Ben Ferrell believes in the power of media to help ministries grow. He's the CEO of BMCFerrell, a marketing agency with offices in Tulsa and Dallas.
Like skilled mechanics working on an engine, the BMCFerrell team examines a church or ministry, finds out what components aren't working and moves the various elements to their optimal state. The company's success stories include both global ministries, like those of Joyce Meyer and Brian Houston, and small churches.
A Jesus Movement convert, Ferrell has witnessed firsthand how God can use marketing for His glory. BMCFerrell is the result of three men, each following God's call and uniting to build something bigger than any of them. The marketing agency they founded serves some of the most influential pastors and churches worldwide. Ferrell's years in the industry have taught him how to create a Christian workplace of excellence—and how many churches sabotage themselves in marketing.
The story of BMCFerrell predates Ferrell, going back to the early days of Oral Roberts' ministry. Roberts called two men into his office—Willard Mason, a CPA and general manager, and Jim Kerby, a writer.
"God has called me to film my tent crusades and put them on television, coast to coast in every city, and it's your job," Roberts told them. "Do that."
"Sir, I don't even know anything about film," Mason said.
"Well, you pray, and God will show you," Roberts replied.
Christian television producers or stations did not exist at the time. Neither did videotape; all media had to be produced on expensive film. But Mason and Kerby worked together for 10 years, establishing Roberts' groundbreaking television ministry. At one point, Roberts promised to reply to every letter viewers sent him. The ministry received millions of letters, and Roberts—always a man of his word—directed Mason and Kerby to design a system to efficiently respond to all of them. With the help of IBM, the duo invented the modern-day direct-mail automation system.
Mason and Kerby worked for Roberts for 10 rewarding but exhausting years before starting a company of their own, BMC Advertising.
The new company handled political campaigns—Mason and Kerby were burnt out on working with ministries. BMC Advertising became famous almost overnight as a political advertising powerhouse. Their win-loss record was astounding. They worked nonstop for their clients. They achieved great success. Then God stepped in with other plans.
"After a few years, both of them—Mr. Kerby and Mr. Mason—were in two different towns in Oklahoma meeting with political clients, and both at the same time felt a strong message: 'We are supposed to turn this agency over to God,'" Ferrell says. "It was independent of each other. They came back and ... shared this information to each one's surprise, and they said, 'Well, OK, let's do this.'"
Mason and Kerby prayed together: "BMC Advertising now belongs to You, Father. Jesus, it's Yours. Do what You want to." The next Monday morning, their phone wouldn't stop ringing. Preachers were calling. The agency had never solicited preachers, and preachers had never called the agency in its previous few years of business. But like clockwork, after Mason and Kerby handed the business over to God, He gave them a healthy new list of clients. They began helping upstart ministries across the nation, including those of R.W. Schambach, Jack Van Impe, John Osteen and Kenneth Hagin.
Meanwhile, young Ben Ferrell was making worship music for God. Saved at 16, Ferrell took what he knew—rock 'n' roll—and tried to give it a Jesus twist.
"When I met Jesus, I turned the music in," Ferrell said. "I would write songs that were popular and put Jesus words to them. We got people saved. It was the Jesus Movement. It was an amazing time. We went to prisons and parks with our guitars and sang about Jesus. Then I heard about ORU."
Ferrell majored in health and physical education at Oral Roberts University (ORU) and played music on the side. He sang in chapel, held concerts and eventually signed a recording contract. He led a national worship program on CBN, toured the world and saw God do signs and wonders through His Spirit. During this time, he realized what a powerful tool media can be for the kingdom.
"My core belief in media is that the anointing of the Holy Spirit can be transmitted through media," Ferrell says. "As the media world has changed, I absolutely believe that the anointing and the grace of the Holy Spirit can be transmitted through Twitter, through Instagram, through television, obviously through books and all the other media. That's my core belief, and that's why I've dedicated my life to media ministry."
Eventually Ferrell felt called to hang up his guitar. He married Kelly in 1982, and they had four children. He needed a job that required less travel, so he applied to work at BMC Advertising in 1989, and Mason and Kerby hired him to handle print media. Ferrell became an instrumental part of the team, securing significant new clients like Meyer, Houston and Bayless Conley.
After Mason's death, Ferrell became a partner at BMC. And in 2001, Kerby retired, selling his portion of the company to Ferrell. BMC Advertising became BMCFerrell. Ferrell still can't believe how God brought the journeys of all three men together to create the company.
"The Lord just blessed with these wonderful clients, and they grew exponentially," he says. "It doubled, it tripled, it quadrupled, and the company just took off like a rocket."
Although three men have led the company, several women have been instrumental in its success. Among them is Ferrell's wife, Kelly, who is chief financial officer and executive producer.
The Ferrells' son, Parker, is also on board as mywhy.tv project coordinator. The project is the agency's outreach to the millennial generation.
Even as the new leader of BMC Advertising, Ferrell found his own plans came second to God's. Ferrell learned that lesson the hard way his first day as owner.
"I walk in the first day as owner of BMC Advertising—Sept. 11, 2001," Ferrell says. "So I walk in, all this self-importance, get my team together and started planning. We're going to do this, that and the other. Then someone taps on my shoulder and says, 'I think there's something you need to see on television.'"
Since that first day, Ferrell has learned a lot about what it means to run a Christian company. He believes three attributes set apart BMCFerrell from secular marketing agencies, the first being an emphasis on relationships and values.
"I think what really sets us apart is our values, our relationships and our results," Ferrell says. "We are very, very strong on relationships. We feel like, first of all, our agency is committed to the kingdom of Jesus, so therefore, we have a divine destiny. ... We feel like relationships are very premium to us, and results are very premium, because we believe that Jesus' kingdom is constantly expanding, and anything that has to do with Jesus' kingdom should be productive, fruitful and expanding."
The relational emphasis manifests in many of the company's projects. After the Ferrells' son went through a prodigal period and then came back to God, Ferrell was inspired to reach other youth with their peers' testimonies. The mywhy.tv site gathers true stories of God's saving power, showing millennials they are not alone in their faith journey.
The second attribute that sets BMCFerrell apart is love. In John 13:35, Jesus says, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Ferrell has strived to create a company that will be known by love—and that means always putting the client first.
"When a client comes to BMCFerrell, we have a tendency to fall in love with them," Ferrell says. "We work with ministries that we believe in, ministries that we have faith that God has anointed them. We just feel like the kingdom of Jesus is all fueled through love. ... When we sit around in meetings, we are constantly saying, 'What is best for the client? What is best for Pastor [John] Siebeling or Pastor Conley, or what's best for the ministry?' We never say, 'What's best for BMC?' or 'What's an opportunity for BMC?' We're not opportunists; we're servants of faith. And we always try to put the ministry first, even if it costs us financially. As we do that unto the Lord, God blesses us for that kingdom principle of putting them first."
For example, BMCFerrell considered what was best for Pastor John Siebeling and The Life Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and the church grew from 3,000 to 6,000 members. Ferrell says most of the church's visitors came as a result of viewing a TV program BMCFerrell designed and placed for Life Church in the Memphis market.
As a daily reminder of his clients' importance, Ferrell hangs their pictures on the wall. He believes faithful service to those clients is the key to his agency's success—both practically and spiritually.
"My No. 1 strategy is to be faithful with the clients and the relationships He's given us because in His kingdom, if we're faithful with whom He gives us and what He gives us, He will give us more," Ferrell says. "In fact, that was one of the things Oral taught Willard [Mason] and Jim [Kerby]: 'God is our source, and if we're faithful with those whom He gives us, He will give us more.'"
The third attribute is the hardest to put into practice. Since the day Mason and Kerby dedicated the business to God, everything at BMCFerrell is given over to the Lord—whether for glory or hardship.
That means giving God credit for all business successes. After all, James 1:17a says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights." But Ferrell challenges his staff to see work as a form of worship, giving glory to God through labor.
"We look at our company as an instrument of the kingdom of Jesus, and our work is worship," Ferrell says. "So at the end of the day, if I've had a bad day, I go home, and on my way home, I say, 'Lord, I gave You my day. I did my best, and I lay it at Your feet as worship.' ... I teach our team there's nothing insignificant in God's kingdom. Whether you're handling a contract with the smallest radio station in the country or you're printing business cards or whatever you're doing, whatever you do is worship unto the Lord, and that makes it glorious."
One of BMCFerrell's services is a "media audit." During an audit, the BMCFerrell staff takes a day with a church or ministry and looks at every way it handles media. BMC finds out what the church is trying to say and if the church is actually saying it. BMC checks branding, messaging, target audiences and every other facet to find out what's not working. After years of auditing ministries, Ferrell says most issues stem from three problems: missing fundamentals, inconsistent messaging and weak products.
Many churches are missing fundamental marketing strategies. Ministries must use traditional methods like print and broadcast advertising but also need to have social media strategies in place. Some omissions had the marketers scratching their heads.
"One [church we worked with] has a lot of wonderful names," Ferrell said. "They've worked with people for years. But they're doing no direct-mail marketing, which is very fundamental. If you have good, active names, direct mail is a still a very robust way to market your materials and communicate and build relationships."
Regarding inconsistent messaging, Ferrell says church staff often run social media without a consistent strategy. Other times, staff independently create accounts without realizing the church has existing accounts—with followers—on that platform. Ferrell laughed when he recalled one church with 15 Instagram accounts.
"In our media audit, we look at who's in charge of which thing," he says. "Who's in charge of the Twitter? Who's in charge of the Instagram? Who's in charge of the television? Who's in charge of video for the services? And we find a lot of times those people don't even talk to each other."
When a consistent media plan is being executed, team members are communicating, and the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.
"A lot of times, it's almost like catharsis where people realize, 'Oh my gosh, we're not even talking as a team.' ... When we come in and do that, that makes them realize, 'Hey, we've got to work together, and what we're saying over here needs to be consistent with what we're saying over here.' There needs to be a strategy behind it," Ferrell says.
Finally, in some cases, the product just can't live up to the marketing hype. The church experience was oversold and failed to capture visitors.
"The best TV program can only get someone to the church one time," Ferrell says. "The old-time advertising saying is, 'Advertising can only get a consumer to use your product once. If it's not what is expected—if it's not quality—then all the advertising in the world is not going to help them use your product a second time.'"
That's where the difficult balance lies. Marketing strategy is important, but what turns visitors into members is the quality of the service. Ultimately, any church that combines strong marketing with great ministry is setting itself up for success—and advancing the kingdom.
Taylor Berglund is content development editor at Charisma Media and co-host of the "Charisma News," "Charisma Connection" and "C-Pop" podcasts.
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