In the spring of 2015, I was sitting in my office and received very exciting news. My boss had secured a book deal from a major Christian publisher. We had been working hard on the book proposal with an international PR company for months and it looked as if I hard work had paid off.
The book deal was a five-figure deal for not one, but two books. One of the books already had a manuscript so the payout would be immediate on 50 percent of the contract which was more than we had expected.
Well, long after the first check had been received and cashed by my boss we noticed we had not heard anything else from the publisher. One month passed, then two and then month three I received an email from the CEO of the publishing company. Much to my astonishment, the publisher was writing to let us know that they were withdrawing the contract and were requesting the 65 percent of the advance back.
My CEO was livid. Our legal counsel was contacted and an emergency meeting was called. An immediate teleconference was set up between the CEOs, legal representatives and executive administrators.
During the meeting, we learned that in the publishing industry, the companies were experiencing slow sales with the books written by megachurch pastors. Unfortunately, my boss fit in this category. The fallout of the declining book sales seemed to stem from many things. First, the megachurch, itself was experiencing a decline in attendance. A blog by Urban Edge (2016) reported that Houston (America’s megachurch capital, with 37 in operation at the time of the article) had seen declines in attendance for the first time since 2009. It is important to note that Houston mirrored the national trends (2016).
Some of the declining sales were linked to major scandals that hit the Christian community. One of the largest was scandal involving the late Bishop Eddie Long. Another was the negative reaction of both Christians and non-believers to the reality TV show ‘Preachers of LA.’
An interview between host D.L. Hughley and gospel artist Kirk Franklin shared some of the sentiments that were described by the CEO of the publishing company:
During an appearance on “The D.L. Hughley Show,” Franklin revealed his disapproval of the Oxygen show in response to the host’s comment that “Preachers of L.A.” show seemed to turn people away from God. “I lived in L.A. my whole life, and to me, I thought the purpose of that show was to drag nonbelievers, people who don’t have access to God and don’t have relationship with Him, that it would be so attractive that it would draw them to Him,” said Hughley. “I think it’s done the opposite.” Franklin agreed with the hosts comments and said that also some of the preachers on the show were friends of his, he rejected and disapproved of the show (2014).
As a result of this meeting, the legal counsel for the publisher stated that to be fair they would give us 120 days to return the money. Well, although, I knew nothing about strategic communications at the time, I decided to devise my own plan to solve this dilemma.
Looking back, I applied Berger’s social constructionist approach to the canceled book deal.
Using the Berger framework, I decided that a faith book would not work because the publisher CEO had already concluded that there was a major backlash against megachurch pastors. Therefore, I reached out to the other CEO independently and asked him if there was a book that we could produce for him that could surpass the negative impact of the consumer positioning against pastors like my boss. I explained to him that my boss had done sermon series on countless topics such as relationships, finances, parenting, generation gaps, etc. I felt as if we did a book on a topic that was different from faith that we could replace the unrespectability motif that was the underlining factor in the contract being cancelled that we could debunk the stereotype by producing a book that was so needed that it could activate the cosmopolitan motif and create an openness to hearing a relevant message from a pastor or just an inspirational leader that was so needed it broke down the barriers that had been created. The publisher CEO was so blown away by the proposal that he requested that I give him seven business days to think it over and get back to him.
The publisher CEO contacted me on day 8 and made a proposal that would solve the current problem. He described that the “Woman thou Art Loosed” book by Bishop TD Jakes was what his industry considered a sleeper project. It sold over 6 million copies over a number of years, it did not “blow up” immediately. Yet, when it did blow up, it became more than a book, it became a movement. Now, 20 years later it still has one of the most highly attended religious women’s conferences. My boss’ wife had a conference called “Fearless and Free” and the publisher proposed that my boss and his wife co-write the book together. My boss’ wife had overcome a life of poverty and abuse and was now empowering other women to do the same. The publisher felt like the couple’s solid marriage of 25 years, four kids (which they struggled to have after years of fertility treatments) would create a backdrop that could sale in spite of their megachurch pastor status. The publisher felt it could become a movement just like the “Women Thou Art Loosed” movement. He said if we agreed to this then we could retain the money and we could immediately start on the project.
Although, I felt this was an amazing idea, and a prime opportunity for the launch of the pastors’ ministry as a couple, my boss, and his wife declined. My boss was outraged by the idea that the publisher wanted to do a dual project book and he refused to speak to the CEO anymore. All further communication would happen through the legal counsel. I never spoke to the other CEO again.
Conclusion & Reflection:
This situation taught me that even as communication professionals our strategies can still fail if the leadership is unwilling to work with the strategy and be flexible with outcomes. In regards to using the technology associated with the project, thanks to previous classes I did not have to do anything new to complete the oral presentation except upgrade my Soundcloud membership so I would have enough minutes available for upload. In terms of pushing myself, the most difficult thing for me is timing. There were many more details I wanted to include, but I would have exceeded the minutes. I had to force myself to shorten my introduction several times. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed creating the presentation.
Holeywell, R. (2016, April 25). In Houston, the land of megachurches, religious service attendance declines. [Blog post].
Retrieved from: https://urbanedge.blogs.rice.edu/2016/04/25/in-houston-the-land-of-megachurches-fewer-people-attending-religious-services/#.WchbXtOGP_8
Ihlen, Ø., Fredriksson, M., & Ruler, B. V. (2009). Public relations and social theory: key figures and concepts. New York: Routledge.
McArthur, J. A. (2014). Planning for strategic communication: a workbook for applying social theory to professional practice. Charlotte, NC: John A. McArthur.
Menzie, N. (2014, May). Kirk Franklin Expresses disappointment in ‘Preachers of LA’ amid suggestion reality show turned people away from God. Christian Post.
Retrieved from: http://www.christianpost.com/news/kirk-franklin-expresses-disappointment-in-preachers-of-la-amid-suggestion-reality-show-turned-people-away-from-god-120678/