Legal Considerations for a Church that Hires a Marketing Firm

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Churches have many reasons for hiring marketing firms. Building an online image, expanding the reach of the church’s message, reaching new congregants (and new potential sources of revenue) all are common goals of working with an outside firm. Some churches may also see marketing firms as a way to improve a tarnished image.

The advantages of working with a marketing firm are many. At the same time, marketing firms can cause some troubles for churches, so it’s important to give consideration to how their engagement creates potential legal risks.

As with any contract work, the most important component of a marketing engagement is to get an agreement in writing. The agreement needs to include a number of important points:

  • Confidentiality. The marketing firm needs to be under an obligation to keep the church’s information secret. This obligation should be extended to the freelancers a marketing firm works with.
  • Ownership and control. The church needs to retain final approval on anything the marketing firm makes public. A contract should also specify that any copyrightable materials the firm prepares belongs to the church, so there is no question of ownership in the event the relationship ends.
  • Specific scope. Marketing firms hire creative people who like to explore out-of-the-box solutions to the jobs they’re given. Churches will want to ensure that their marketing firms are staying within the narrow limits set by the church, to control costs and avoid unexpected moves.

Beyond the contract, a church needs to have a few management pieces in place to work effectively with a marketing firm:

  • Set clear goals. Marketing for its own sake is rarely cost-effective for a church. Identifying measurable goals, like growing membership by 10%, and be ready to shift to a different strategy, or a different marketing firm, if those goals aren’t being reached.
  • Put someone in charge. Part of sticking to a goal is having a single person responsible for managing the marketing effort. Church leadership should provide clear guidelines for the role, including deciding when decisions require additional input from other managers.  
  • Control the message. A creative marketing firm will have lots of good ideas, but not all of them will align with the church’s mission or values. A church needs to stay in control of what its communications are saying, and where they are saying it.

Marketing is a deceptively complicated area of church governance that can present unusual legal issues. The Church Law Center of California advises churches and other nonprofits on how to protect themselves from risk while furthering their mission. Call us today at (949) 892-1221 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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