Report written for the Jerusalem Trust who funded the production of the adverts
Over the past five years, the churches of Milton Keynes have organised a series of radio-based advertising campaigns linked to material produced by ChurchAds. We have raised money for air-time and produced an effective website with information about local church services.
At Christmas, this has been linked to “Christmas Starts with Christ” and we have been keen to focus our attention on people who have little or no contact with Church. The aim is to do “pre-evangelism” that raises awareness of the Gospel and makes people more positively disposed towards the Christian community.
ChurchAds has been enthusiastic about our campaigns since we generally spend around £3,000 on airtime and involve over 50 churches. Our ads are often heard by over 150,000 people. We therefore do extremely well in terms of reach, fund-raising and ecumenical involvement.
We have an extremely positive relationship with Heart FM which enables us to negotiate very advantageous deals for air-time, ensuring that we get a good number of prime-time slots.
We are now working with church groups in other areas, including Cambridge, Peterborough and Newbury – where we helped a new group form to operate in a similar way.
Since there was no new national material available from ChurchAds this year, we took the decision to produce our own. We had some experience of this through past campaigns at Easter when we had worked with Heart FM to produce a thirty second ad. We produced three scripts for Christmas 2016 (starting work in July) and these were refined and cleared for use.
The problem came when the ads were produced by Heart FM. The cost was reasonable (£365 per ad) but the performance was unsatisfactory. It turned out that Heart kept the costs down by recording lines separately in different locations and then editing them together. This didn’t work for comedy or theological subtlety.
The risk at this point was that the campaign would fail to reach sufficient standard for a non-church audience. It had the potential to be “naff” and this would have back-fired. One possible consequence was that our alliance of churches would lose interest and stop supporting the project. This would have had a knock-on effect on other areas.
At this point, time had become very tight and our options were closing…
Grant from Jerusalem
We simply did not have enough resources to re-record the adverts, but this is what we needed to do. The airtime had already been booked, but the new adverts were poor quality and using old adverts would have seriously undermined our momentum. We were therefore grateful for a grant of £2,000 from Jerusalem. This enabled us to book a room at Jungle Studios and pay a group of young actors to provide vocal talent.
With days to spare we had a two-hour session in the studio, where we re-recorded the three adverts. The energy and creativity in the room was quite significant and we came away with three new adverts which were streets ahead in terms of comedy and subtle messages about consumerism, simplicity and the centrality of Christ.
We had three different tags recorded for each advert, which included specific messages for Milton Keynes and Peterborough, plus a generic “Christmas Starts” version and one that has space for a new tag.
The adverts were played on Heart FM in both Peterborough and MK. We are currently collecting evidence from local churches, but the feedback has been good. Our local website in MK recorded 899 new visitors who viewed 4,772 pages. This is a significant proxy-indicator since the adverts were intended to start conversations and change perceptions rather than increase web traffic.
These figures were down by nearly 20% on previous years. The reason for this is almost certainly that we did not have time to organise a multi-media campaign which included video, posters and social media. We spent too much time in November re-recording the adverts and this had a knock-on effect. Ideally we need the ads in October, so we can promote them in churches and build a more sophisticated overall campaign. Failure to do this had an effect on our figures…
Our aim for next year is to start early, drive the production ourselves and use Jungle Studios rather than Heart FM. We aim to build a wider partnership of regional groups who can share production costs – although a grant might help us kick-start the process.
We will also be considering the possibility of an Easter advert, and will need to consider the costs for this.