I disagree with George Pitcher’s analysis of the latest Churches Advertising Network (CAN) campaign – a poster depicting Christ in a similar way to the Che Guevara student posters (MW January 14).
It is not that CAN “does not know whether it is in the business of advertising or PR”, rather that for the campaigns to be effective we need to integrate PR more than most other advertisers.
Let me first declare an interest in that I am both a founding member of CAN and also founder of Christians in Media (CIM) – the creative group which devised this campaign, and previous ones.
One of the key differences with CAN campaigns is that we need to create relevant publicity before the campaign appears to get people to buy into it. Churches are invited to purchase local ads and promotional material to support national advertising activity. Profits from the sale of these materials are then used to fund the national advertising support, since we have no separate funding. Thus a more accurate description of what CAN does would be “publising” – where national PR is used to create early “trade” awareness of the campaign and prompt debate prior to the advertising itself.
It is interesting to note that after the initial kneejerk reactions to new campaigns, particularly when they are controversial, opinions often change. This was true of “Bad hair day” (Christmas 1996) and will, I believe, also be true for this Easter’s campaign.
With a complex proposition such as faith it is obviously impossible to “sell” directly to individuals, or to hope to convert them through advertising. The task is to stop people in their tracks and make them consider an issue afresh, like the nature of Jesus’s ministry. Hopefully, this campaign will encourage thousands to rethink their attitudes and maybe find out more from a local church, which is where the real work starts.
Another fundamental difference between the work of CAN and, say, commercial organisations is that we can only have an effect on the message churches communicate. We do not in anyway seek to control or modify the product. Thus our marketing ability is limited, but we can have an influence on communication issues.
As the campaigns are self-funding, this is obviously an acid-test in terms of internal support from the churches. One of the biggest issues confronting CAN is getting external communication higher up the agenda of the leading denominations. It is an area that occupies little thought or discussion within the church, and where budgets are virtually non-existent. As we produce campaigns with impact and pursue a policy of encouraging and educating the Christian churches about the role of advertising, we hope and believe this situation will change.
So, George, we are not confused about what we are trying to do, we are just operating in a very complex area – with very limited resources – to the best of our ability.