Can you be a Christian and work in Advertising? Tom Glynn says yes, but it is tough.

Tom Glynn

Tom Glynn’s life story is called “God’s Ad-man”. He’s got a good eye for a catchy title, which poses the question, “can you be a good advertising person and a Christian?” Judging from my somewhat similar experience of working in the media, if I take comments from preachers as the measure, some Christians will be sceptical.

As the young Tom Glynn rose through the ranks of famous Ad agencies, he was a young Christian. He was torn. He was against smoking, but he co-ordinated campaigns for British American Tobacco during the obligatory stint in the UK that young Australians did as a rite of passage. 

Glynn tells the story of a nervous meeting with his bank manager, seeking the all-important loan to set up his own agency.

But God was working, he explains.

“I met the manager of my local NAB branch at the corner of Pitt and Bathurst Streets, Sydney, to arrange an overdraft. ‘What can I do for you?’ He asked. ‘I need a $10,000 loan to open an agency,’ I replied. ‘That’s a risky business, Tom. What clients do you have? He inquired. Feeling a little embarrassed, I said, ’N clients you would know – religious ones – the Anglican Home Mission Society and the Scripture Union.’ ‘I Know them both he replied, grinning. ‘I am the Chairman of Anglican Home Mission Society Op Shops – and both of them bank with us. How much do you want?’

By then, Glynn had determined that he wanted to use his skills to glorify Christ. It also turned out to be a very public way to say you were a Christian; a clients list like his agency, Tom Glynn Advertising, had would stand out in the ad industry trade journals like B and T. Glynn attracted sneers and pushback in the advertising industry.

But it could be protective. 

Tony Packard, a car dealer then building his empire“up the Windsor road”, knocked Glynn back. Packard was later charged with using concealed listening devices and forced to resign as a Liberal MP.

“I wanted to move from selling products to a person, Jesus Christ’  Glynn writes about his move to start his agency.

But the most exciting chapter in “God’s Ad-man” on How Advertising Works has a fascinating message on communicating Christ.

Drawing on the work of Hugh Mackay, Glynn explains that injecting your message like a drug into your audience does not work. 

“It’s not what the message does to the audience but what the audience does with the message which determines the outcome of the communication. Glynn recalls Mackay teaching the bright young things at the J. Walter Thompson agency.

“This means that to be effective; advertising must position itself to respond to the existing attitudes of the audience, to align the message with their existing predispositions: and to show them how this product or service can make their existing dreams come true!” Glynn writes.

“At that time – and perhaps even today – the “injection” model was alive and well in the church. I remember a well-meaning dedicated Deacon saying all we had to do was to get people to read tracts, and they would become Christians. If only it were so easy!”

Tom Glenn also references a 1970s paper from Mackay on the “Communications problems of the organised Church:” Glynn says that Mackay explains “how messages that try to attack existing attitudes, head-on, are most likely to produce precisely the opposite result – not just faint in their aim but actually reinforcing the very attitudes they are trying to change. Hugh says the best way to reinforce someone’s existing attitude is to attack them!”

This part of Glynn’s book points up a challenge for Christians, whether lefties protesting our greed-based economy or conservatives surrounded by social change. One answer  Glynn suggests is the power of personal stories, something Christianity is better placed to act on than the Ad industry itself.

It is when things get rocky for Glynn – after a fantastic start Tom Glynn Advertising hits several rough patches – that his story gets more gripping. For example, how does a Christian Ad-man cope when he loses a Christian client to another Christian ad agency? 

Rather than success, coping with rejection is the more profound lesson in Tom Glynn’s life.

H quotes the US catholic, Richard Rohr (and whatever you think of Rohr, he and Glynn have this right – it’s been this way for me too.)

“Normally the way God pushes us is by disillusioning us with the present mode., Until things fall apart, we never look for something more … That dreadful falling apart experience is always suffering in some form. All of us hate suffering, yet all religions talk about it as necessary. It seems to be the price we pay for the death of the small (False) S and the emergence of the True Self – when we finally come to terms with our true identity in God.”

As a capable marketer, Tom Glynn has his book available directly from him for a discount.n

God’s Adman by Tom GlynnArkhouse books

Available for $10 from Tom Glynn [email protected]