Video Workload: You Get What You Pay For

quality triangleBased on a true story. Details have been changed and names withheld. Stories like this are too common.

Once upon a time there was a large church which had 2 staff members who, in addition to other duties, created videos for the ministry. The two staff members were overworked. They had completed over 40 video projects from start to finish in the last year, in addition to keeping the live video for services and events functioning, and other odds and ends projects. These two staff members almost always did all pre production, production and post themselves, without any help. None of the 40+ projects had any budget beyond a few hundred dollars in a catch-all line item of the organization’s budget.

Some of these 40+ videos were simple talking-heads, while others were much more complicated. The lead time on these videos ranged from as much as 2 weeks to as little as 24 hours. As you might guess, some of the videos weren’t as high quality as they might have been, and a few leaders on the staff wondered why that was. The two video staff members never sat down with their supervisors and explained what it would take to have high quality videos produced at a pace that was sustainable.

One day the leaders of the church were in meeting talking about an important video project. They decided that they couldn’t risk this video looking bad. It must look great, communicate well, and be professionally done. So they decided to outsource the video project to “professional” videographers. The leaders did not reach out to their overworked staff to handle this project, but instead took it upon themselves to hire a team to execute this production.

They asked the most vocal critic of the video quality of the church, a photographer, to produce this project. He hired some amazing talent to help; there was one of the best cinematographers in the area, a top notch editor, an ex news reporter to help with interviews, and of course the photographer would take pictures as well as produce the project. For this important project they were given a 6 week lead time. The professionals groused and grumbled about the lack of time to do their best work, but agreed to give it a try. The church leaders never asked to see a quote.

During the 6 week timeframe, the professional video team accidentally ruffled feathers and caused misunderstandings because they didn’t know the normal procedures of the church. The two video staff members were sometimes asked detailed questions about the video project, even by the same church leaders who decided to bypass them, but they we unable to answer. Much of the church leadership was in the dark about the project until it was revealed.

The weekend finally came when the video was to be unveiled. A video staff member received a download link with a message that music used in the video could not be broadcast or streamed on the internet. The message was delivered just hours before the video was supposed to be used in the service which was streamed and broadcast. They reported this to their supervisor, who told them to try to get the rights, and if they couldn’t, then ask the editor to replace the music. The professional editor didn’t have a grasp on how the end product was supposed to be used. The video staff spent Saturday afternoon negotiating with the publisher of the song, and came to an agreement on licensing. The cost for this license for one song from an unknown, indie-musician was almost $1000.

Church leadership had just received the first inkling of what this video was going to cost.

The video itself was a 7-minute masterpiece. Beautifully shot. Brilliant story interwoven with highlights and interviews. It was very well done. Everyone was pleased.

Then the bill arrived.

The final bill came back at about 1/2 the annual salary of one of the staff video guys. For one project. As the invoices came in church leaders were aghast. They certainly expected to pay more than they ever had for any video project before. But for the bill to total in the tens of thousands? What were they paying for? The supervisor of the staff video producers asked if these numbers were normal. With the exception of the photo/producer’s invoice which was inflated and the “interviewer’s” invoice which was absurd, the rest was not only normal, but the charges were less than they should have been for the time required. The rental was reasonable, and the day rates obviously discounted.

Most members of the professional team were trying to give the church a break, but the church leaders had no idea what it costs to do video projects of this caliber. The staff members who had been responsible for the video work had not educated the leaders who assigned the work. instead, they just did what they were told as best as they could.

In the end, invoices were paid (Though some were negotiated lower) and for a time church leaders had a better understanding of what it costs do produce amazing video content. But they didn’t increase the budget for any of their other projects, and within a few weeks the time lines for projects were as short as ever before. A few months later, the 2 staff members no longer worked for the organization.

What’s the moral of this story?

If you want high quality video it costs. It costs time and money. The quality triangle applies. Good, fast, cheap: Pick two, you can’t have the third. 

You get what you pay for. The producers on staff should have talked to leadership about how the truncated timelines with no extra budget were impacting the quality of their projects. And church leadership should have listened.

How many churches throw so much work on a tech that he cannot execute most of his duties with excellence, and then become frustrated with lower quality results… and begin looking for a replacement? How many techs are afraid to speak to their bosses about unrealistic expectations because they fear being fired or worse, sidelined?

Techs, save yourself the headaches of stories like this one. Talk to your team, your staff leadership. Let them know what your workload is, and how it affects your performance. Learn how to speak and explain in a way that they can understand. Ask for help if you need it. Church leaders want amazing ministry. We’re in this together. If something they are doing is impacting quality, they want to know. A lot of leadership (anywhere, not just churches) is allocating time and resources based on circumstances. Your boss can’t lead you if you won’t give him critical information about how you can best do your work, and deliver excellence.



Don’t Lead Like My Daughter

My youngest is in preschool. We were heading to the car after school and she ran ahead. We needed to make several turns to weave our way to the car, and at every junction she would slow down, and look back to make sure she was turning the right way. Once she knew the direction the rest of us were going she would speed off again, happy to lead us onward.

She was leading by consensus. She had no idea which way to go, and was not actually making the decision, but was waiting on the crowd to clue her in one where we were going, whether she was ahead or not. It really didn’t matter if she had slowed down and dropped behind us. We would still have gotten to the car. She wasn’t really leading, she just looked like she was.

If she had been actually leading, and come to a place she was unsure of the direction, she could have come to the crowd for advice. I’m sure we would have told her what direction we thought we should go. But in the decision would still have been hers. If we were really following her, she could have taken us another route to reach the same goal. And if we were really following her, we would trust her to get us there.

Of course, we don’t trust a three year old to lead us to the car. But do the people you are leading trust you? Are you actually leading or just running ahead to look like you’re leading?

Chart a Course and Mind the Rudder: Dealing with Criticism

Chart a course, and mind the rudder. Keep your focus on the destination. And pay attention to what gets you there.

There are times when you will face criticism. I’m not talking about the constructive kind from people you trust. I’m talking about the out-of-left-field kind. People who haven’t been a part of the process, who don’t understand it, but feel the freedom to speak into it anyway.

It may be that you are doing something differently. Maybe they like the way things are. Maybe they don’t like the changes. Either way, listening to them will totally derail your project. Or maybe they are coming from another perspective and think you’re not doing enough, or moving fast enough. Whatever it is, there are times when you need to disregard people who don’t have a clue but still feel the freedom to criticize.

Now, there are other times when God has placed people into your path that can speak truth into a project. Their constructive advice can improve and strengthen what you are working on or toward. These are people you already know or can easily recognize.

If God has given you a vision, and you are doing what you know he has called you to do, then criticism that is completely contrary to the direction your headed is probably not from God. It is easy, especially in creative endeavors, to second guess and worry. Is it good? Is it right? Be very careful who you listen to. Hear criticism as it comes, but don’t take it on it’s face. Evaluate it.

Keep your focus on the goal. And work toward reaching it. If you get advice that helps you toward that end, then use it. But don’t be distracted by things that pull you away from the path. Mind the rudder, and keep the boat on course.

Being Appreciated as a Pastor

October is pastor appreciation month. This year, for some reason, I seem to be getting more appreciated than past years. On Sunday we got called to the platform and handed a nice gift. I had free breakfast and two free lunches. I’ve gotten a steady stream of cards and notes from the kids at our church’s school. This isn’t normal for me.

I’m normally the guy no one knows, who works behind the scenes. I’m not normally recognized.

I was recently attending a service at my parent’s very small church in southeastern Missouri. My father was out of town, but my mother and my family were present. I met the pastor prior to the service, and he knew from my parents that I was in ministry. This was a very traditional church, and they still followed the practice of calling on members from the pulpit to pray. At the time of the invocation the pastor called out for “Brother Link” to pray. I immediately wondered why he would do that when my dad, Brother Link, was not present. And then I realized that I was Brother Link.

I quickly started praying.

I still get weird about people calling me pastor. There are people that know me as a pastor, and depending on how formal they are, some of them address me as “pastor” or “pastor Link” and that feels weird.

Don’t get me wrong. I am called and set apart for ministry. I was ordained into the ministry on October 17, 2004. I’ve got the Bible to prove it. I have the documents hanging on my wall right now. The Church recognized God’s call on my life and set me apart for ministry. But it still makes me chuckle when I get mail addresses as “Reverend.”

There are a couple of reasons, I think. First, I’m no better or higher than anyone else. I know that I will be held to a higher standard when I meet God because of my role in leadership, but between us humans, we are the same. I’m no better than anyone. Please, do not put me or any pastor on a pedestal. We will just get hurt more when we fall off it. The title “pastor” is given out of respect. I know I’m just a normal guy, sinful guy, trying to do right guy. I will make mistakes as much as anyone else. I am grateful for the respect that my position gives because of my title, but am more concerned with earning that respect.

Another reason is that I am always in a support ministry role. That’s part of the reason I keep being amazed that I can work on my TV show project. The church get’s nothing out of it, except the kingdom growth potential. Of course that’s why we do all sorts of things. I’m just not used to being on this side of ministry. I’m more familiar with working to help others accomplish their ministry goals.

As someone who leads a team that supports other ministries, let me say that it is easy for people to forget that what we do is critical. I love the fact that much of what I am involved with has eternal significance. If you are leading a ministry, don’t take the support teams around you for granted. You need them.

Just because I am called “pastor” does not elevate me above those who work with me or for me. I’m the one who bears the brunt if problems occur. I shoulder the blame. I pass on the credit. That’s why I get uncomfortable when I’m applauded just for being a pastor. I know anything I’ve done is because God chose to work through me and those who serve around me.

So, if you are participating in pastor Appreciation month, please don’t be offended if the pastor you are trying to appreciate seems odd about the whole thing. He probably wishes he could turn the whole thing around and show his appreciation for you.

Leading From the Back of the Room

I heard this phrase the other day and I thought it sort of described what most media pastors do on a regular basis. This isn’t exactly like “Leading from the Second Chair” (Which I hear is a good book.) Many times media ministers find themselves a lot further down the line than second chair.

In many ways this feels like an oxymoron. If you lead, you should be out front, not in the back. But the kind of leadership I’m talking about consists more of influence and excellence in the disciplines of media and communications. It’s education and execution. It’s relationships and resourcefulness.

Leading the Team:

Culture is critical in the team. I’d like to say every team I have ever served on has had a great culture, but it just isn’t true. Technical people are analytical by nature. They break events down technically, but they also break motives and decisions down, and can easily start second guessing, or just plain complaining. We can easily fall back into a disdain for another’s lack of planning. Or we can become roadblocks instead of detours when we are heading in the wrong direction. It is our job to be resourceful and get it done.

This isn’t done by casting a vision. It’s done by creature a culture. It’s perpetuated by examples of servant leadership. It’s easy for lofty leaders to sit in their offices and tell technical people how they ought to behave, the tone they ought to use, but the realness of the matter comes into play in the middle of those tense moments in service transitions or rehearsals. Sitting in your office and talking about the attitudes we ought to have has no weight if those attitudes are not modeled.

The culture that you create will permeate the overall ministry organization. Your media ministry can be known as the guys who get things done, or the guys who complain about everything. Culture doesn’t change overnight. It didn’t get the way it is in a week, it took years. You may be lucky enough to be in a great culture, but if there’s work to be done, tackle it in steps.

Leading the Leaders:

I once had a speaker communicate over the comm that I needed to have the pictures he had given me moments before ready to show on the screen because he was about to call for them. I relayed a message back that I was not ready, I was still loading them into the system and please hold for just a little while longer. He replied, “He needs to be ready because I am calling for them now.”

That is a classic example of a leader who doesn’t understand the magic of media. Media guys laugh about power surges that can “let the magic smoke out” when they fry a circuit in a piece of gear. For many in leadership roles, media is all smoke and mirrors. They ask for a video, and it magically appears. They need a microphone, and someone hands it to them. They decide on Wednesday what content they want in the bulletin for Sunday, not knowing the gymnastics you must go through to change what has already been done.

This requires education. It means developing a relationship with the leaders of your ministry and lifting the lid on the inner workings of media and communications tasks. For them to get the most effective use out of media, they must have a basic understanding of it. It is our job to educate them.

And sometimes, it’s our job to redirect them. I was once asked to put together a mailer to send out to tens of thousands of people telling that we were not going to be holding an event. We were not going to tell them what we were going to be doing, just wanted to let them know we wouldn’t be holding the event. The church would literally spend thousands of dollars to tell the community we were not going to do something. It was my job to help them understand why that would be bad, and why we should expend our resources on letting the community know what we were going to be doing.

That takes persuasion. If you work in media, if you are a communicator I strongly suggest you learn about psychology and persuasion. I’m not saying we can replace the Holy Spirit, but knowing what motivates people and how they think will help you communicate effectively. It will help you get out of the way, and let your message speak clearly. This isn’t just for marketing campaigns, but also affects how you interact with others on staff.

Does the pastor need a visual to get the idea? If so, paint him a picture or draw a diagram. Are you talking to a “bottom-line” person? Then sum it up. Got a guy who needs to catch the vision? Then cast it. Figure out how your audience, even if it is just one person, best learns and processes new information and communicate that way.

Do your homework, present it clearly, and be ready to compromise. After a while you can develop the kind of relationship that allows you to give direction freely in the areas of media and communications.

Leading the congregation:

There are really two areas where media and communications interact with the congregation; the experiential and the informative. The experiential deals with how people engage the local body in worship, discipleship, and service. The informative covers the ways we let the people know about the church, ministry opportunities and events.

On the informative front, it is our job to tell the people what they need to know. We need to make the information available in a way that most people can easily consume it. this means that we must filter and meter the amount of information we are putting out. If everything is important, nothing is important. We have a criteria we use to classify events and publicity requests that governs how much attention we let any one event get. A class for 50 people doesn’t get the same attention that a church wide event does.

Much of what my communications team does is perform “marketing triage”. We review incoming requests and prioritize them. Then we put them into the system, and let it work. For smaller events we provide ways for the ministry areas to do targeted communication. For larger events, we use every channel available to us. It is our responsibility to communicate to the people of the congregation.

The experiential side is where many media ministries fall short. They get bogged down in the information, and fail to see how they can enhance the ministry of the church. They may extend the ministry through broadcast, web streaming, or media resources, but they may not seize the chance to use media to enhance the message or music.

I learned a long time ago that media is a cultural language, one that western society uses with great regularity. When people come into an American church and see screens they have an unconscious expectation to see quality video. Large speakers and lights bring expectations of production style music. We should use the means available to us to enhance the message in worship. Even if it is just simple things like using IMAG to direct the eye, or choosing a complimentary motion background for the lyrics. If we do not engage our congregation through media we are missing a huge opportunity to lead them in worship. My boss describes it as leveraging technology to create moments where God works. Those moments can be in weekend worship, small group classes, or out in the community. Technology can both facilitate and enhance our ministry.

We media minister types are rarely up front. We are not the person in charge. We are most often a supporting member of the overall ministry team. Yet we can and should lead from the back of the room to help make the ministry we are a part of the best it can be.