Sales pitches and portraits

There are a lot of sales pitches that are made directly to churches. We receive dozens of email messages every day that are aimed at selling us everything from candles to vestments to office supplies and more. We also received a fair amount of sales-pitch junk male. Most of the vendors with whom we do business on the Internet also send us print catalogues of their wares. Then, of course, there are the telephone solicitors. Our administrative colleagues are very accomplished at screening those calls, but a few get through. I’m always amazed that someone is earning their living selling video bible studies or computer software over the telephone. Occasionally I will be a bit curt with a salesperson, asking them if they have ever considered the ethics of trying to get a church to purchase something that the church doesn’t want. I’ve also tried to be funny, wondering out loud how a computer services company is so Internet ignorant that they are using the telephone to drum up business. I’ve even resorted to simply hanging up the telephone on occasion. It causes no pain to the caller and lets that person get on to their next call quickly.

Yesterday, we had a salesperson come by the church on a cold call, hoping to make her pitch for photo directories. Our church has, in the past, purchased the services of directory companies, including the one whose salesperson came by. I don’t know what makes it profitable for them to have an out-of-town salesperson just drop by without making an appointment, but it is annoying and being annoyed doesn’t make me the most receptive to the sales pitch. I was working on things that seemed to me to be more important and the interruption wasn’t welcome.

Church directory companies make their money by selling portraits to the families in the church. The church doesn’t pay for the printed directories that are distributed and usually doesn’t pay for the extra brochures and other items that are included as an incentive to get the company inside of the church. The company takes individual family portraits of church members and compiles them into an attractive book. Photo directories are nice things in churches. We find it useful to have pictures of our members. However, churches change at a quick pace and directories are already dated by the time they are printed. There are always people who are missing from the directory because they were out of town during the photo dates or because they are new to the church. There are always people who are in the directory who have left the church or who have passed away.

The process of lining up the people for their portraits is a huge job. In our church we have to schedule 150 or more families for their portraits. It takes multiple phone calls to schedule just one family. With the complexity of family schedules, the effort is massive.

Then there is the problem of the sales pitch. Despite claiming that there are no pressure sales, members of the church are presented with options for spending hundreds of dollars on prints, holiday cards, note cards, and a catalogue of other items for sale. The company always says there is no pressure, the people always complain about the pressure. And, having just been pressured by the company’s sales representative, I’m not sure that they understand what pressure is.

The encounter got me to thinking about portraits in general. In our world of snapchat and selfies and ever-present cameras the meaning of a picture of oneself or one’s family is different. As I write this morning, there are 14,529 photos and 192 videos on the computer that I am using. Not all of those photos are of people. I take a lot of pictures of lakes and sunrises and canoes and kayaks. But there are thousands of pictures of our grandchildren and thousands of other people as well.

And this is my home computer. There are a lot more pictures on the computer at the church. I average around 100 pictures per day when Vacation Bible School is in session. I’ve got scores of pictures of our large outdoor cross, of Woodchucks splitting firewood and of our partners in Costa Rica and on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations.

There was a time when a single stately portrait, often painted by a recognized artist, was a prominent feature in a home. Family portraits were treasured and passed down for generations. That free 8 x 10 portrait from the church directory company doesn’t share that kind of prominence in our family’s possessions. We’ve participated in a half dozen or more church directories over the years and I don’t think we’ve ever framed or displayed the print that we got to free.

It used to be handy to have a few wallet-sized pictures of oneself to accompany resumes and other professional documents, but all of that is done digitally these days and I have no need of actual printed pictures of myself.

We really don’t know about the permanence of digital photos. Some services, like snapchat, are designed specifically for impermanence. The sender sets the number of seconds that are allowed for the recipient to look at the image before it disappears. Those pictures are somehow the opposite of the stately portraits that hung in expensive frames around the homes of the wealthy in previous generations. My photos have a different fate. With so many photos that have been collected and organized around different systems over the years, it is easy for a single image to become lost in the sheer volume of additional images.

I thought about telling the salesperson yesterday that I thought a free 8 x 10 portrait was a pretty small incentive to motivate a church member to sit through a 15-minute sales pitch. I don’t sign up for “free” weekends at resorts in trade for high pressure time share sales, either. Instead, I just listened politely and got up to go back to work as soon as possible.

Who knows? We may do another photo directory sometime in the future. But if we do, it probably won’t be the result of yesterday’s sales call.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!