Close Encounter: Marketing is the Word

Joanna Briscoe Meets Andrew Finan, Who Thinks Christ was A Marketing Genius
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In our screamingly secular times, we all know about those doomed attempts to buff up Christianity's image. Hey! Christians, they're just like you and me: come share a beer and strum a few chords, brother. Fluorescent posters pushing Christ as a wicked geezer; the Bible rewritten in tabloid speak; pop-star decampments to the cosy fold of Sir Cliff.

But a moribund cult peopled by the biscuit-complexioned, by those numinous depressives armed with zealots' recruiting tactics cleverly concealed behind choral enthusiasms and late-Eighties Laura Ashley, just cannot be tarted up. Like tongue-piercing for royals, it just does not work. No, no, no.

So where can we go next with Jesus Christ? How about making him over as a marketing guru? In a brainwave worthy of the most ham-fisted American gimmick, one Andrew Finan has done just that.

Corporate Christ (pounds 12.99, published this week by Management Books 2000, of Cowcombe Hill, Chalford, Gloucestershire) is a business manual whose dictates are all carefully culled from the Bible, revealing "the world- changing secrets of a management and marketing genius". It has received some attention, from The Big Breakfast to The Daily Telegraph. It is "controversial". Indeed, it is, shall we say, "unique".

I was meeting its author, Andrew Finan, marketing man, in The Limelight, a nightclub rather cunningly housed in an 18th-century church bang in the middle of London's West End. Suitable, that. If a Welsh Presbyterian place of worship can turn into a common urban discotheque, Jesus Christ can be exposed as a corporate marketing whiz. Ah! A ponderous theme asserts itself.

Among the swooping arches, the crusted masonry and insistent Holy Joe imagery of The Limelight, I was to chat with Finan, self-appointed spokesman for today's Christ-as-Donald Trump motif. Would he wear sandals and trail a team of scruffy beardies? Or would he be clad in Armani?

The truth lay somewhere in between: 34-year-old Finan is wearing a mid-range suit and a blaring yellow floral tie. A director of "one of the UK's leading sports sponsorship companies", he is given to the affable mid-market school of PR, a chipper world of "guys" who "push the button" and "light the fire", and in which everybody is "really excited", but where bombastic claims are definitely not encouraged.

"I just started thinking, Jesus himself was a very proactive marketeer," said Finan, who first came up with his wheeze when facing a less-than- slick church poster in a traffic jam. "And it started off a chain of thought in my mind, and then I resolved that evening to go and have a look at the Gospels again, just to see if they would yield any evidence of marketing techniques. I was just astonished at how much information I found, and how easily."

In Corporate Christ, selected Biblical quotes are used to reveal cutting- edge business strategy. Thus: "And he went through the cities and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem" (Luke 13:22) has lessons for us all about "Grabbing the Limelight", "Gathering Momentum" and "Fanfare Entrance". Get it?

But isn't it, well, a bit of a gimmick? I politely proposed. As an examination of how modern cults use revelations, group dynamics and brainwashing techniques, such exegesis might be mildly relevant. But excuse me, Jesus turned over the money-lenders' tables. Is his life applicable to a business manual?

"There is a knee-jerk reaction, but I'm not trying to justify anything," said Finan. "If you just strip away the religious bits, you are left with a brilliant communicator and a person who motivates people. You find out that this guy was a genius."

I see. But ironically, isn't our man saddling himself with a bit of a marketing problem right from the beginning? Corporate Christ is bound to get up a few Christian noses, while aspiring business cut- throats will surely be sickened by the naff old happy-clappy imagery? Isn't this a mistake that spin-doctor Jesus would never have made?

"Here we are, having a discussion 2,000 years later, and it can get quite heated... I'm talking about Jesus and his marketing techniques. How did he do it? How did he light the fire?" asked Finan, adept at answering questions with his own line of thought as sirens screamed outside the Limelight's cloistered calm.

But I was being harsh. Corporate Christ has already reprinted before publication. "The book is beginning to roll," said Finan. "Is it working? Yeah, you bet. There's a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in it. Things are happening." Yes. Miracles, perhaps.

Whatever next? There is some talk of a sequel based on the gems of St Paul. How about some spin-off merchandising - stick-on stigmata, bearded-doll executive toys, mobile phones in toga cases, that kind of thing?

In the meantime, I'm off to write a guide to sexual positions based on The Thoughts of Chairman Mao.