Catholic School: Three PR Lessons from Pope Francis

by Belfort Group | Agency News , Thought Leadership
January 21, 2014

For the thought leaders or aspiring thought leaders out there, a new role model has emerged in an unlikely location—the Vatican. Despite the Catholic Church’s recent public relations crises, Pope Francis has generated a slew of positive press for his good works and unprecedented opinions. He can certainly teach all of us in the PR space a thing or two about how to run a great PR campaign. So dust off that composition book you used in Catholic School and prepare to take notes about three PR lessons you can learn from the humble Pope. For aspiring thought leaders, these guidelines can serve you well as you think about ways to generate media buzz, and, more importantly, make an impact with key stakeholders, in your industry and possibly the world.

Do something unexpected.

Pope Francis is not afraid to speak his mind. He’s openly discussed that he does not pass judgment on gay priests, a progressive move considering Pope Benedict XVI formally banned gay men from entering the priesthood. The beauty of this statement was its candidness. It swiftly defied decades of Church teachings, so the media ate it up.

Show your fans you are just like they are (well sort of).

Do you remember when you visited that nightclub in Buenos Aires years ago? There’s a chance Pope Francis was the club’s bouncer. He recently told a local church in Rome that this was one of the many jobs he held before becoming Pope. This statement makes even a man as well-known as the Pope relatable, an important quality in thought leaders.

Keep it simple.

The Catholic Church probably has enough gold to fill the grills of a million rappers, but Pope Francis is urging priests to return to a simpler way of life. He has temporarily expelled a bishop in Germany who attempted to build a $42 million residence. While the Church looks into the spending habits of the “Bling Bishop,” we can admire Pope Francis for his more modest tendencies, like choosing to live in a guest house rather than the papal apartments. The key messages he emphasizes are also simple, as Michelle Boorstein explains in the Washington Post. He has his talking points (what Boorstein defines as “Be humble; Help people who are hurting; Treat as equals those with whom we disagree”), and he sticks to them.

Your organization probably has its own set of talking points. As you look toward 2014 and the future, get inspired by Pope Francis and ask yourself if you are living by your key messages.  Good public relations is all about believing in the power of your brand. Approach your work with a religious zeal, occasionally doing something out of the ordinary and always trying to relate to your brand’s followers. If you want to be a part of the exclusive PR club that Pope Francis belongs to, a club reserved for only the finest of practitioners, leave complicated jargon and outdated traditions at the door. Join Catholicism’s coolest figurehead on the dance floor, but just make sure to leave room for the Holy Spirit.

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By Carolyn Tillo
Account Executive

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