I had an interesting experience recently when talking to the marketing director at a major Christian ministry. His organization is going through a difficult transition, has some financial challenges, and the future is uncertain. Especially from a communications and branding perspective, they need real help. So the marketing director went to the head of the ministry and suggested they bring my team in to explore the possibilities.
The leader responded that he really liked what Cooke Media Group had accomplished with other organizations and agreed that we were excellent at what we did. But he ultimately decided not to invite us in for a meeting. Surprised, the marketing director asked why. The leader responded, “Because Phil is brutally honest, and I don’t think we’re ready for that.”
When he relayed the story to me, I was taken back for a moment. I know that I do have a reputation for being honest and frank, but I don’t often consider it from the perspective that it might cost us clients. So I began some soul searching about how to speak the truth – in love of course – but speak the truth nevertheless.
There are plenty of consultants and media people that sugarcoat issues. They are more concerned with keeping the business or staying employed than risking it all on speaking truth into the situation. And I have to admit, I’ve sometimes wrestled with the decision.
But that’s when a friend reminded me of the now famous “Last Lecture” from the Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon professor who’s terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. His last lecture to his students was based on his principles for living, and it’s been seen so often on Youtube, that now a book has been published.
One of the principles he discussed with his students was “If I could leave you with only 3 words, those words would be TELL THE TRUTH. If I could leave you with 3 more, it would be ALL THE TIME.”
That’s worth thinking about. Tell the truth, all the time. In the religious world – actually, in most worlds – we’ve become so concerned with everyone’s feelings, that we’ve forgotten how to speak the truth. But how many failed ministry projects, bad media programs, screwed up organizations, insecure leaders – not to mention millions of donor dollars – could have been saved had someone at a critical moment had the courage to speak the truth?
Obviously it needs to be done for the right reasons, in love, with respect, and through appropriate channels. But it needs to be done. In the church today, we even have a screwed up concept of “judgment.” Keep in mind the famous scriptural command “Do not judge” actually doesn’t tell us not to judge – but that before you judge, take the beam out of your own eye, so you can see clearly enough to judge accurately. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.
Perhaps the best compliment about my new book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” came from former Walden Media consultant John Seel when he said, “It’s the most discerning book about marketing and branding I’ve ever read.” He meant that rather than going full bore toward or against church and ministry marketing, it was an exploration of both possibilities and a balanced discussion of both sides. From a marketing consultant for movies like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” that’s pretty high praise.
If you speak the truth into your church, ministry, non-profit, personal relationships, business – wherever – and you do it with grace, compassion, and discernment, their decision to accept or reject it isn’t your problem – it’s theirs.
You’ve done your job.
Be discerning and be gracious, but speak the truth – all the time.
Let me hear your thoughts about the issue.