Stillspeaking's television ad buy postponed until March

Stillspeaking's television ad buy postponed until March

November 30, 2005
Written by Daniel Hazard

Despite a last-minute surge in contributions from churches and individuals — along with some hefty financial leverage from national ministries — the UCC's plan for a $2 million national advertising buy in Advent has been put on hold until March 1, the beginning of the Lenten/Easter season.

The decision was characterized as "disappointing" by General Minister and President John H. Thomas during an evening conference call on Nov. 2 with leaders of the UCC's five distinct governing boards. Thomas said the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers had met earlier that day and agreed it better to postpone the extensive ad buy for three months rather than push ahead despite some unanswered financial questions.

In short, the church ran out of time. Complicated financing issues were butting against deadlines for completing the ad buy for December. And, to make matters even more nerve-wracking, the new 30-second ad itself was still in production on Nov. 2, even as UCC groups were anticipating a glimpse of the new commercial at Stillspeaking's All Saints Celebrations held Nov. 6-7.

Church leaders felt more time is needed for the UCC's 80-member Executive Council to wrestle with how "loans" from various church settings to the Stillspeaking Initiative — many made during the program's infancy — would eventually be repaid. Collegium members said accepting the latest financial packages went beyond their decision-making purview, because some of the money came attached with quite-specific repayment terms — agreements that could have tied the Executive Council's hands to a 10-year financial commitment.

Despite the delay, significant fundraising progress was made toward reaching the $2.5 million needed to produce the new commercial and to purchase a comprehensive package of television air time. Thomas said "creative minds" would be working to keep the momentum of the UCC's identity campaign alive through Advent — perhaps with a renewed emphasis on radio and web advertising, as well as grassroots initiatives — and that a Lenten television run looked likely, since more time is now available to resolve governance issues.

Announced by the Stillspeaking Initiative at General Synod 25 in July, the campaign had hoped to raise $1.5 million from churches and individuals by mid-October. That goal, however, became impacted by the church's widespread financial response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, when church leaders announced a $3 million "Hope Shall Bloom" disaster relief initiative in September.

Stillspeaking Coordinator Ron Buford, who has praised the church's generous outpouring for hurricane recovery, believed it was "inappropriate" to raise money for Stillspeaking in September — despite congregations' widespread commitment to the identity campaign — because the church's attention was rightly focused on responding to basic human needs.

In October, however, churches and individuals began contributing more earnestly to the UCC's next national advertising buy. By Nov. 1, approximately $730,000 had been gathered toward reaching a downsized $1 million goal needed to satisfy a matching $1 million grant from the UCC's Local Church Ministries, the largest of the UCC's four national Covenanted Ministries.

Meanwhile, despite the apparent fundraising shortfall, Justice and Witness Ministries agreed in late October to contribute up to $280,000 to help push the $730,000 grassroots total over the $1 million mark. And to help the campaign reach the $2.5 million needed, Wider Church Ministries' Executive Committee consented to a $750,000 line of credit to match any in-hand contributions.

Yet, both LCM's grant and WCM's loan came with provisions requiring that previous loans from the two national entities be repaid, beginning in 2008, over a 10-year span. Therefore, the Collegium of Officers felt it inappropriate for them to accept the money, much less consent to specific terms, when it was the Executive Council that would be assuming the indebtedness. The Collegium also recognized that the repayment issue went beyond concerns voiced by LCM and WCM, since other entities — such as Conferences — had also made loans to Stillspeaking.

"Repayment," while yet to be specified, basically amounts to a future plan to alter allocation amounts from Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for mission and ministry. At the outset of the Stillspeaking Initiative, loans were to be repaid out of increased contributions to OCWM, which church leaders are hoping will be generated by the UCC's enhanced identity and evangelism effort.

When eventually launched, the UCC's $2 million national television run — the church's third and largest to date — will air in English and Spanish and is expected to reach 60 to 65 percent of the U.S. population through a combination of broadcast and cable network ads.

In related news:

'Bouncer' wins big

The UCC's "bouncer" television commercial, which aired nationally in December 2004 and March 2005, has received one of the advertising industry's most significant honors. The Association of National Advertisers awarded the UCC with its 2005 Multicultural Excellence Award. The church bested fellow finalists MasterCard and Microsoft to receive the honor, presented Nov. 8 at ANA's multicultural advertising conference in Miami, Fla.

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