Hey Kevin-
    I might venture on step further and say that political marketing is like no other marketing, period. How many businesses could sell a product just running down the competition? How many nonprofits could raise money talking about the wasteful spending of the nonprofit down the street? Oy. Nobody should be marketing like politicians, esp. the church. Thanks for the thoughts. Yeah–don’t do that.

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    • Bill Beatty
      November 8, 2010

      Chris: “How many businesses could sell a product just running down the competition?” Um..Mac?

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  • Kimberly
    November 4, 2010

    Interesting post. I’ve served as a communications director in both politics and the church so people often like to point out the similarities they see between the two jobs (in the negative sense). However, I’d argue there are positive similarities and that campaign ads are not representative of the vast majority of member communications that happen on a day-to-day basis, year in and year out.

    Some highlights of positive similarities:

    1.) You have to love babies and people — all babies & all people!

    2.) No matter how hard you try, you can’t get rid of the newsletter (okay, this one’s kind of a joke and only positive to those special few who love newsletters).

    3.) Relationships and responsiveness are just as critical in politics as in the church. Try getting re-elected with a comfortable margin if your office fails to respond to constituent mail in a timely, thorough manner; if your legislative or press staff won’t answer the phone; or if you only meet with big money folks and don’t spend time at community events and meetings in the district.

    4.) Telling your story in a way that’s relevant to people’s lives matters.

    5.) Both fields offer an incredible platform to spread a message of hope and to work in tandem with a community to build a more caring, just society.

    6.) Honesty matters… no, really! I know politicians get a bad rep for not owning up to mistakes, but those are the bad eggs you hear about in the news who, in the end, lost! It’s a huge mistake to refuse to admit errors or allow for evolution in thinking in both public service and the church. It’s true the church goes wrong if pastors assume the successful politicians are those who “spin” the truth and refuse to admit mistakes. But regardless of the setting, the rules for crisis communication are the same: Tell the truth. Tell it first. Tell it all. Tell it right. It’s almost never the action that gets you in trouble — it’s the cover up or attempt to mislead that ticks people off (and rightly so!).

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