First, as we have been doing every-time before we begin, let me make the following abundantly clear...
None of the following is to be interpreted as some offhanded cheap shot or ad hominem attack directed at any Grand Lodge, officers, members, appendant, concordant or anything or anyone else in-between. There are many dedicated Brothers from white aprons to gold bullion’d working diligently to try and turn around what many believe is an inevitable outcome from coming to pass. And this entire series is to help enable those trying to figure out the best methods possible for doing just that. I stand in solidarity with every single one of them and offer my endearing support to that cause. Period, full stop.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...
Everywhere you read throughout the Masonic community, one point is repeated over and over again, which is: "We need to be more visible in the community!"
Sounds fantastic. Here's the issue: What is this specific "community" of which you speak?
A lot of you reading this are going to knee-jerk a response that probably sounds a bit like this, "Where people can both see us and interact with us in a public area. i.e., Be seen, so the public knows we're (still exist?) here!"
Again, that all sounds great. However, what I'm going to ask you to clarify is this: Tell me precisely what that means and what appreciable end can be measured for effectiveness?
From this point on, most will give many reasons why what they're doing matches their goal of "being seen in the community." Most will revolve around (again, for example purposes only) something that follows along these lines...
"Well, we do a ________________ (fish fry, pancake, sandwich, etc., etc., etc.) fundraiser or booth at our local event, and our booth is always just nuts! People line up, swarm us, and we raise a ton for charity every year. We've got this "being seen in the community" thing down to a science."
The above, in any form, is laudable. However, this does not address the true point of the question, which is...
What did you do to raise awareness in the dignity of Freemasonry in the eyes of the community for the men that seek to become one, and the members that already are?
Fish fry, pancakes, sandwiches do not answer that question.
This is the area (awareness in the dignity) for when we talk of "seen in the community," I want to address because far too many misinterpret what this concept may actually represent, not only from a strategy and tactical perspective but rather, from an actual efficacy calculation.
Now, with the above as a qualifier, let's dig into what may truly be going on that some may not realize. I'll postulate this through an entirely applicable example that many can relate to. However, I fear there are far too many that may not fully understand or quite interpret the ending results correctly at first blush, as I'll demonstrate.
Ready? Here's the premise...
Two booths are set up as a "Green Bean Salad Bar" on a local parade route. The route is packed with locals and more from the surrounding communities. It's truly a big event and on the tip of everyone's tongue in both lead-up as well as afterward. For lack of a better description - It's packed, wall-to-wall with people carousing and partaking in the local fanfare.
One booth (a Masonic one) is named "Lodge XX" and is adorned with a sizable square and compasses logo. The other (profane) is called "Lounge X," where it also sports a large logo consisting of a large crisscross (or an X, if you will) with a very big gold "L" directly in its center.
Both are offering a similar dish, and both are doing a very brisk business. However, both will reach a very different result in the end that needs to be understood for the Masonic calculation, which is this...
Let's say the Masonic booth in sheer volume (i.e., patrons) and dollars raised beat out the other by a factor of 2 to 1. In this type of environment, that would be a very healthy "win."
However, in the public relation game, in regards to both "being seen" as well as "recognition for giving to charity," it's the loser. It's also the loser in dollars and sense (pun intended). Let me explain why.
In the general public's eye, there will be no differentiation between the two of them. Both logos will be seen, and there will be no regard given to either. i.e., It's all about the 'green beans' in the immediate.
People who may be connoisseurs of 'green beans,' just looking to try something different, or just plain hungry as they're passing by, may stop and buy.
Yet, as they buy, they'll give little, if any, regard to what the logo represents, such as: who you are or if you're giving the proceeds to charity. That calculation, if it ever reaches the front of mind aspect, will be used as an afterthought to make them feel better about their purchase - afterward - not before.
This is where the reflexive, "Oh, that's nice!" will come in if the Masonic booth informs them of it. But, in reality, again, it's a reflexive answer and will be forgotten before they even take their first bite.
Arguing that this is not the case for the vast majority of any and all patrons for this exercise is meaningless.
Here's an experiment for those that think I'm wrong...
How many vendors have you chased down after any event, such as a parade, fair, et cetera, to buy more of what they were selling throughout the year afterward?
It's OK, take your time, truly think. If you come up with just one, you're already in such a small minority that it's not even worth calculating.
Here's the most likely scenario for most...
If they go to either this particular event the following year or to one similar--if they're in the mood for 'green beans' and they've only tried that dish once prior. If they see a big "X" with a golden "L" or a big "Square and Compasses" with a golden "G," they are only going to associate one thing and one thing only: green beans and where they can now get them. Period.
Here's the kicker...
Even if they originally visited one booth vs. the other, it will not matter. Both will represent the same conclusion. e.g., 'Green Beans' and where to get'em.
Connoisseurs of green beans may know the difference (i.e., the difference between logos and what recipe is used) But, that only means whether they like the Masonic version of "Green Bean Salad" over the other.
That. Is. It.
Now, when we started down this path, I suggested that even though the Masonic booth may do double the business of the other in both dollars and patrons, in the end, it would be the loser. So, let's extrapolate why that may be the case.
Let's use some basic figures, for example, purposes only, so we can get a feel for what they may imply...
If booth "X" did $1000 in sales and made a 50% net profit and stated that it supported (as in, donates) to a charity, that would mean it had $500 to do with how it sees fit.
If booth "G" did $2000 in sales and also made a 50% net profit (in actuality, it should/would do much, much more because the help expense would be donated time), it would have $1000 to do with how it sees fit.
Now here's where the differences become evident...
In regards to "brand exposure," both are the same. However, "X" actually benefits more than "G." Why?
"X" is in the "Green Bean Salad" business, so any and all attention, sales and more, goes directly to that purpose. Or, said differently, It is its raison d’être; therefore, a profitable day with lots of exposure is a "win-win."
"G" is in the "Making good men better" business. However, any and all attention for sales and more has done nothing for that business except to help solidify an idea that maybe, Masons make better green beans. Think about it.
As far as charity? Team "G" will more than likely donate any and all proceeds (probably well above the $1K example) to a favored charity - and the viewing public will not only be none the wiser; in reality, most will never give it a second thought.
"X" can donate any amount they want, even if it's only $1. And the same thing applies to them in regards to the public perception as booth "G."
(Please hold all the, "Well, it means something for the charity!" Yes, yes it does, but again, we're talking here about "being seen" for the purpose of public relations within the broader community, remember?)
Now, here is where many should pay very close attention, for this is where a subtle difference in the details has compounding effects.
"X" will, more than likely, take a generous amount of the proceeds and reinvest it in both advertising, better equipment, and more. This is what a business does. (Again, these are over-simplistic examples on purpose.)
"G" will, from an obligation aspect, feel compelled to donate every last remaining cent (some will even donate more, leaving the endeavor to a net loss) to a designated charity, to then do it all over again the next year, basically using all the same accouterments and display.
When the next year or event comes around, team "X" may now sport an even spiffier-looking setup, better utensils, and probably attract more attention. Team "G" (usually) will look just the same.
However, with the above now in calculation, it can be reasonably asserted that "X" with its reinvestment and upping of its game has the potential (and more than likely probable) to swing the next year in its favor for paying patrons, taking from "G," as to switch the prior outcome and now command twice the business of "G.," i.e., the roles can be reversed.
What will team "G" do should this happen?
Hint: Probably nothing more except for writing a smaller check to their charity and get ready to do the same exact thing next year. Rinse, repeat.
What do you think "X" will do next? Or, said better: who's winning here? Helpful clue: it ain't team "G."
Now, you may be thinking I'm trying to make this a "money" thing. Trust me, I am not.
This is about effectiveness and understanding precisely what one is doing and why. But, more importantly: How does one actually tabulate their desired outcome for effectiveness? For that, "Dear Hamlet" is the correct question to answer.
In the above examples: If "being seen" for the purposes of a Masonic outcome is the desired result, it doesn't take a business expert to see the above is an absolute losing proposition and waste of time.
But hold on!
Before you throw that stapler or any other object at your screens while yelling, "Garbage!" and a few other not-safe-for-work expletives, let me now explain how doing the "Green Bean Salad" thing can actually work. But, it's the details of the process that determines success vs. failure from a "G" perspective.
So now that we have the premise and understanding of just what may be transpiring for certain endeavors and outcomes. Let's now view the above in a different manner that can have a far more profound effect if engaged thoughtfully.
The idea of raising money is one thing. The idea of, for what desired end, is quite another.
Many raise money for charity and think it's doing one or multiple things for their image or visibility within the broader community. I'll argue that it is doing less to nothing regarding the general public and may be doing only slightly better (in regards to public opinion) within the charity itself.
Again, think I'm off base? Fair point. So, in that light, let me make the following argument, and you be the one that decides which is seen as more appropriate in regards to general public awareness.
(Note: this is for example purposes, nothing regarding the worthiness of the endeavors. I'm speaking directly to public relations through the prism of charity work to clarify the arguments for "being seen in the community at large" and its efficacy. And no charity example should be taboo; if so, then answering the questions everyone is arguing to have answered is just an exercise in futility. Period.)
Question: If you were to ask anyone in the general public, "What charity do the guys in those funny red fez hats known as "Shriners" support?" I feel it would be a safe assumption that those who knew of them at all, even if only for seeing them in their crazy go-karts in parades, you would have a plethora of answers revolving around "Gives to child disabilities or hospitals."
If you were to ask this same group, "What large charity or charities do the Freemasons donate to?" You would get a blank stare. Tell them that those "Shriners" are also Freemasons? You'll probably get the same reaction I used prior in the 'green bean' examples that sounds a lot like, "Oh, ain't that nice. Hey, can I get fries with those green beans?"
In my area, for this year, the G.L. of Ohio made what I will call a brave and noteworthy decision not to pursue its annual funding for the "Special Olympics."
Let me be clear: I do not speak nor represent anything regarding any G.L. However, in reading the explanation given by our Grand Master, I applauded his decision and reasoning.
I personally believe, the current circumstances resulting from the virus, as well as going forward, that this is precisely the time to reevaluate everything. And by "everything," I mean just that - everything.
Again, I am not implying this is the reason for our G.L.
What I am saying, speaking from my own perspective, is that the current circumstances of upheaval are also just the right circumstances to possibly allow for the breaking of certain traditions without the awkwardness of having to come up with some clever retort as to note why. Here's an example...
Q: "Why are you not giving us a check this year?
A: "We're reevaluating everything. Covid has changed everything for us. We'll let you know if things change in the future."
End of discussion.
No one needs to say anything more, for there's nothing more that needs to be said. It's honest, and it just makes things simple. Also, it should be used now where needed or applicable while its efficacy is still potent to do just that.
"Special Olympics" is a very worthy charity doing good things for those that are disadvantaged. But (and this is a very but!) the amount of dollars given, from a pure public relations perspective in the eye of the general public, I will argue, is less than minuscule.
Let me address it this way...
Would it not be better, from a public relations perspective, to donate funds raised going forward and provide them to the "Shriners Hospitals?" (this is for example purposes only.)
"Why?" you ask. Great question. Let's ask it this way and have you answer for yourself, as it should be. Ready?
If the idea is "public relations" and "worthy charity.", would it not be better for Freemasons to support truly Masonic endeavors that are still seen in the public eye (although minutely) to help raise awareness that they are indeed Freemasons providing the charity?
Furthermore, does not the charity of "children's hospital" translate from the larger context (e.g., nationally) down to the local level? Also, is this not just as worthy of a charity as the other?
One charity helps to bolster or solidify in the public eye the idea of Masonic charity endeavors.
We're only important to that charity's fundraising committee for tabulation. i.e., Our checks mean nothing more than another to be counted. The general public is clueless and will remain as such indefinitely, regardless if our picture gets taken with a big check and is in the local news. No. One. Cares.
Here's another aspect to all this to truly give thought to...
In many jurisdictions, Masons or their lodge will partner in different offerings with their local chambers of commerce or businesses. i.e., They'll either pay to have a booth or will be paid to man one. Here's the dirty little secret that most don't fully comprehend...
They (the chambers or businesses et al.) do not care one iota that you are Freemasons or anything else concerning the fraternity. You are either one that needs to be asked to sell what they are offering to help fund their monetary endeavor. (think: purchasing a booth or table, etc.) Or, you're nothing more than the hired help. (think: you man one of their tables, and they pay you for it)
If you think you're anything more than that? I'm sorry to inform you; you're sadly mistaken. You're not seen in a reverent eye as if "Hey, if we could get the Freemasons, that would be a big deal!"
No, what they're more than likely to be thinking is, "How can we get this done cheap? Hey, I know, what if we ask the Masons?!"
Sorry to inform many, but if you think it's anything different? Again, sorry to be the one, because I know from experience.
But there's a different way to do all the above and have it truly impact the way so many are desperately trying. And all it takes is this...
Changing the thought process for calculation, nothing more. And we'll discuss precisely that in the next installment. Hope to see you then.
Mark St. Cyr Freemason
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