At the Web 2.0 Expo this week, one title kept popping up on business cards: Evangelist. All the evangelists I met are from companies that have quite a few evangelists in their own right: Salesforce, Yahoo, LinkedIn. The best moment was when I took a detour to Google’s Mountain View headquarters on Wednesday and met an in-house evangelist there. I had to ask him the first question that crossed my mind: "Doesn’t everybody love you? How could Google need an evangelist?"
I’ve met corporate evangelists before. Most of the best I’ve met never had that title. eMarketer CEO Geoff Ramsey, my old boss, is the perfect example. He lives the brand. He’s so passionate about charts, stats, data – dry stuff, unless you really think about how you use it. Any time I see him present – and I’ve been to dozens of his speeches by now – I get excited about what he’s doing.
As far as I can recall, he’s never had evangelist as a title. CEO works pretty well. I’ve never had the title either, but I like to think that in any organization I’ve been a part of for at least a year (including businesses as well as others, like the Binghamton University Alumni Association Board, or MediaPost, where I’ve published columns weekly since June 2004), evangelism has been an important part of the job. Shouldn’t everyone see themselves as a chief evangelist?
That’s not to downplay the need for dedicated evangelists – those who can look across a massive organization and mine all the great things it’s doing and then spread the word about them. Though I haven’t talked to many evangelists in depth about their jobs, they should also be empowered to be open about what isn’t yet ripe for evangelism and find ways to make that better. I’m curious what happens when they run into those situations, when there’s something they find that they wouldn’t want to shout from the rooftops – do they have a strong enough voice internally to right the ship?
It’s also a funny term linguistically in the sense that calling someone a preacher, imam, proselytizer, or other terms steeped in religious traditions wouldn’t quite work. Yet "evangelist" has gone the way of "saint," with its religious undertones stripped from it.
Maybe they shouldn’t be though. Working for a company is usually a test of faith, if you’re devoted to it. An evangelist is always going to find things that they see as heretical to their corporate gospels. Yet you don’t need to live, breathe, and love every page of your gospel – whether it’s in a more literal sense, or whether it’s a corporate handbook or 10K form – to find truth in it.
If a company does put the title "evangelist" on one person’s business card, it better not be placing all the evangelism responsibilities on him or her alone. It takes a full organization of evangelists to succeed – though it never hurts to have one person whose focus day in, day out is to lead the charge.