If they wanted to get attention, the sign out front certainly did the trick. “MIDNIGHT MASS AND TOGA PARTY,” read the marquee outside Holy Redeemer St. Francis Xavier Church. “B.Y.O.B.J.” covered the bottom third of the sign. Translation? BRING YOUR OWN JESUS.
Now at first blush you may wonder what Midnight Mass and Toga Parties have in common, and quite frankly you’d be right to scratch your head. However, the message on the sign outside Holy Redeemer Church did its job: It made you think. I don’t know about you but when I see the words toga and party together, images of the late John Belushi and his merry band of co-Eds in the movie Animal House flood my mind. (I think I just dated myself.) One thing’s for sure. I don’t think of churches. Unfortunately, the message on the sign out front is about as creative as religious organizations get in communicating their messages.
By some estimates, we see anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 marketing messages per day. Quite frankly, it is a miracle that we remember any of those messages at all. This reality is a problem for Fortune 500 companies with money to burn, as well as religious non-profits with no money at all. To effectively communicate a message that cuts through the clutter and lodges in the minds of today’s frazzled masses, religious organizations must communicate as effectively as a Fortune 500 company, or better. And yes, it’s possible. Here are three ways that all organizations (religious and non-religious) should approach message creation and communication. The following is excerpted from Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory, a publication of The American Institute of Graphic Arts. Organizations must:
1. Think in Pictures. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is as true today as it was first uttered. Religious orgs should retain the services of good designers who can breathe visual life into the ideas and messages they wish to communicate. “Images can be incredibly powerful and compelling tools of communication, conveying not only information but also moods and emotions. People respond to images instinctively based on their personalities, associations, and previous experience.
For example, you know that a chili pepper is hot, and this knowledge in combination with the right image creates a visual pun. Image-based design creates powerful mental experiences that require few words to explain. Image-based design is employed when the designer determines that, in a particular case, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
2. Think in Images and Type. “Designers often combine images and typography to communicate a client’s message to an audience. They explore the creative possibilities presented by words (typography) and images (photography, illustration, and fine art). It is up to the designer not only to find or create appropriate letterforms and images, but also to establish the best balance between them.
“Designers are the link between the client and the audience. On the one hand, a client is often too close to the message to understand various ways in which it can be presented. The audience, on the other hand, is often too broad to have any direct impact on how a communication is presented . . . . They [designers] work with the client to understand the content and the purpose of the message. They often collaborate with market researchers and other specialists to understand the nature of the audience. Once a design concept is chosen, the designers work with illustrators and photographers as well as with typesetters and printers or other production specialists to create the final design product.”
3. Think in Symbols, Logos and Logotypes. Organizations must also think of long-term identifiers that keep their brand fresh in the mind of their audience. “Symbols and logos are special, highly condensed information forms or identifiers. Symbols are an abstract representation of a particular idea or identity. The CBS ‘eye’ and the active ‘television’ are symbolic forms, which we learn to recognize as representing a particular concept or company. Logotypes are corporate identifications based on a special typographical word treatment. Some identifiers are hybrid, or combinations of symbol and logotype. In order to create these identifiers, the designer must have a clear vision of the corporation or idea to be represented and of the audience to which the message is directed.”
So, what does all this add up to? Here’s the bottom line: To effectively communicate their message, religious organizations should seek the help of qualified, knowledgeable designers who can give visual shape and resonance to their messages.