Purposeful Interference

Time Magazine recently listed the “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” Predictably, topping that list was Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Saddleback Valley, California, and author of the bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life. The Purpose Driven Life is a phenomenon that defies comparison. In two years it sold over 22 million copies and easily became the best-selling hardcover book in American history. Hundreds of thousands of pastors have been trained in Warren’s Purpose Driven seminars and tens of thousands of churches have participated in his programs. Time gets it right when they say, “Although Franklin Graham is heir to the throne of the Billy Graham organization, many believe that Warren, 51, is the successor to the elder Graham for the role of America’s minister.”

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America’s minister. That is a role to which many would aspire, but which few are suited to fill.

Like many other Christians, while I see that there is much to admire about Rick Warren, I have found myself concerned by certain aspects of his ministry and his teachings. Those concerns have led me to carefully study how The Purpose Driven Life became such a runaway success and how Rick Warren has risen to dominate the evangelical church.

On May 26th of this year, I posted an article on my web site that I entitled “PyroMarketing and The Purpose Driven Life.” This article was the result of extensive research I had done into the marketing that caused The Purpose Driven Life to be such a great success. I found a substantial amount of information describing the role played by marketing in the ultimate success of the book. I discovered that an author named Greg Stielstra had also studied the success of The Purpose Driven Life as well as other modern phenomena such as The Passion of the Christ. Stielstra is Senior Marketing Director for Zondervan, the company that published Warren’s book, and was a member of the team that handled some aspects of the marketing for The Purpose Driven Life (though not the subsequent programs such as 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community which were marketed from within Purpose Driven). Stielstra is a confident marketer who was once quoted as saying that “if he promoted a book about quilting ‘to one-tenth of one percent of left-handed quilters,’ he could land the title on the non-fiction bestseller list and prime it for even bigger success.” His observations about what made Purpose Driven Life, The Passion of the Christ and other products such triumphs of marketing, helped him clarify a metaphor he had been perfecting for many years. He termed this PyroMarketing. I found that he was writing a book, entitled PyroMarketing : The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life.

At that time the publication date for the book was June 15 of 2005, a date which has long-since passed. I was eager to read more about PyroMarketing, so when the date passed and it was still not available I began to wonder what had happened. Only a small amount of investigation showed that not only was the book still unreleased, but there was no mention of the book or its author on the web site of HarperCollins, the company that was to publish it. Neither was it listed as one of their “Upcoming Books.” A web site dedicated to the book, pyromarketing.com, which is registered to DDM Marketing & Communications now says simply “Coming this July.” Information that had at one time been available, such as PowerPoint presentations and Adobe Acrobat documents, as well as what appeared to be an early draft of the book’s introduction, had been removed.

I found this strange and, being curious as to what had happened, decided to pursue this further. I soon began to hear whispers which indicated that the book had been suppressed from within the HarperCollins organization. Someone, it seemed, had brought pressure to bear on HarperCollins so that the company felt it was unwise to publish the book. Could it be possible, that Rick Warren, who is the bestselling author for Zondervan, whose parent company is HarperCollins, or people within his organization, could have used his influence to block the publication of this book? My suspicions were confirmed when I read a recent article in Publishers Weekly. But before we go any further, I will need to provide some background information on PyroMarketing.

Greg Stielstra

Allow me to introduce Greg Stielstra. As mentioned, Greg is the Senior Marketing Director at Zondervan. The authors he has worked with in his fourteen years with the company read like a who’s who of Christian publishing. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the biggest names in publishing Philip Yancey, Lee Strobel, Jim Cymbala, Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Joni Eareckson Tada, Billy Graham, Dan Qualye, Oliver North, Dave Dravecky, Rick Warren, Kurt Warner, Mike Singletary, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Rosa Parks, Dr. Ben Carson, and others. My work for these authors has won many accolades for marketing excellence, and my track record includes 88 best sellers, 20 #1 bestsellers, and eight books that have sold more than a million copies. Five of these books made The New York Times bestsellers list, including a title that reached #1 and remained on the list for over two years.”

Through his career Stielstra came to realize that many of the principles used by marketing companies were no longer applicable to the modern (or postmodern) consumer. Growing tired of old marketing metaphors based on water or viruses, he observed examples of marketing that had provided stunning results and created a way of understanding marketing based on a metaphor of fire. He termed this PyroMarketing.

The key to successful PyroMarketing is to understand marketing as fire. Founded on the hard fact that we are bombarded with advertising, and that brute-force advertising is simply no longer effective, PyroMarketing attempts a new approach appropriate for the twenty-first century. Interestingly, Stielstra compares the success of The Purpose Driven Life with another surprise hit, The Passion of the Christ. “The success of The Purpose Driven Life or The Passion of the Christ, remains puzzling to many, but not to those who know their secret. What do these remarkable success stories have in common? They each used PyroMarketing.” The technique is well-described in a little song you may have sung while sitting beside a campfire:

It only takes a spark to get fire going
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

PyroMarketing is built around this metaphor of fire. Stielstra says, “Every fire needs fuel, oxygen, heat and the heat from the combustion reaction itself. Heat excites the fuel, breaking its molecular bonds at the ignition point freeing the fuel’s electrons to abandon the fuel and join with oxygen in the surrounding air. Ignition temperatures vary significantly from one fuel to the next. The reaction gives off additional heat which excites neighboring fuel and causes the fire to spread.”

Just as fire depends on fuel, so does marketing. Just as ignition temperatures vary from one fuel to the next, so do the “ignition points” of consumers. And just as fire spreads, so excitement about products spreads. “In PyroMarketing consumers are the fuel and their ignition points also differ widely. There is money stored in their wallets, but there is a very strong bond between consumers and their money. Marketing provides the heat that excites them and, if it can heat them beyond their ignition temperature, it will cause them to exchange their money for your product or service.” This approach empowers “consumer evangelists” who will do the most important and effective marketing on a product’s behalf.

The four steps of this marketing approach mimic the steps of building a fire:

  1. Gather the driest tinder – “These people have the lowest ignition temperature relative to your product. The slightest heat from your marketing causes them to light and burn hot. This is the only group whose ignition temperature is within reach of traditional advertising.”
  2. Touch it with a match – “Let people experience your product or service. If you want prospects to laugh, don’t tell them you’re funny; tell them a joke. Experience is hotter than advertising and can ignite even the mildly interested.”
  3. Fan the flames – “This means equipping your customers to spread your message more effectively through word-of-mouth. Personal influence is hotter than advertising or experience and the only way to convert the apathetic masses. Reach them by leveraging the power of passionate customer evangelists.”
  4. Save the coals – “Keep a record of the people you find with your marketing so that each new campaign builds equity you can tap in the future.”

Perhaps the most important concept to grasp is the cyclical nature of this approach. Saving the coals allows a marketer to repeat the process, as the coals can be used to ignite further dry tinder. The coals represent the equity that can be tapped in future campaigns.

If The Passion of the Christ and The Purpose Driven Life are any indication – and Stielstra makes it clear that they are – this approach seems to provide results and is well-suited to bring success in the 21st century.

PyroMarketing and The Purpose Driven Life

Greg Stielstra was Director of the team within Zondervan that was responsible for marketing The Purpose Driven Life. While he was responsible for marketing only particular aspects of the book, he applied his PyroMarketing principles to any areas which fell under his responsibility. In examining the wider Purpose Driven marketing campaign, he came to realize that The Purpose Driven Life made a compelling case study for PyroMarketing. While they were unaware that they were doing so, and in all likelihood had never heard the term, the Purpose Driven ministry team perfectly applied the four principles of PyroMarketing to such campaigns as 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community. At the risk of repeating myself I would like to make it clear that Greg Stielstra was involved in only a small part of the marketing effort for The Purpose Driven Life and does not claim to be the primary reason for its success. But when he studied the wider marketing effort he came to see that it was a perfect case study for his philosophy of marketing.

  1. Gather the driest tinder – Purpose Driven gathered the driest tinder by seeking out the people who were most likely to respond positively to their campaign. They found 1200 pastors whose congregations totaled some 400,000 people. Using existing credibility gained through Warren’s prior book The Purpose Driven Church and through Purpose Driven seminars, they convinced 1200 pastors to begin a 40 Days of Purpose campaign in their churches. These people were gathered with the promise (or at least suggestion) of success – that by following this campaign they would have bigger, stronger, more successful churches.
  2. Touch it with a match – Having found 1200 pastors who would lead their churches in this campaign, Zondervan produced commercial spots and had them played on Christian radio stations in target areas. This generated some excitement about the program and even provided a small amount of brand recognition. They did not actively promote the book, but the campaigns that were beginning in local churches. For six weeks, following a video introduction by Rick Warren, those churches taught messages prepared by him and studied his book in small groups. Zondervan discounted the book to just $7 (from the usual $20) to promote it to the 400,000 people attending these 1200 churches. The flame was now burning, if only in a small way.
  3. Fan the flames – Zondervan fanned the flames by promoting the book and the associated programs as evangelism. They told how this book had changed lives and grown churches within those 1200 congregations that formed the initial campaign. A company called Outreach marketing produced posters and door hangers and other items to assist churches as they spread the word. Zondervan provided retailers with marketing tools like postcards and emails along with a list of participating churches so they could sell them any additional copies they needed. The pastors and laypeople who had already completed the program, largely unknowingly, became consumer evangelists. The flames spread.
  4. Save the coals – Zondervan gathered information on every church that had done the program, and wherever possible, on the individuals who had participated. They gathered email addresses through their web sites. As more Purpose Driven products become available, Zondervan can market them to a group that has already expressed interest in this type of product. According to Stielstra, saving the coals “is how your marketing budgets build equity and the only way to expand your business with marketing budgets that stubbornly refuse to grow. There is a great deal of scientific evidence for PyroMarketing from psychology, physiology, and sociology.” The coals are now gathered, prepared to heat up a fire that is dying down, or to begin a whole new one.

Following the success of The Purpose Driven Life and other phenomena that displayed the value of PyroMarketing, Stielstra decided the time was right to publish a book explaining his philosophy of marketing. Without claiming credit for its success, he sought to explain the success of the book through the principles of his marketing philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers agreed to publish the book, which was to be titled PyroMarketing : The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life and was expected to reach store shelves by mid-2005.

The Suppression of PyroMarketing

Apparently at some time during 2004, Stielstra met with Bucky Rosenbaum, who at that time was Rick Warren’s literary agent. Rosenbaum has since gone on to become President of Purpose Driven Publishing. Rosenbaum expressed no great concern with the content of the book and made only three requests. First, he asked that The Purpose Driven Life not be the only case study used. Second, he asked that Stielstra write from the perspective of an observer rather than as a team member. In other words, he wanted to ensure that Stielstra did not claim that his marketing technique had been the textbook for the Purpose Driven ministry team. And finally, he asked that he have access to the manuscript prior to publication. While he was under no obligation to do so, Stielstra, as a courtesy, agreed to these requests. According to Publishers Weekly, “On July 6, 2004, Stielstra wrote Warren a letter outlining those three points and included a sample from the book that illustrated how references to PDL were being incorporated. Stielstra e-mailed the letter to Rosenbaum. “Within hours of receiving the e-mail, Bucky replied by saying, ‘This is fine and consistent with our agreement.'””

A short time later, it seems that Stielstra received a phone call from Doug Slaybaugh, an executive at Saddleback Community Church. He expressed grave concern with the content of a speech Stielstra had made a short time before and indicated that he would do all within his power to ensure every mention of The Purpose Driven Life was removed from PyroMarketing. His concern seemed to be that Stielstra was attempting not only to explain the success of The Purpose Driven Life through PyroMarketing principles, but also that he was attempting to take undue credit for his role.

By this time Rick Warren had a new agent, Jeff Slipp. Slipp contacted Zondervan and expressed his expectation that they would procure the manuscript from HarperCollins. They were able to do this. After reading it, Warren’s agent asked to edit the manuscript and make changes as he saw fit. Stielstra refused, but offered to discuss this man’s concerns. Eventually, due to pressure from Zondervan and HarperCollins, Stielstra did make at least two rounds of changes to the text. The agent finally approved the manuscript and indicated that he would pass it to Rick Warren.

Not long afterward, it appears that Rick Warren contacted Zondervan’s President, Doug Lockhart, and demanded that all references to The Purpose Driven Life be removed from PyroMarketing. Apparently this demand stemmed from a concern that this book would make a clear connection in the mind of the reader between The Purpose Driven Life and marketing technique. Lockhart returned to Stielstra, suggesting that he remove all references to Warren’s book and that he find examples of his marketing principles from the 2004 Presidential campaign. He declined. To this day Stielstra has refused to edit those portions of his book. HarperCollins has not published PyroMarketing and will give no indication as to when or even if they will do so. At this point the book is more than a month past its publication date and has not yet been printed. As indicated earlier, all mention of the book has been removed from HarperCollins’ web site. Amazon sent a notification to customers who had pre-ordered the book indicating that it had been delayed and providing order-cancellation information. The site currently shows an August release date. It now seems unlikely that this book will ever be published, at least unless HarperCollins returns the rights to the book to the author so he can find a new publisher. To this point they have refused to do so. According to an article published in Publishers Weekly, “Harper senior v-p/director of corporate communications Lisa Herling declined to discuss Stielstra’s assertions, noting only that Pyromarketing “is still in the editorial process, and the publication date is yet to be determined. We do not discuss the details of our editorial process nor our conversations with our authors.” Warren’s organization referred PW to Zondervan.”

Publishers Weekly also quoted Stielstra as saying, “It’s becomes apparent that a resolution is far, far away. If HarperCollins isn’t going to publish my book and they don’t want to upset their largest author, I can understand that. Just give me back my book.”

What Happened and Why?

Is Rick Warren, America’s Pastor, using his power to suppress this book? If so, what value is there in denying the truth of what made The Purpose Driven Life such a success?

Based on the information available to us we have to conclude that Rick Warren or his representatives brought his considerable influence to bear on Zondervan, and thus on HarperCollins, demanding that this book be suppressed. Warren represents a significant source of revenue for these companies. Not only is he the biggest selling author for Zondervan, but he is also the bestselling author for the parent company HarperCollins. It seems that they felt they had to cater to his demands, for his influence far outweighed that of Stielstra.

But why does Warren fear this book? From all I could find, Stielstra has never written anything negative about Rick Warren or The Purpose Driven Life. If anything, he has praised both the book and the author and appears to respect Rick Warren as a pastor and as a church leader. After two rounds of changes that were subsequently approved by Warren’s agent it seems clear that the book will be likewise positive in tone. What would cause a person to knowingly risk interfering with a contract made between two other parties? Based on the comments made by his representatives, it would seem that the explanation lies in Warren’s fear that his critics will misinterpret the book and twist Stielstra’s words to prove that Warren is not a pastor, but a marketer. He feels that people will come to view The Purpose Driven Life as a marketing success rather than a ministry success. This may also impact Warren’s global P.E.A.C.E. plan which is in the beginning stages even now. Perhaps when people become aware of PyroMarketing techniques they will come to see themselves as “glowing coals” and realize they are part of a larger marketing campaign.

Strangely, and perhaps ironcially, few people would list marketing as a primary concern with The Purpose Driven Life. Only a brief survey of various reviews and critiques proves this to be true. Having studied almost all of the available information about The Purpose Driven Life and the principles of PyroMarketing, it is clear that the book does owe much of its success to this type of marketing. The Purpose Driven Life was not merely a grassroots, word-of-mouth, ministry success. It was a well-planned and carefully-orchestrated marketing triumph.

Based on this information, it is only right and fair that Rick Warren and his representatives retract their demands and allow PyroMarketing to be published. Zondervan must follow suit, freeing HarperCollins to publish this book. Supreme Court Justice Luis Brandeis once said, “men feared witches, and burned women.” Misguided lawmakers have often tried to control their critics by restricting their right to self-expression. But just as the women who were killed in Salem did little to solve the problem for which they lost their lives, so suppressing PyroMarketing will do nothing to silence Warren’s critics, for marketing is among the least of their concerns.

Sources Cited

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA628774.html?display=breaking (Subscription required)