Written for ECPA's E-link publication... Just a few weeks ago Newsweek magazine's cover story declared "The End of Christianity in America.” It’s not a secret that the church is at a crossroads in U.S. culture. This means our Christian market is also at a crossroads. Sadly in many ways for us, we do live in a post-Christian culture now. People don’t have the same core beliefs that we once enjoyed. I’ll leave the statistics up to The Barna Group. If you haven’t read their reports or David Kinnaman’s book Unchristian, they are excellent. Multi-generational Change Creating a Fragmented Christian Market A massive multi-generational change has already taken place. It’s not happening. It has happened. At this point, we are seeing changes to the changes. Facebook has surpassed Myspace as the primary social network. Hulu’s online broadcasts are replacing the user generated content (UGC) of YouTube. The iPhone has upstaged the iPod. In the midst of all these “advancements,” we’re experiencing fallout that is a reduction in or obsolescence for many of the models we all have been working in, just ask any magazine, newspaper or music label. This is how revolutionary change always happens. While there is only one Body of Christ, there are at the very least two very different Christian markets, and realistically, part of this new era is that there will be a much more fragmented Christian market with many sub-markets. That makes the job of reaching the audience you want both easier and tougher. For the record, I don’t believe that the old market is shifting to become the new market. I believe that God is pouring new wine into new wineskins, rather than updating the old wineskins. While there is turmoil, there is hope. In fact, I am very encouraged by what I’m seeing from Christians in every area of the arts and media: traditional and digital. From my many conversations, observations at 2009 events like the NRB Convention, GMA Music Week, Catalyst West, Biola Media Conference and so on, and as an Advisory Board member for several arts-oriented national movements, I think and feel that we are at the start of what just may be a massive U.S. revival. I pray it is so. At the same time, I’m saddened as we all experience the amazing damage and destruction happening to our traditional way of doing things. Our tried and true older business models aren’t working as well as they used to. We’ve lost many Christian stores. There has been a complete collapse of the CD distribution system. These are just a few examples. As the iPod was to the music industry, is the Kindle our Habakkuk or Paul Revere in the publishing industry? I don’t think so, but still, we are in a new frontier. Boldly Going into a New Frontier In this new frontier, it’s very possible that those who are not “boldly going” are in danger of being “left behind” and slowly eroding away. A couple of great reads about this new frontier are Seth Godin’s Tribes or Phil Cooke’s The Last TV Evangelist. If you haven’t read them, I strongly encourage you to do so. As we heard at ECPA’s Executive Leadership Summit, in the case of Phil’s book, not only is the content required reading, but the publishing model itself put together by Stan Jantz and the team at Conversant Media Group is equally intriguing. Online promotions have created the fastest growing industry in the past decade and given birth to corporate giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, and Christian market giants like iTickets, Hollywood Jesus, and HearItFirst. I doubt anyone would argue that online promotions are by far one of the most affordable options available. With the advent of mobile technology and texting, what you’ve been able to do has expanded from the Internet to include all four screens: movie theater, television, computer and mobile. Because of the unique way in which FrontGate Media serves the majority of companies who are reaching out to the Christian consumer, we have been blessed to see God’s major brushstrokes and how the audiences are responding. Our experience in online promotions, advertising, and social media comes from being very proactive. We started way back in 2001 by creating some of the very first banner ad placements in the Christian market, and helping companies connect to Christian consumers through one of the first segmentable direct email databases in the industry. Currently, we are working with publishers, film studios, music companies and non-profits to help their marketing teams brainstorm and deploy online promotions that go beyond the banner: combining editorial, advertorial and advertising; pioneering video commercial placement options, and making their social media marketing actually manageable. From the thousands of campaigns publishers and other companies have run through us, here are the top three online marketing mistakes and the top three social media opportunities for Christian publishers. Top Three Online Marketing Mistakes 1) Is the subject line an afterthought to your direct email campaign? I can’t tell you how many times we’ve received direct email ads without a well-thought out subject line, and sometimes without ANY subject line. Our reminder call asking for a subject line often yields a response like “Oh yeah! How about…” You should be putting more time into your subject line than into your graphic design. Aside from the fact that text only ads often generate better response and are more spam-safe (don’t get me started here…), the pretty pictures we’re all creating for email serve no purpose if the email never gets opened. A direct email provider like our iTickets or Gospel Music Channel databases get you in the door by making sure your email is delivered to the consumer because of their brand relationship and subscriber trust. After that, your subject line is the only thing that consumer uses to decide to open your email. Every subject line you write should be written for the specific audience receiving it. Also, don’t undervalue having something “Christian” in your subject line. It’s wrong to assume that the Christian subscriber receiving your Christian email from a trusted Christian site, is going to automatically connect your message to their passion of faith. If the subject line isn’t obvious and compelling, then the layout and message of your direct email doesn’t matter. Have you Googled “writing good subject lines” lately? 2) Make them take action! Another common mistake I see from ads is that they are often informational only. This issue has come in across the board with banners, direct email ads and email newsletter ads. Do you have a call to action? Is it obvious and in multiple places? “Available Now” is not a call to action, but “Special Price: Buy Now” or “Read Chapter 3 Now!” or “Get your free coupon now,” are calls to action. Take a look at the ads on the sites you are visiting, or in the emails you are receiving. Our Human Events web site and direct email databases reach over 5 million email subscribers and are home to the subscriber audiences for Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, Chuck Norris, and Ann Coulter. They are a great place to mine what the general market is doing with direct email ads, particularly direct response ads. Be sure your ads have clearly visible, compelling benefits that will cause the consumer to take a next step. 3) Don’t ignore online video spots. The Internet has finally delivered the power of the commercial spot to the Christian market. Advances in technology and gear have reduced production costs tremendously, while affordable distribution provided by sites like Tangle, VideoRocket,, HearItFirst, and more, finally give you the ability to deliver full motion audio and video advertising and content to create impact for your message. In the old media model, the cost to produce and then place television spots combined with the relatively limited placement options on television have mostly kept this valuable tool out of our Christian marketer’s tool box. No more. There are not only outstanding online options for your commercial spot and content, but we also have the benefit of better television outlets like Gospel Music Channel, Nielsen rated as reaching 45 million households, and JumboTron spots impacting captive audiences at conferences and at the Summer events like our Creation Festivals which provided a captive audience totaling 100,000 people per day. Top Three Social Media Marketing Opportunities 1) Fan Development Not Advertising To gain the benefits of social media, you really can’t just be on the communities with ads. You have to be in the communities if you want to gain the real benefits of social media. This process cannot be approached like advertising. You should not be pushing your message to your “friends” like an ad. My social media philosophy in serving our clients is all about Fan Development; establishing relationships for your author or brand with the audience. 2) Lifetime Not Marketing Cycle If you expect to start and stop your social media campaign in a 90 day marketing window, then don’t bother. You can’t work your books for one cycle, then move on to the next cycle’s books. It’s not about the book. It’s about creating a relationship with the fan. How many good friends have you made in your life by starting to hang with them and then stopping 3 months later? This is the place with many publishers have hit the wall. They’ve dabbled in social media, but come to realize that the learning curve to be effective is longer and harder than they thought, and most importantly that it takes more time than their core marketing team has, especially in the current environment where the entire team may be 2-3 people, or even just one person …and yet you can’t afford to leave behind the audiences inside of Facebook, MySpace or ShoutLife, not to mention the video sharing platforms at YouTube and Tangle, and killer app: Twitter. That doesn’t even get you started on the vast number of more niche-oriented social media sites. 3) Interactive– Not One-Sided Have you ever had that friend who could only talk about themselves while you listened? Many companies approach their social media in that same way. There is a reason that the people you interact with through social media sites are called “friends.” There’s a reason that Twitter’s people are called “followers” instead of friends. Think about it. These people could have been called anything. It’s the internet, the same place we got names like Google and Yahoo. The reason they are friends is because we’re supposed to be having a two way relationship. More than simply an average reader, these people are there to be the friend of your author or your brand, and some of them are your Raving Fans. Don’t be that friend who only talks about themselves. What can you do to get input from your audience so that you can get to know your friends? **** Scott A. Shuford is the founder of FrontGate Media and co-founder of Extra Mile Merch and was was recently interviewed for Adweek’s cover story “Church and State: the role of religion in modern consumer culture.” FrontGate Media connects publishers to the faith audience through the largest pop-culture media group: 15 million email subscribers, 25 million monthly page views, 600,000+ at events and in 45 million television households. The firm serves as both conduit and coach for brands and companies desiring to reach any and every demographic of faith-based consumers through online promotional campaigns, social media marketing, and public relations services.
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  • Hey there! Sorry for my slow reply on several messages here... I dind't see two of them in May, and then was gone most of June!

    Charles, thanks very much. I don't have a printed copy but I should think you can copy and paste the text from this page into a Word doc and then print it. :)

    Reggie - Thanks! Let's brainstorm some ideas on your situation. I'm not sure I have a "do this" but certainly can discuss the self-publishing/on demand idea a bit, and of course do so after getting a better idea of what you've got. :) Give me a call at 949 429 1000.

    David & Ian - Thanks very much for the kind words. :)
  • Very interesting article. I do worry about the state of Christianity here in America.
  • Scott, Wonderful article. Extremely informative. It has me wondering what my next move should be with KIDZ OF THE KING. My comic has been licensed as a wonderful animated DVD, and there are some major talks underway with big distributor possibilities, but the actual comic has been dropped by my publisher of 6 years as of last week. I'm trying to figure out should I go self-pub or seek a new publisher? With the demise of so many Christian bookstores, I'm not sure if self publishing will be freedom or a burden for me. Any thoughts?
  • Great article. that is alot of helpful information there especially the 3rd part on interactive. Never looked at it that way, now my approach will be different. Is there a printable copy of this? I would to have this in front of me when I start to focus on my target audience.
  • HI Timoth - absolutely. It takes a lot of effort to communicate. Just ask any married person! :)
  • Thanks guys. Glad you are finding the info interesting! :)
  • Hi Scott! Thanks a million for this article! My name is Jason Tucker and I'm the creator-writer-illustrator of a new Interactive Graphic Novel entitled "The Way". I'm currently writing the sales & marketing portion of my publisher's submittal, and I would love to have 15mins. of your time to get your thoughts on my presentation. My email address is We can exchange contact info. from there, and set a time that best fits your schedule. Thank you in advance for your insight, and I look forward to talking with you soon! Take care Scott & GOD bless-

    Jason H. Tucker
    The Way
  • Thank you Scott for your well informed blog. This is good information leading forward for all us Christian comic creators.
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