In the service of God (aka client service)

Marketing is often about choices: how do I engage this audience? Which marketing channels are the most effective for this objective? Where should I apply that next precious dollar? But how do you choose when everything you do is in the service of God and the very nature of choosing potentially denies God of something?

Until recently, I led marketing for the Orthodox Union (OU), a 122-year-old organization that is the voice of American Orthodox Jewry in the United States and the world’s largest kosher certification agency. Every day, tens of thousands of Jews in the United States depend upon its programs and employees to nurture Jewish life. The OU comprises more than 15 different constituent programs, all of which must compete for attention, resources and even real estate in their quarterly print publication and weekly email newsletter. But like every company, and especially every nonprofit organization, resources are limited. 

I spent the vast majority of my time trying to solve this challenge: How does a marketing service organization support a broad range of internal clients without sufficient resources? Even more challenging when each of those programs and clients perform a service to God. How does one choose priority A over priority B? And what happens to priority B in that case — can denying it be construed as an affront to God? 

Trained in marketing strategy, execution and the discipline of client service in the advertising industry, I strived, though struggled may be a better verb choice, to apply my expertise to this theological/business question. My time at the OU taught me lessons that apply not only to religious organizations, but to all organizations, corporate and nonprofit alike. 

Rigor and accountability: How does one apply rigor and accountability in planning or efficiently executing on a marketing program? In this context, denying that half-baked idea from yesterday’s fire drill could be denying the next potentially great idea in the service of God, despite the tax on resources or distraction from other initiatives also in need of attention. Likewise, the religious mandate often absolves the requester of the need to be rigorous or accountable – if that idea is for the cause (aka God), then process or strategic thinking are not tolerable stumbling blocks. 

The empowerment of “yes, but”: Part of the art of client service, or succeeding in marketing overall, is knowing when and how to say “yes, but” – or even “no.” But how do you empower marketers to redirect clients and say no to a request when the spiritual calling would seem to supersede more practical concerns or potential implications? Isn’t the marketer serving the same cause?

Ideas may be unlimited, but resources are not: When the work is not solely defined as “work,” but as a holy pursuit, the seemingly mundane details of resource allocation, work quality, prioritization and process can be subjugated to the pursuit of bringing honor to God. But business rationale should not be divorced from the pursuit of favor in God’s eyes. If I only have one dollar to spend – I should rather it be spent where it can be most impactful, not simply in pursuit of the most recent idea; or focused on the greatest impact, not spread out across a range of less impactful ideas. 

Persuasiveness: Lastly and most challenging, how can a marketer persuade a human colleague, when that colleague is focused on meeting God’s will? Jewish laws can be categorized as interpersonal (bein adam le-chavero) or between a person and God (bein adam le-Makom). And while scholars have long debated the circumstances in which one is prioritized above the other, when one is debating producing collateral in a fraction of the time normally needed for optimal output, God tends to trump more terrestrial concerns.

There are no singular answers to these questions. But in pursuit of this very specific form of enlightenment, I preach strategic rigor, team empowerment, the value of prioritization, the thoughtful application of resources and persuasiveness between colleagues to serve both marketing and higher purposes.

Craig M. Goldstein is former chief marketing officer of the Orthodox Union.

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