The entertainment field is highly competitive and very volatile. Even more so, when your focus is ministry. When you sing or write for God, the audience narrows, the pond gets smaller and the competing fish are plentiful. In nearly three decades of promoting countless Christian music projects, books, events, films and the like, I have only seen one -- one instance-- when it was possible to label someone's success "overnight." Most authors, speakers, bands and singers slog it out, day after day, year after year, sometimes decade after decade and then "suddenly" find success. But even when it arrives, it comes in waves -- in seasons -- it crests, ebbs and flows. Success -- on any high level-- is fleeting at best. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
So why on earth would anyone try to have a career in gospel music? Or write a Christian book? Or speak on Christian topics? Most missionaries will tell you that you don't go to the jungle unless you are called to do so. God has placed on each of us a calling. As the Apostle Paul describes, we can't all be hands; some of us are feet. Some of us are eyes; some are ear lobes. The body has many parts, he explains. But none of us are the Head.
Of the people I have worked with over the years, very few survive long-term. But the ones that do last beyond a decade or so all share the same motivation. They are not looking to be famous. They are not looking to be stars. They are not shooting for stratospheric heights. They simply keep doing what they feel they are called by God to do. Whether in feast or in famine, they trudge on. Paul said it best in Philippians 4: "I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." (MSG)
When people call me and tell me about their new project or, more specifically, the calling they believe they have on their lives -- I have learned over the years not to judge. You cannot imagine the ideas people come up with to spread the Gospel. But who am I to assess what someone's calling is? I can only decide if it is something I can help promote. But far be it from me to determine someone's calling. That is a God thing. Not a publicist thing.
I saw on a job site recently where Cracker Barrel corporate was looking for a Communications Specialist. This was shortly before they really needed one. Badly. After the duck feathers flew, I imagined if I had been the one sitting in that Communications Specialist seat when my boss came in to announce they were going to stop carrying Duck Dynasty merchandise. My reply would have been simple; "Are you crazy? Don't you know your own audience?" I probably would have been fired or demoted at that point. But I would have been right. And it would have saved Cracker Barrel from eating a lot of raw, uncooked crow. Whatever powers that be at Cracker Barrel had better run down to the Clue Shop and make a purchase. Having eaten at Cracker Barrel myself more times than I can count, a simple look around the room tells me who their audience is. So if I, as a lowly consumer, can figure that out, how could they have missed something as vital as that?
Every artist, every author, every person who is offering a product to the marketplace needs to answer one question before they ever begin to form a public persona: Who is my audience? Once that question is answered, you can begin to hone in on a message that will appeal to that particular targeted consumer base. So many times I have been in meetings with people who say something like "I want my audience to be the whole world." I've been known at that juncture to draw a large circle on a piece of paper, point to it and say, "That is quite a large market. Are you sure you have the budget for this?" Sometimes that directs them back to reality. Sometimes it doesn't.
The reality, according to the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 12, is that we are not all called for the same purpose. We have unique gifts and talents that place us precisely where God wants us in the grand scheme of things. We must surrender ourselves to the fact that we cannot individually become the body of Christ. We can and must, however, be the necessary left eye or the right leg or the big toe that makes up the body. Then, we can make a difference to the audience that we have been assigned to reach.
By understanding who we are speaking to -- with our books, music, films, etc. -- we become that necessary link that makes the entire body work correctly. And time has shown that when that happens, Christ is indeed glorified to the whole world. So draw a big circle on that piece of paper and then locate your teeny, tiny dot. That's where you begin.
Planning. The Key to Great PR.
WestJet Airlines was thinking about Christmas when everyone else was attending pool parties in August. And what they were planning was a brilliant PR move that makes me realize I don't travel to and from Canada quite enough. Forbes calls it "the kind of branding only Santa can deliver." We call it public relations at its best. Learn...enjoy...emulate.
A video of Kristin Chenoweth and the formerly unknown Sarah Horn went viral today. And as a publicist, I feel compelled to point out some lessons to be learned from these two ladies. First, all you aspiring singers and voice coaches and worship leaders and closet vocal powerhouses-- take special note of Sarah. As she tells the story, she ASKED for the opportunity to get on that stage with Kristin. She didn't wait on someone to call on her. She raised her hand and said, "PICK ME!" Second, she was prepared. She knew the song Kristin wanted to sing backwards and forwards. She had probably sung it to death in the shower. She was ready for the moment. Third, in spite of the probability of nerves, you can't really see them from Sarah. Why? Because she did what she had trained to do all her life -- she sang. She sang big and loud. She didn't need to be nervous. It was such a part of her life that it was second nature. And she nailed it. Aspiring singers waiting for their moment to shine can learn a lot from Sarah.
Likewise, seasoned performers and award-winning vocalists can learn some lessons from Kristin. Watch her engage Sarah when she starts singing. Kristin looks like a proud mom who just saw her kid sing for the school play. You can see in her body language how she is egging on Sarah to go for it, encouraging her all the way. And watch them especially on that last note. Kristin grabs Sarah and pulls her into her arms like she's her long-lost sister. I don't know what she whispered in her ear, but Sarah will probably remember it the rest of her life. Kristin showed grace, poise and gave space on stage for a nobody voice teacher. Kristin is a big star, you know. But she was humble enough to let Sarah have the spotlight. Another great lesson for all the other Big Stars who seek to keep their audience's adoration. I suspect Kristin even made a few new fans today as well.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is how you become pop-u-lar.
Find out how to avoid the Matthew 13 problem. Check out our new post at The Association of Christian Businesses website.
How does your song look?
It is no longer enough to ask "How does my song sound?" or "Will radio play it?" In today's visual world, you need to also be asking, "How does this song look?"
Indeed, the platform for music has changed dramatically in just the past few years. Today, a Susan Boyle can become a worldwide phenomenon overnight because of YouTube.
And now, music videos will begin officially affecting the Hot 100:
"Billboard and Nielsen announced this week the addition of U.S. YouTube video streaming data to its platforms, which includes an update to the methodology for the Billboard Hot 100, the preeminent singles chart. The YouTube streaming data is now factored into the chart’s ranking, enhancing a formula that includes Nielsen’s digital download track sales and physical singles sales; as well as terrestrial radio airplay, on-demand audio streaming, and online radio streaming, also tracked by Nielsen." (See full story here.)
Groups such as OK GO saw the paradigm shift early on and focused more on how their music looked, creating captivating and creative music videos that caught the attention of both consumers and ad buyers. (See Wall Street Journal article here. Worth the read.) As the lead singer and guitarist for the band stated, "We're just moving out of the brief period—a flash in history's pan—when an artist could expect to make a living selling records alone."
It is past time for artists to think beyond the chords and guitar licks when they go into the recording studio. Artists should spend just as much time thinking about what props and locations they will need to create a memorable visual -- and possibly career-altering-- impression.
A Necessary Intervention
After nearly 25 years of representing well-known Christian authors, singers, speakers and other public figures, I am breaking my own unwritten rule today. After watching yet another prominent pastor/author being torn to pieces on a mainstream network, I must intervene. With very few exceptions, when a popular Christian personality sits for a “conversation” with a mainstream TV reporter, it never ends well. So I want to point directly to the elephant in the room. I want to talk directly to the most famous among us. I understand that your book publisher wants to schedule you on all the mainstream talk shows they can, theoretically, to sell more books. But let me clarify something your mother should have told you at a young age. “No” is a complete sentence.
Just say no. Stop it.
It doesn't matter how many people go to your church. It doesn’t matter how many watch you on TV on a weekly basis. The mainstream media is unimpressed. They will never, ever, ever, ever (emphasis) EVER like you. In fact, their goal too often is to make you look like a blithering idiot. And here's a newsflash: you will not sell more books by looking like a numbskull on TV. If anything, you will make the people who do love you and do buy your books question your thoughtfulness, intelligence and convictions. They may even question why they are going to your church or watching you on television. That's when your all-important appearance on the mighty mainstream media becomes what we call in the biz -- a bad PR move.
Is all mainstream media biased against Christians? Of course not. Probably only 99.988% of them. There are some that will play fair (and balanced), but for the most part, you should steer clear. Or at the very least, do some homework. Your publicist should tell you before any interview is booked what the topics will be, who the hosts will be as well as their biases and backgrounds. That information alone can give you some clue as to the tone of the potential interview. If anything smells fishy, then guess what, it is probably a fish. Probably a whole lake full of them. Just say no. I will never understand how you get talked into these things. And shame on the publicist that leads you to the slaughter. They should be looking out for you better than that. If you don’t have a public relations person who cares how you appear in public, then for heaven’s sake, fire them.
Not all press is good press. Look away from the mirror and stare at reality for just a sec. You may convince yourself that you are going to “sup with the sinners” as Jesus would do, but Jesus was also very clear to his disciples about what to do when their message fell on deaf ears. Read Luke 9:5 where Jesus says, "And wherever they do not receive and accept and welcome you, when you leave that town shake off [even] the dust from your feet, as a testimony against them." But I know what you're thinking. You want to represent Christ to the lost and dying world. That's a noble thought, and it can actually be done well sometimes with the proper preparation. Unfortunately, what you typically end up doing is making yourself, and therefore Jesus, look foolish. It not only doesn’t sell your book, it doesn’t sell His message either. Shake off the dust. Please. Stop.
The Christian Booksellers Association has issued the following statement:
Warning to Christian authors.
CBA has been informed that Christian authors are being contacted by an organization called PublishAmerica that’s soliciting for authors to submit their books to a sales/marketing catalog that they claim will be going to CBA. Please be aware that CBA has no knowledge of PublishAmerica; that PublishAmerica is not connected to Christian Store Week; and that CBA has no agreement of any kind with PublishAmerica, nor is CBA affiliated in any way, shape, or form with that organization.
View it on their official website here.
What is your E.Q.?
Everyone knows how to measure their I.Q.. But have you considered your E.Q.? With social media becoming the communication tool of choice for people of all ages, your E.Q. (Empathy Quotient) needs to become a chief consideration. You may have a Facebook page with lots of fans, but are you communicating with them in a meaningful way or do you just constantly bombard them with links to your website store? If you are a Christian communicator, your E.Q. needs to be especially high. You should never take your fans or Twitter followers for granted. You need to learn to engage effectively with them on a meaningful level. Your "Page" is not the only one they have "Liked." But it could be one they truly love and trust. Learn to build your E.Q. and you will form relationships that will last for years.
Publicity stunts are nothing new. In fact, they are getting more and more prevalent in today's YouTube society. Many Christian artists feel hiring a publicist is actually at odds with the standards of someone in the ministry. But the truth is, even a shameless publicity stunt can lead to a ministry moment.
Take the Opera Company of Philadelphia and their "Random Acts of Culture" campaign. They took 650 singers disguised as shoppers to Macy's in Philadelphia. With the Wanamaker Organ to accompany them, they "spontaneously" burst into the Hallelujah Chorus. But this blatant PR stunt can't possibly lead to ministry, can it? Watch the video below and you decide. Can you tell the "official" singers from the shoppers by the end? I'm assuming the Opera Company's motive was not to create a spiritual moment, but it happened anyway.
Ministry + PR = Great Commission.