3 Ways You Should Start Over With Church Communications
One of the most loosely defined roles I’ve seen breakdown over the past decade is “Church Communications Director.” The title is used liberally as a synonym for all things graphics, web, marketing, writing, comms, creative, social, video, branding, etc.
Bad communications start with a bad definition.
The “Church Communications Director” has conflated into a catch-all role for everything we want to say, design, and sell. Some of the expectations I’ve seen put on this role are wild:
- design requests from multiple departments with little to no lead time
- ensure high attendance and event registrations
- intercept and manage crisis relations
- craft internal communications to unify staff
- write creative marketing campaigns to win over external audiences
- build and run social media calendars
- surge digital and physical engagement metrics
- increase donor base
- fill volunteer teams
- guard brand consistency
- direct and produce short films
- demonstrate a successful ministry metrics
- drive book store sales
- accumulate 5-star satisfaction ratings in all church surveys and app reviews
- inspire people to life transformation
- work 7 day/week full-time schedule on part-time salary
Not only are some of these responsibilities out of any single person’s capacity to deliver on ever, many of them shouldn’t be regulated to a single department or role. This is not a new problem. But it is a problem that’s been accelerated at mach speed post-COVID.
Churches aren’t alone in this. The business sector is experiencing the same problem with Chief Marketing Officers (CMO), the equivalent to the Church Comms Director. Increased pressure to provide more output, in more places, on a shorter timeline with smaller budgets and better results is putting marketing and communications professionals in a confusing and precarious state. And, some companies are starting to recognize the problem.
“The role has become too big to succeed at and too easy to fail at.”
– Allen Adamson, managing partner Metaforce?
Failure can look like cluttered messages, serious external brand mishaps, internal team dysfunction or the real cost and headache of replacing key players who walk away with extreme burnout. (This is no joke. Communications leaders are burning out at a disproportionately high rate.)
Leaders are taking notice. The number of high-profile brands reshuffling, redefining or eliminating their marketing roles all together is growing. And, that’s a good thing. These changes are designed to integrate a reimagined role back into building unified cultures and growing the business.
How do you start over with your church communications role when you’re under this kind of pressure?
Define your strategy before you define the work
High volumes of creative content with quick turnarounds is putting the cart before the horse.
Let’s make sure we’re doing the right work before we try to do more work.
If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you set an accurate course? I’ve learned this the hard way, but communication makes marketing work, not the other way around. Just because something looks good to us, and makes us feel good about what we’re doing, doesn’t mean it’s actually contributing to the bottom line.
Marcomm is a very real and necessary interdependency. In other words, marketing requires a corresponding communications strategy to meet your objectives. Start with a communications strategy designed around the values of your organization, with clearly defined wins, before you figure out what marketing projects you need run.
Define the right role before you assign the right role
There are no winners if you fill a position without an awareness of the difference between function, competency, and capacity.
For example, if you expect a graphic designer to drive organizational strategy appropriate for a senior-level leader, you’ve put them in an oversized role where the title outweighs their capacity.
Or, if you put a strategic competent leader in role reduced to project execution, you’ve stripped them of access to steer results.
In too many cases, the “catch-all Church Communications Director” fails to win because they have all of the responsibility without the authority or all of of the authority with none of the responsibility.
Identify a communications advocate who helps keep the strategy in front of people at all times. They may not be the decision-maker, but they know what questions to ask and how to get things done.
Communication Advocates can make everyone more effective by:
- Narrowing the focus to make a connection
- Making content personable to encourage participation
- Pivoting outward to make content usable and shareable
The Communications Advocate role can sit at any level in the organization at all kinds of capacity. The key is to have one. Look around your organization and ask, who can be our advocate?
Many times, the right person can carry a little from each category. But, it’s important to clarify what percentage of their job is dedicated to what. Be objective about any areas where they might need support to fill gaps (in mindset and skill set).
Empower a working team ecosystem, not an org chart
Once you have your strategy and an advocate, it’s easier to thread the “all” through all the parts, so the parts can reflect the “all” in their communications activity.
Corporate communications /noun/ [latin corpus: body] :
the total activity generated by the body in order to achieve its mission and planned objectives.
There’s a shared ownership here. Look for opportunities to create interdependent job functions and collaborative communications work between departments. There is power in reconfiguring what already exists. Break down existing silos and redeploy team members to new responsibilities. A fresh approach invigorates personal and corporate performance.
Whether you are rebooting an old department, restructuring across departments, or starting to get your head around organizing your first creative communications team, it all starts with clarifying your strategic organizational goals, defining the right role, and leaning into the unique strengths within the ecosystem of your current team. When you do this, you develop the capacity to run a long-term plan, no matter the short-term view.