How to create, build and monetize pastoral fame

By Ronald E. Keener

A blueprint for achieving the kind of life and career enjoyed by society’s super elite.

You see or hear about “celebrities” like Max Lucado, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and you probably wonder how they got to the top. Well, wonder no more. Personal branding experts Jay and Maggie Jessup of Seattle-based Platform Strategy spill out the secrets to achieving visible professional and personal success in their book Fame 101: Powerful Personal Branding & Publicity for Amazing Success (Sutton Hart Press, 2010).

But first, some clarification from the authors: “The sort of fame we wrote about is not the Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian or other superficial self-focused or money-focused celebrities. What we call fame is the coordinated use of branding, publicity and marketing to maximize a person’s impact.”

Here, the authors share with Church Executive what they claim is a fame formula “to create success beyond all imagining.”

Do you find that pastors strive for celebrity status as much as anyone?

I imagine that few, if any, would seek out celebrity or fame simply to get their name in the paper or to be invited as an expert for television appearances. At the same time, we see many pastors who, by writing a book or providing unique insights into cultural trends, are discovered by the media. Franklin Graham would be a good example. His appearances on Larry King’s show delivered his message and perspective to millions, which is a high-impact ministry or evangelism if you will, but I’m certain he didn’t seek media attention for personal aggrandizement. Certainly, some pastors position themselves to capture the media spotlight for their ministry, and many are more impactful and effective for the effort.

How can church leaders use fame for the good purposes of the church or humanitarian ministries?

That’s a great question as fame can surely be used for good or not-so-good. Pastors are in a terrific position to use fame to enhance their ministry as they already have some visibility. One quick way to use fame to help in any effort is to co-opt the fame of another who has already achieved it. A fundraiser or annual picnic will be better attended, more talked about, and spotlighted by the media if a pastor secures a local or regional notable to give a short talk, attend a ribbon cutting, or present a youth service award.

This is someone people have seen in the news or on television as Americans elevate people in the news to a special status. Knowing that fame can deliver more people to events (or weekly services), a pastor might well seek some increased visibility for himself through a radio show, by authoring a book, or training to become a professional speaker.

How is fame being used badly within the church?

History and even today’s geopolitics have their share of people who manipulate people by abusing the power of fame. Despots spend millions on publicity, learn to become powerful communicators with speech trainers and writers, and too often disguise bad intentions within the flag of patriotism or in the guise of faith. Fame can be and is used to cause people to part with their money, time and principles.

Fortunately, we live in an increasingly transparent world where we’ve seen dictators fall, false ministries exposed, and leaders who exploit people by using the power of fame fall to the wayside. There are many more examples of fame being used within the church for good than for negative purpose. Church leaders who abuse their power are in the news because they are exceptions to the norm and therefore newsworthy.

You say that one can become famous “by developing the best authentic you.” Don’t most people look at fame as being inauthentic and just an image one projects?

We need to draw the distinction between the kind of fame we write about (and help people develop) and the Hollywood sort of celebrity, which is inauthentic, image-focused, and particularly self-focused.  But fame, as we describe it, is a powerful tool that has been used by pretty much every high-impact notable in modern history – from Billy Graham and Mother Teresa to Suze Orman and Sara Palin.

The key here is that to achieve professional fame (recognition, credibility, effectiveness) one must remain authentic and true to their own traditions and values, offering a face and voice to the outside world that conveys that self. Anything less than authenticity might get someone what Andy Warhol called 15 minutes of fame, but for lasting professional effectiveness, authenticity is a foundational requirement.

What “authentic you” does a Robert Schuller or a Joel Osteen project? Can you speak to how they use fame to project their ministries?

I think Joel is a better example as Dr. Schuller is more of a relic from a prior generation. Joel Osteen is an ideal example of building a powerful personal brand. While some might disagree with his message, there is no doubt that he has embraced available tools and technologies to maximize his impact and connect with millions of people. He is an excellent communicator and understands the need to master the “entertainment” aspect of speaking to a big audience. There is no doubt he has trained and practiced tirelessly to perfect his presentation skills and packages his message with almost precisely the formula used by Billy Graham.

He engages the audience and uplifts the audience to maximize their openness and eagerness for his spiritual message. It’s brilliant timing, exceptional presentation and, in my opinion, he couldn’t pull it off if he wasn’t indeed authentic. Certainly, he is well-packaged and well-trained; in essence the best authentic Joel Osteen.

Give examples of how someone can use fame to spread the reach of their message and get things done.

The fame we help create and have been mastered by some of the best-known pastors uses a mix of branding, publicity and marketing to maximize the impact of their message. Recognition is one of the benefits of building a powerful personal brand, and that does indeed get things done for pastors or anyone.

Who would have more success at getting any A-list entertainer to appear for a fundraiser or even getting a call through to issue the invitation? Rick Warren or John Doe; Joel Osteen or Bob Doe? If Franklin Graham needed some government clout to send a team to Haiti, China or wherever, do you think he would have a problem getting through to the White House? Assuredly not. That’s fame and it’s a valuable tool to achieving important goals.

Can you give some observations on the use of fame by Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Max Lucado and others?

Billy Graham was one of the first to master the power of broadcasting with his radio show in the ‘40s and leveraging this into a worldwide ministry. Rick Warren was an early adopter of using technology, specifically the Internet, to share and spread his message and serve a community. He built one of the largest congregations in the U.S. and wrote and marketed what became two of the largest-selling faith-based books in history, partly leveraging his online resources and community.

Similarly, Max Lucado catapulted from a West Texas pastorship into the national spotlight with well-publicized books and book tours, speaking to audiences of 10,000 or more across the country and winning the national spotlight as a credible expert on faith in modern culture using the same publicity techniques used by every Hollywood icon.

Joel Osteen built a very well-defined brand and then publicizing and selling that brand using the same tools, techniques and technology as the most powerful 1 percent in every field, whether science, entertainment or the church. These church leaders have used the same fame formula to maximize their outreach and impact and connected with millions in the process.

You make a point that fame does not automatically make a person rich. Yet you also note that it’s because they didn’t monetize it. Please explain.

Fame and money are two different things although, frequently, they can be found together. The point is that one does not lead automatically to the other. Fame, at least our definition of it as very visible and powerful professional success, only assures that you have well-packaged and publicized expertise.

Whereas this will attract some opportunities for pecuniary gain, the greatest opportunities for profit require proactive steps either in the brand building/publicizing process or afterwards once the professional brand has traction. Professional speakers are surprisingly well compensated, and professional visibility is a prerequisite to winning those opportunities. But you must work to connect with meeting planners, conference organizers and such to get booked.

The same principle is evident in book deals or winning new clients for a professional practice. If you want to monetize your brand, you have to work at it strategically. Fame does not automatically create an enhanced income stream; however, it does make developing that income stream much easier.


Four steps to cultivate fame

So we have a pastor who has talent and something to say on behalf of evangelical Christianity. What should he do to cultivate fame for himself?

Fame – visibility, recognition, credibility, impact, reach – is built with several foundational elements. A pastor, seeking this sort of fame, can build a great platform by focusing on four areas.

  • He needs a professional online presence for himself, his message and his activities.
  • He should definitely write a book because Americans elevate authors to a special status. It will open doors to speaking and the media that require author status for admission.
  • He should train and practice to become a professional speaker; the fees can be amazing, and effective communicators are rare and always in demand. Professional speaking can be learned and mastered surprisingly quickly.
  • Finally, he should familiarize himself with how to capture and keep the media spotlight because that’s how to connect with thousands or even millions with his message.

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