Today’s a special treat for all the church marketers out there.

Kenny sat down with Rob Laughter, the Director Digital Marketing for the Summit Church in Raleigh, Durham, North Carolina, sharing how churches with small budgets can get away with digital advertising.

Listen as they tackle one of the most powerful platforms that Rob’s using to help manage their church ad campaigns, making the work a thousand times easier and cheaper.

Tune in now on Church Butler Lunch and Learn podcast!


Kenny: Welcome back friends for another episode of The Church Butler Lunch and Learn. This is Kenny Jahng, your host. We really, really love it. I keep on saying this after every episode, but I’m loving the feedback. I’m loving that you guys are getting inspired and we’re able to provide a little bit to clicks off center type of content from all the other things that you’re seeing online and the different places. Today, I am at the Rock Experience Conference in Louisville, Kentucky and I’m giving my talk on 4 Paradigm Shifts and in the back of the room I see walking across the back is a friendly face that I immediately doing these computations in my head. I could just see it if we had a video of Facebook profile pics, like just rifling through doing instant matches. And then I said, It’s Rob. Rob Laughter is in the room. I always stopped my whole stalk to bow to him and said welcome Rob. And so I finally got a hold of Rob. We were here in the green room and got a chance to sit down. So welcome to the show Rob.

Rob: Thanks. I was equally surprised to see you in the room.

Kenny: We both locked eyes and smile at each other to the presentation. So, it’s always good to be with kindred folks. And I knew that this conference definitely was legit if it’s attracting people like Rob. So Rob, want you to explained to the, maybe one percent of the audience to have not come across your helpful posts and comments and work and photography and all the stuff that you do online. Share with us a little bit of your, you know, your profile, your baseball card stats for us.

Rob: Yeah. So I’m the Director Digital Marketing for the Summit Church in Raleigh, Durham, North Carolina. We are a multisite church. About to launch our 10th campus with about 12,000.

Kenny: You have a known name Pastor, right?

Rob: A known named Pastor, his name’s J.D. Greear, just stepped into the Southern Baptist Convention presidency, which has been big for us and exciting and challenging in a number of ways.

Kenny: The SBC is, is it officially the number one largest denomination in the country?

Rob: It is, I believe.

Kenny: Yeah. I think some exciting that we worked with the UMC denomination, they’re typically known as the second largest and they never talked about who’s the largest, it is the SBC by quite a factor. And so, you are in a unique position, which does two things. One I would say is it gives you opportunities to see things and experiment and do things that many other communicators don’t, but yet at the same time you’re working with the same tools, the same platforms, and you’re learning and failing at the same time as we all are, right? And so I invited you onto the podcast today to share a little bit about what’s working for you and some of the insights that you’re seeing out there.

Rob: Yeah, so plenty of failing for sure, plenty of like, one of the things that being at a conference like this, we bump shoulders with folks who are at similarly sized to us. It was, or even bigger than us, being at the Rock Conference specifically, like we’re just transitioning to Rock as a church management system and so our team has absolutely no clue what we’re doing. And then, we sit down with like Scott Ballard from the Village Church who just went through this about a year ago and we discover that they’re just as clueless as we are and everybody’s in the same boat together. And the cool thing about the church community is that we can like talk about these things and you know, there’s not that sense of competition you’d find in the business world. We’re all trying to execute on the great commission in our community and our neighborhoods and the way that God’s given our church to do. So, that’s been an encouraging thing. So yeah, in terms of my world, my role really for the past month has been all about Rock RMS. But then, also within my role as Digital Marketing Director, I oversee everything from our website or email communication to our app, and then our social media. And then you, before the show, were asking me about what’s working on social and one of the things that we’ve had a cool unique opportunity to experience over the past year or so is with a Pastor JD and his growing platform. We just launched a nationwide radio ministry, back in April of last year. And we are reaching millions of people across the US with the message of the Gospel. And so it’s been a cool experience to begin to think through what is, what does marketing look like in that sort of environment and how can we, what are our goals? We’re not, obviously, you just don’t want to, you know, just get a content out there indiscriminately. But, when it reaches the right people with the right content at the right time.

Kenny: I’m doing a talk today about the different models of church online. And one of the things that we talk about is what is the boundary of your local ministry, because once you start to have a digital tools to disseminate syndicate your content, you’re going to have people that are coming out of the woodwork and you need some boundaries otherwise, however you’ve got limited bandwidth and resources, right? And so, I’m sure your church is in a similar situation as your page likes go up as the emails come in, etc. etc.

Rob: Yeah, that’s actually been a really interesting divide for us between, you know, we have the Summit Church, a social media presence. Then we also have the JD Greear social media presence and trying to navigate through some of the questions of like, okay, when we get requests from, you know, somebody in Spokane, Washington who heard JD on the radio, like, how does, how do those requests get prioritize with your request from our own numbers and what’s our responsibility as a church to serve those people? But, we have been able to continue to reach people and we get messages through JD’s Facebook and through email all the time for people who’ve been touched by his content, you know, heard him on the radio, let’s do sermons and I’ve had real like gospel engagement with Jesus through that. So, it’s a constant encouragement as much as it is a new territory for us.

Kenny: So one of the things I was asking you Rob was, what is one thing that’s working for you on social and Facebook is one of those platforms and, you know, as you get to manage larger budgets, it’s not fun because there’s all these tedious things that you have to keep monitoring and automation tools or something that comes into play for a lot of people. In fact, I think most churches should be exploring that even with smaller budgets. What’s the platform that you guys are using to help manage those ad campaigns for you right now? And, how are you using it? What’s going, you know, like if you can do us an example of that would be great.

Rob: Yeah. So let me give you the challenge first, and the challenge was, I was you know, for awhile before we hired her social media manager, a one man team, trying to do all things digital. One of those things includes just posting content and getting organic reach and trying to keep up to date with our existing audience. But then too, it’s like we have some growth goals and want to grow our audience and reach more people. And so particularly with some of the changes that Facebook announced back in January of curtailing the reach of Facebook pages moving toward groups and things like that, paid engagement has become even more important than it was before. And that doesn’t mean like, you know, million dollar budgets, but that means that you’re putting some budget behind your outreach efforts, will go a long way. So once we came to that point and we said, okay, well we’re ready to put some, some budget behind this. Just managing ads is a hassle. It’s tedious. You had a, you know, you plan out your campaigns, you need to know, all right, well we’re going to do a boosted post campaign. Well I want to boost this post when it get some traction but not before. And so I got to monitor that post and see like, okay, well it’s at 100 likes now do we want to, do you want to boost it or don’t I not, not want to boost to what audience do want to boost it to.

Kenny: That doesn’t sound like fun to you to do everyday in and out 24 hours a day.

Rob: No, there’s a lot of things I’d rather do than to do that, including sticking toothpicks in my eyeballs. Yeah. So we, I heard of a platform called AdEspresso previously and her good reviews about it and basically the marketing promise of AdEspresso is that it automates a lot of that. So, I decided to give it a go, give it a trial, and thought through like, what’s a very simple automation that I can create in 15 or 20 minutes to see if this will be effective for us as a ministry. And so there’s two types of campaigns that we’re running. We were running boosted post campaigns because the idea is that we want to get our content out to more people and the more people are reached, more opportunities we have to share the gospel. And then second, we want to draw people into deeper relational engagement with Pastor JD, with his ministry, so that they can continue to receive those resources and continue to grow through the content that we’re producing as part of his team. And so, the very first challenge was like, okay, well how do we automate boosting posts? What we’ve done is we’ve created some retargeting audiences, that are built off of people who have engaged with JD’s ministry in any way or any avenue. So that includes people who have engaged with this content on social media as well as people that we’re retargeting who have visited this website because they’ve kind of opted in and say I’m interested in this content. And as those people engaged with the content, they’re going to reach more people organically as well, so that, that paid ad budget that we’re putting behind reaching them is going to be multiplied. And so the first automation campaign we created was to go into AdEspresso and to set up a campaign that says if any piece of content reaches 100 likes, because we only want to boost the ones that are already performing well.

Kenny: Yes, that’s great. So let’s just stop right there. If you are boosting posts, you should not be just boosting posts indiscriminately, right? You should be looking to use it in a way that, I say just use it as kind of like turbo charging juice. So find posts that are doing well that organically people are resonating with and then you’re just pouring fuel or that fire, right? And so that’s what you’re doing there. That’s what you’re trying to do.

Rob: Exactly. And is what we’re doing and it’s working really well. So basically like…

Kenny: So, the AdEspresso allows you to define those rules?

Rob: Yep. So I can say if you know, threshold, you know, and there’s any number of variables you can access through AdEspresso. So if we had 100 likes and that’s our measure of success, you know, a smaller page or a larger page might have different numbers than boost the post for you had this much for this duration. And so for us it’s, I think we have a total of like a $3 a day budget, which is nothing, right? But then, we’ll both boosted posts for three days if it hits that hundred like threshold is what that’s doing is it’s boosting it to an audience of people who have engaged with us. They’re creating more engagement and that audience continues to grow. We don’t wanna stop there though, because we want to draw people into deeper engagement with the content, with the ministry and ultimately with Jesus. And so there’s kind of two ways that they can engage beyond that. One is when reach the blog, we have an email opt in, obviously, so that we can capture their email address and then continue to send content to them on a regular basis and they can opt in or opt out of that. And then also, we want to draw them into the community that we’re building on Facebook through JD’s Facebook page. So the second, automation campaign that we’re running on AdEspresso is a page likes campaign and that’s just a, you could probably set this up and business manager as well, but it’s just an ongoing campaign, reaching those, that audience of people who have liked, JD’s content who have engaged with this content but haven’t yet liked his page. So obviously we don’t want to be running ads to people who’ve already liked the page. And what we’ve seen there is like, you know, over the course of, you know, maybe six or eight months that we’ve been running that, previously, any page likes campaign that we were running was running about 25 to forty cents per like, which, you know, if you’re going after a targeted audience, I find that, you know, fifty cents is reasonable for acquiring a page like, but we’ve been able to get that down through automation to like sixteen cents.

Kenny: Whoa. That’s really cheap.

Rob: And those are targeted people who have proven that they’ve engaged with this content already. Yeah and you know, we want to now invite them to be champions for the ministry. We want to invite them to engage with the content more to share that content in one way that we do that is through our outreach efforts.

Kenny: Wow. So, that’s great. And again, those rules are easily defined within AdEspresso. You’re not hacking the system together. It is built to run almost like a Zapier where you build the trigger and then it executes on the triggers.

Rob: Yeah, it was, like I said, my bar was like, can I set this up in 15 minutes? And because I had defined some of the rules, right? Because I kinda knew what I was trying to accomplish, I was able to do that pretty quickly with the tool. So I guess like, you know, if you’re going to consider a tool like AdEspresso or even consider boosting to social in general, you can’t automate what you haven’t built a system for. And so that time of me doing it by hand for a period and going through that work and that frustration, it gave me the experience that I needed to be able to build that automation.

Kenny: Nice. And then results. I’m assuming that you really are happy with results so far. What, how long does it take before you see that type of results and how you might see some early blips in good numbers, but how long before you’re pretty confident that this thing is working.

Rob: Yeah. So, you have to define and how do we know that it’s working, right? And so that could, in terms of reach, if exposure is what you’re going forward, that could be interpreted in terms of paid likes, if you want to grow an audience and ultimately like we’re trying to draw people into engagement with the ministry and so that means continued engagement with content. But then, ultimately we’d like people to support the ministry as well. And so just at the top level metrics of like audience size, like you should see your audience begin to grow immediately. When I started in, you know, doing some of the, the test campaigns that I did before, just automation, like we could see bumps and growth. But then once I saw it, but like my capacity was limited and I would forget, I would get distracted by another project and not boost anything for two or three weeks. And so like overall growth wasn’t pretty steady until I started using the automation tools and then it’s doing it all in the background. I can set it and forget it, check out once a month and make sure that everything, all my metrics are good. And so once that happened, like it was like the hockey stick on the graph, like I’ve got our paid likes, like in front of us right now and you can see them, but our folks at home cans, and you can see these bumps, right? There’s bumps, but then there’s also like an upward hockey stick as a friend. And that’s been just one. It’s like a relief for me that I don’t need to be thinking about that, but you can see those results.

Kenny: So, practically speaking, let see, as practical as possible, how many hours a week do you think this is saving you a by managing it through AdEspresso versus doing everything manually? Is it an hour a day, hour a week?

Rob: Probably five hours a week. So, if you average that out and put an hour a day,

Kenny: Can you imagine if that’s almost, you got lunch in there, you’ve got meetings in there that’s a full day’s worth of productivity that you’re saving.

Rob: Yeah. And that’s the way I pitched it to our leadership team to, cause like AdEspresso does carry cost. I think it’s like 50 bucks a month. But in order to get that budget and it’s just like, I think our, one of our executives asked me like, well, so how much time is it going to save you? I was like, probably,

Kenny: 50 bucks a month, four hours a week. So, can you save $12.50 cents worth of labor,

Rob: Right, it’s like you probably save them 500 bucks of labor with a $50 investment. So it was no brainer, I think particularly with smaller churches, I always hear that we don’t have a budget question, but you have to look at your time and say your time, posts something, whether you’re a volunteer or not. And this, like a tool like this, it doesn’t even have to be the sole tool like this will save so much time that it pays for itself.

Kenny: So, can you talk to the communicators out there where they have internal audiences that may not be fully educated or they don’t totally get it? Where are you coming to them and say, hey look, we can increase our total likes on the page by thousands over the course of the year and the investment’s going to be cheap and no matter what you value, like whether it’s fifty cents, twenty cents, two cents. How do you explain to somebody what the value of 1000, 2000, 3000 additional likes? How do you explain that internally?

Rob: Yeah. So, it all comes back to goals, like what is our, what are our goals as a ministry? What are our goals as a church? This is specifically for an external ministry of our church, and so as a kid carries a different set of goals than our internal ministries for an internal ministry, like just look at the cost of like printing a piece of paper and putting it in everybody’s hand. With a church our size, we would have $3,000 print jobs for the weekend, whereas I can reach…

Kenny: And they did at one point, right? Like before all this digital stuff, that’s what they’re spending, right?

Rob: We still do, but don’t tell anybody. A lot less, a lot less than we used to and hopefully as we transitioned Rock even less so. But I mean churches won’t bat an eye drop one hundreds or thousands of dollars for printing costs, but then a couple hundred bucks a month for digital ads that I can reach exponentially more people, and often more effectively than I came up with a print piece. You know, so I’d say the first thing that you need to do is have that question in your head and have that conversation with the key stakeholders in your church. If we’re putting budget behind this, can we have some budget to experiment in this area? And then put it in terms that correlate with their goals. So, if your goals are, we want to get, you know, we’re doing this print piece because we want everybody in our church to know about this event. We can do that for three grand with a piece of paper. I can do that for 150 bucks with digital ads. And it could be a naughty, like a dichotomy of I have to do this or this, but..

Kenny: So, I’m going to be a naysayer again, you know, our traditional methods, we actually got conversions. You’re saying digital is going to be that much cheaper to execute in terms of expenses, but to people really follow through call to actions on ads on content that they see, is that something that you can concretely explain or is that something you have to be philosophical?

Rob: Right. So, I would say for that question back to the naysayer and say, can you track conversions through your print pieces? Whereas with digital, particularly if you’re running through, as a event system with an RSVP, you can use tracking pixels to say, this is exactly how many people registered through this campaign or this tool and then put it in very concrete numbers to say here’s the data. Data doesn’t lie. In this case, 70 percent of our signups came through that Facebook ad and we did it at a fraction of the cost of prints. Again, that’s not to say that prints are bad, print has its place and I think print needs to be used as another marketing channel, but you’re asking the questions of how do these pieces work together to accomplish a goal.

Kenny: Gotcha. Are you using AdEspresso for all your advertising or just some of these specific campaigns? Because I think people get confused when third party automation tools come up the that they feel like they’re going to lose all control, some robots going to take over the entire world. And is there any risk that you will be replaced in your seat?

Rob: No, so when I the human need to set it up right, and I, the human need to monitor and make sure that we’re actually accomplish parables. Second, anytime I do just a small campaign, if it’s for like, you know, we did a small ad budget for an event, then I’ll probably just get a business manager and set that up. But then, all that data’s being pulled into AdEspresso as well so I can continue to optimize, If I want to.

Kenny: Got you, scale of one to 10, how easy was it for you to ramp up on AdEspresso? The cost doesn’t seem to be that prohibited for most churches, even smaller ones, but what about the time invested to actually be able to set up a campaign from scratch?

Rob: Yeah. So, it was quick. There was I think I probably started at a trial one time and I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to put behind it and forgot about it, but then when I came to it and resolve that is going to give it a good go and it was 15 or 20 minutes to set up. So it’s again, no brainer.

Kenny: Okay. And then, currently what, you know, what’s the next step after this? Is it automating more stuff? Is it creating new campaigns? Is it creating new content on your site? What’s the next step for you guys?

Rob: Yeah, so one of the big advantages of automation is that it frees up some, some mental bandwidth for me and so I can think of new areas of growth and so that could be, you know, we don’t have any plans, like if we were to ramp up on what we’re doing with paid ads right now, we’d probably just increased budget, because the system’s working. And so, now that we have a system is working to kind of bring people into that first level of engagement with the ministry and with content now I can be thinking about how do we help people take that next step and help them to ultimately we want people to be involved in a local church. We don’t want them to listen to JD on the radio all day long. And so, how can we use digital tools to help people move in that direction? So that’d be the next step for us as thank you through next steps of engagement. One thing since we’re on the topic of Rock and data is that we’re thinking about how can we use marketing automation within the ministry to start to see behavioral activity and suggest content that’s relevant to them and suggest next steps that meet people where they are rather than just kind of trying to have generic next step for everybody.

Kenny: Yeah, I think that was the power. And I always say that the job of the marketer is to sort your database money’s in your list no matter what industry you’re in. Churches in particular need to be cultivating their list, tagging them. And so, that you can actually deliver appropriate content, the appropriate subgroups at the appropriate time.

Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that. If you were a part of the center for church communication, I have a resource in there that is all about email list segmentation so you can get that,

Kenny: The courageous storytellers, right?

Rob: That’s right. Yep. So like, a list will only go so far as like the work that you put into it. And so if you have a big list of just emails and no data associated with it, you might see one to two percent conversion rate on an email that sent out, no matter what that conversion is. But, if you’re sending stuff that is targeted to me, I’m going to respond a lot more positively than that. And you’re going to see a significant increase in your conversion rate.

Kenny: Great. Well thank you so much for opening up your laptop and sharing some of the data points and you know, views of what you guys are trying to do, and in the early successes in your campaigns, really wish you the best of luck as you go forward in this next chapter with your pastor’s tenure and I think it’s going to be interesting to see what you learn over the next several years. Right?

Rob: Absolutely. We’re excited for it, too.

Kenny: So, if someone was listening in today, wants to get in touch with you directly, what is the best way to do that? Can you share your address to send the homing pigeon or the telegram or whether your details or to get in touch with you?

Rob: Yes, I’m Rob Laughter on all the socials, spelled like laughter. So Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Any number of those places will work. I pretty much live on Facebook, for my job, so I’m there 24/7 just about.

Kenny: Yeah, it was great and we really appreciate all the, honestly the chiming in and sharing of wisdom and resources and encouragement that you do in all the Facebook groups that we see within just, you’re one of the good guys, Rob. So, really love to point that out that this is a community and you get what you get out of it. We put it in your modeling for us, that good behavior. So really thank you for all that.

Rob: Well, thank you as well for being such a prolific content creator and always having an iPhone in your hand and…

Kenny: Yeah, and again, I want to point out right. So, even at this pro level, we could have opted, I’ve got, you know, professional podcasting equipment in my bag, but we are literally podcasting off of an iPhone with an iPhone app without even, with an external mic because in my philosophy it’s you want a bias for action and version one is better than version none and you want quality contents over quality, nothing. And so hopefully we’re modeling here with this podcast. Even that, I’d rather catch Rob and share his wisdom in the hallways of a conference than to miss this opportunity because we have to schedule something with like all this pro gear. So.

Rob: Which is why my podcast had five episodes.

Kenny: Yeah. So, we are one of the things that you need to call out Rob’s, I’ve been pushing him. We want us to hear and see more Rob. He needs to start blogging or platforming and podcasting, writing a book or something to share all the wisdom that he has through the many experiences that he’s a communicator. So, thank you so much for joining us today. We’d love for you to help us share this resource with others. The best way you can do that is smash that like button or go to iTunes and leave a review. So, that other church communicators out there discover this contribute and be a part of the community. Thanks for listening to today’s Lunch and Learn Podcast here at Church Butler.